Land-based run-off barra
  |  First Published: April 2017

At any time of the year, the wild environment of Cape York always produces good numbers of fish. The species you catch and how and where you catch them can vary dramatically. This month I will be focusing on barramundi and the variety of other species that can be caught when chasing them. At this time of the year, barra fishing can be very successful. With all of the rain, why shouldn’t it be?

The wet season can see the whole of the Cape transform from a dry dusty desert into a rich green wetland in just a matter of days. While barra can be targeted in the wetlands and floodplains, in the area around Weipa most fish are in the main river systems. Areas where small freshwater drains and creeks run vigorously into the salt are the perfect environment for ambush predators such as barra and jacks to wait for passing prey like mullet and perch to wash down past their noses.

These drains can vary from creeks half as wide as the main river to tiny artificial storm and floodwater drains that would be no more than a foot wide. All of these drains have one thing in common: they all flow freshwater at this time of the year, which is essential when targeting barra.

The reason why barra and so many other fish hang around freshwater spill-outs is the freshwater brings food and nutrients down into the salt, such as fish, shrimps, water plants, fruits and algae, which every fish from mullet to queenfish enjoy. Estuarine fish and crustacean species need freshwater to mix with the salt for them to spawn.

A year without a wet season would be catastrophic for fish stocks and the following year would see too many species being in poor numbers and condition. As the fish caught at this time of the year are almost certainly spawning, preparing to, or recovering from the ordeal, catch and release should be practiced as often as possible. This is especially important for larger specimens of a species that are most likely filled with spawn or roe.

Land-based fishing can get anglers into areas that would be impossible by boat. Although flicking drains can be practiced by boat, there’s nothing better than landing a barra off the bank. While this form of fishing can get you into some pretty tight areas, remember to be croc-wise. In the Cape, crocodiles are a common threat and even the tiniest bodies of water, clear or murky, deep or shallow, barren or clotted with structure are potential ambush points for these aggressive reptiles.

If you’re fishing land-based and at the same level as the water, stand at least 4-5m from the water, especially if the water is deep and murky with rocky or mangrove-lined ledges where these beasts love to hunt. To a crocodile, you are food, and they see you as a walking snack. They’re patiently waiting for the right moment to strike. If an area is dodgy looking or has fresh croc signs, stay well away. A fish is not worth your life. Remember, just because you can’t see them or haven’t heard any reports in the area, doesn’t mean they aren’t present.

Back to catching barra, the next step is working out what gear to use. Firstly, a reel from 1000-5000 may be used for chasing these fish, but a 2500 sized reel equipped with 20-30lb braid and a 10-15lb rod should do the trick, unless the fish are huge in size (over 1m) or around tight structure.

If the angler is experienced, going lighter is definitely much more fun and comes with more finesse and a greater challenge. Unless I’m chasing big girls around the rock bars or the pylons, I use the Okuma Ceymar reel (3000) equipped with 12lb braid to land most of my barra.

The trick with these fish is to allow them to run at their leisure if possible, to discourage lots of headshakes and jumping, as well as to prevent these powerful fish from bending hooks, popping split rings or simply tearing the hooks loose. Despite their aggressive nature, barra can be surprisingly hard to hook and are known for their tendency to shake hooks loose easier than a mackerel biting through light leader.

Sometimes a metre fish can bite as tiny as a simple peck, that would be easily dismissed as a bream bite or a baitfish bumping the lure. At the other end, a tiny rat under 50cm can move a lot of water on a strike. This is why so many anglers are addicted to these fish – they are the unknown.

The trick for barra is to use a reasonably heavy and reasonably long leader. When using heavier gear, the 55lb Schneider is awesome and even on smaller fish, the barra’s raspy mouth, razor sharp gill rake and tendency to jump and head for the timber is iconic. Use at least 30lb leader even for the rats.

As far as lures go there are a variety of lure designs to be used for every different occasion. Vibes are quite good if the fish are hanging deeper and are schooled up (for example, in the mouth of a deep river or creek). Minnows are undeniably the ultimate barra lure for chasing fish in less than 10ft and even in deeper waters trolling deep divers can be very successful, as I have personally discovered with my PB barra (132cm) landed on a deep diving minnow.

Flicking minnows is best around rock bars, headlands, drain mouths, mudflats and just about every other occasion. Of course, soft plastics are also very diverse. Stickbaits and poppers can be awesome when the barra are really excited feeding on popeye mullet and such. Remember, although barra can move quickly, they are an ambush predator and like slow moving prey with lots of twitches and jerks to imitate a wounded baitfish.

While some anglers like to use live bait, such as a mullet or bony bream to catch barra, the thrill of the strike on a lure and the sport of lure fishing can’t be compared, even if the fish landed on baits are larger and more numerous.

Some very interesting species of fish can be landed as by-catch too when chasing barra in the mouths of freshwater spills, such as good sized queenfish, big pikey bream, the red devil mangrove jack, juvenile golden snapper and black jewfish, estuarine cod, threadfin and blue salmon. Even more bizarre species can be caught like giant herring and flathead with the occasional river monster landed on a big old live mullet, such as big bull sharks, stingrays, sawfish and massive barramundi.

At the end of the day, it’s all about fun, caring for the environment and respecting the diversity of the great Cape York. Anglers need to take care of one of the last places on earth where nature is still at its fullest, and not flogged out like most areas. Remember to practice catch and release and always remember to think like a fish!

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