The word “Barra” instantly brings to mind a powerful, silver fish with mythical strength, agility and eating qualities. It is a rare angler indeed that harbours no ambition to catch a big barramundi at some point in their life.
As much as the fight is something to be savoured, the whole experience of chasing these fish in their natural environment is equally as enjoyable as barra make their home in some of Australia’s most pristine wilderness areas.
Barramundi are a native fish and prefer the warmer waters of estuaries. Salt and fresh water is suitable for them and they are attracted to submerged timber, rock bars and other snaggy areas.
In late summer they travel from fresh to salt water to spawn, congregating toward river mouths. During the rest of the year, the older fish tend to prefer the salty waters in estuaries and the lower reaches of river systems. Young fish prefer brackish water and the upper reaches of rivers.
Far from being only native to Australia, barramundi are found in the Indo-West Pacific region from the Arabian Gulf to China, Taiwan and Papua New Guinea.
All barra begin their lives as males but most change into females at the age of 5 years old when they are around 60cm long. Young fish may have a high or low survival rate which varies wildly depending upon the area they are born.
Each river, creek or billabong has its own set of dangers and this is the chief factor in the life span of fish in a certain area. It is thought that each system has a unique set of fish that rarely interact with others. This can create problems in areas that are tough to survive and overfishing seriously threatens these populations.
The reason breeding takes place in river mouths is the fact that eggs will only survive in salt or part salt water and eggs are generally laid during spring tides and heavy rains of the wet season.
The females of around 100cm breed with the small males which will be aged between 2 and 3 years. The tide changes during dark new moons or full moons (night time) are thought to be the peak breeding periods so these times should be avoided when fishing.
November and December signal the first wave of spawning while another will usually occur during February and March.
How To Catch Them
The methods of Barra fishing vary wildly from one person and, indeed, one town to another because of the varied environment a barra is happy to live in. At times, only live baits like mullet or hardyheads will work but, at others, they will snap up anything put in front of their nose.
When hooked, they perform spectacular gill flaring leaps and run in powerful bursts to try and find the cover of a branch or log which is where you’ll usually find them spending their days.
The size of the barramundi you will be targeting will be dependant almost entirely upon the time of year you are fishing and whether the water is tidal. At the tail end of the wet season, large fish can be found in “billabongs” or large pools of mostly fresh water. These fish are usually very hungry and you’ll see some great fishing action.
Also around this time (April to May) you will catch big fish in the rivers and estuaries all over the north of Australia. The runout tide is the ideal time to fish here around river mouths but, during other times of the tidal movement, you will find fish in deep holes around snags. Low tides will then produce the best action around these holes.
As the tides starts to roll in, barra move in with it from deeper waters to the shallower creek systems where they’ll take up residency at a good snag until the next turn of the tide. This means that a snag you caught a fish on yesterday may have a totally different fish today or even in twenty minutes time.
Large rock structures are probably the best place to attack, however, as many fish can come from the one place. Experienced barra fishers will literally anchor their boat in front of a rock and work it for three or four hours. At times, you can take ten or fifteen fish in a session if your rock has the right cover a barra is looking for.
You must also have patience. A good example came from one time Steve was working a rock with a red and white minnow lure. The water was murky and the tide was slowly building. After 35 casts he was about to give up when the guide said, “No, you should wait and keep working this rock. They fish will be there.”
Sure enough, cast 36 produced a follow and cast 37 hooked a different fish! Barra are very hard to understand but this method can both waste hours of your time or save hours of searching the creek for other snags. Having said this, live baiting mullet will almost always produce a hit within minutes if the fish are there. Given that one may move in at any time of the rising tide, however, keeping your livey in the water when the fish aren’t biting initially can still produce results.
When the tide starts to rise you will hear the barra “boofing” food on the surface. Don’t confuse this with mullet swimming around. A boof will leave large rings in the water and a big barra will make a big noise as well.
Other spots to look for include freshwater runoffs that create a small bay, submerged rocks in the current, tree roots and anything a barra (which is a lazy fish) can rest behind, waiting to ambush its lunch. After the tide rises to the point where the water is firmly around the mangrove roots you should think about heading home. Only about 4 or 5 hours per day are worth fishing in large tidal creek systems.
Although the end of the wet is probably the best time to target barra, the start of the season around October and November usually produces several weeks of excellent fishing as well. At this time, lures that work on the surface will produce results.
As the wet sets in, fish at dusk or at night with live baits to get the best results as lure fishing will now be hard work. The fish aren’t actively feeding as much and, while they’ll take a lure, bait will be snapped up more keenly.
Dawn and dusk are the best times to fish and, after heavy rains, big fish will follow the bait flushed down to the mouth and be waiting there. Liveys are ideal at this time. From upstream of the snag you wish to fish, drift a bait down with the current and hang on.
During winter in the south or the “dry” in the north, barramundi move further upstream. Once again, deep holes and areas with lots of cover and snags are the places to concentrate your efforts. You will find that most fish are in the limits of the tidal influence so don’t be afraid to work well upstream
Trolling for barra is also possible and speeds needs to be slow with the lure placed a fair distance from the boat.
Lures like Rapala Skitterpops have proved very good for barra with the large splash they create in the water but Nilsmaster Spearheads, Killalure Terminator II’s and Cordell Rattlers are highly recommended by those who know.
We, personally, have found red and white Halco Laser Pros with a rattle and grey Killalures to be very effective although the Rapala Husky Jerk is also good for picking up mangrove jacks as well.
Either way, make sure your lure is suited to the size of the fish as big barra like big lures.
The fight of a barra is short and sweet and the first 5 seconds are the critical time. If you don’t get the upper hand now, chances are that you never will. You must use an outfit that you are comfortable with getting a small lure right into the snags.
Baitcaster reels are ideal but don’t go that way unless you’re an expert cast as many productive hours will be wasted picking out backlashes. Whichever way you go, you’ll need 6-10kg mainline, a strong leader like Shogun 40lb Game Leader and strong terminal tackle as a barra will easily straighten a hook.
How To Rig Your Line To Catch Them