Footing the Barra
  |  First Published: January 2010

The arrival of February indicates the opening of the barra closed-season and, after three months, many anglers have suffered withdrawal symptoms. So what better way to work off the frustration and start the season than on foot.

One of the more satisfying ways to catch a barramundi is from the shore and the many rocky foreshores and headlands to the north of Cairns provide the perfect opportunity to do this. I like the simple side of heading off on foot with a backpack on and rod in hand to enjoy some spectacular scenery and get a little exercise while trying to pin my first wet season barra.

In February the fishing conditions can change overnight and once the first heavy rains have occurred it is likely most of the bait schools and prawns have been flushed out of the creeks, at least for a while. It is well known that saltwater barra will not be too far away from the bait and so casting the headlands will increase your chances ten-fold.

Ideally you should get moving early so you can fish the sunrise and a couple of hours beyond, or in the afternoon the last couple of hours before sunset. If these times coincide with the bottom half of the tide, then even better. Fishing the bottom half of the tide during the middle of the day is also worth the effort.

There are plenty of spots to try near Cairns. The first one heading north is Yorkeys Knob headlands. If you start from the groin at the northern end of the beach there is a climbable track along the rock face that can take you all the way around to the boat ramp at half moon bay. There have been many quality barra taken along this piece of coastline. Take care when doing this section and note that it is usually better if you attempt this and then work the bottom half of the tide.

Other great spots in the vicinity include the northern and southern Trinity Beach headland, and Taylors Point that joins on to Kewarra Beach. Heading further north, on the way to Port Douglas, are also some productive and numerous headlands, including Suicide Bend just before Ellis Beach. But do remember that if you are fishing along the way to Port Douglas make sure you are not encroaching on any Green Zones, so consult your GBRMPA Zoning Map.

Essentials items to take with when cruising the headlands is a water bottle, sunscreen, snacks, a small tackle tray with about a dozen favourite barra lures, pliers, knife, spare snaps and leader. Lip grippers or a hand gaff and camera can also be handy. Make sure you have adequate foot protection and a hat as well as quality polarised sunglasses. If you are intending to wade through water make sure you are protected from stingers.

Land-based fishing

When casting from the rocks a lot of anglers make the mistake of casting too far away from shore. Always look to cast towards any features, such as a rock or cluster of rocks, that may hold fish. The barra are very often in close almost under your feet.

Watch out for telltale signs of bait, swirls and boofing sounds. Look for any areas where water is draining into, or any small sheltered back eddies formed by the tide. The barra are likely to be resting or waiting in these areas behind the rock formations.

The key is to be persistent. Make sure you try 20-30 casts before moving on to the next spot. Experiment and vary your lure retrieve action, and keep it slow to allow the lure to be in the strike zone for as long as possible. Make a slow rolling action with the lure and don’t be afraid to stop winding and stall the lure before recommencing the retrieve.

Barramundi don’t usually like the water too clear so don’t waste your time, however this is unlikely after all the rain. They like to be around in water that has enough colour to provide cover but without the heavy siltation in it from stirred up water. A slow running current is ideal.

The heavy rains anglers will generally do better when water levels start dropping and there is run-off, particularly around features like the drains and gutters. Barra patrol these areas looking for food washed out by the run-off water.

What’s been happening

With the high water temperatures around, the fishing action has been patchy out at the reefs with the best trips returning home with a few trout and reds. A bonus has been the number of Spanish mackerel around throughout the summer and most boats have been topping up their catches with a few nice macks.

Wreck fishing has produced occasional cobia as well as plenty of GT and the occasional large toothy barracuda. Water temperatures will ease soon and the offshore fishing action should pick up across the board.

Inshore and bait fishing on the flats have been producing some quality grunter and salmon. Further up the inlet using live baits on the deep water and any structure this month should see some fingermark and barra being caught on the tide changes.

There are always plenty of sharks and catfish about throughout this time of the year so be prepared to hook a few of them. Casting the mangrove edges in the creeks has turned up some nice jacks and this should continue. Look for barra at the creek mouths and entrances to any gutter.

A pleasant change at this time of year has been using light tackle spin outfits to chase jungle perch high up in the mountain streams. My sons had a pretty successful outing ‘perching’ recently and that remains a good option this month.

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