Be a better barra fisher – Dave Donald Feb 2016

Oil up the reels, check those rod runners for cracks, replace any rusty lure hooks and freshen up that line, it’s barramundi time again in Queensland!

Moderate rains throughout the state should mean that old pink eyes are on the move and hungry. Those afflicted with the varying stages of barra fever know that there’s only one treatment for their disease – as much time as possible spent casting lures or baits into stretch of water that these beauties are said to inhabit. Whether novice or experienced, each new season provides the angler with opportunities to learn more about these Aussie icons so revered by fishers of all ages – and both sexes.

Let’s take a look at some of the tactics that might improve your results when chasing this sometimes elusive scaly character.

Quality Tackle

Barra can grow well over a metre in size and better than 20 kilos in weight so your tackle has to be top notch. Most regular fishers use a baitcasting combo, particularly if they are predominantly casting lures, but spinning outfits can be just as effective in the right hands.

Baitcast reels are precision machines and must be treated as such. My recommendation is that you buy the best reel you can afford as the more expensive models do make casting and catching a fish that much easier. Brands such as Daiwa, Shimano and ABU are renowned for their quality and are definitely worth a look. Reels should hold around 120 to 150 metres of 10 to 15 kilo braid just in case a big one comes along. Expect to pay a minimum of $200 for a top class model.

Baitcasting rods are usually of medium to fast taper measuring from 1.6 to 1.9 meters in length with the shorter rods more suited to lure casting in tight situations such as small mangrove creeks. High quality graphite rods cast best but are susceptible to breakage if they are not looked after or bent at angles of more than 90 degrees during a fight. Those new to barra fishing should choose one of the more durable composite models until their technique improves.

Spinning outfits usually feature a good quality reel of 3000 or 4000 size designed to hold about the same amount of line as the above baitcasters. The more expensive spin models all have very good drag systems, a feature that comes to the fore when a big fish is hooked in tight situations. Many fishers carry two outfits, one spin and one baitcast, the latter for casting larger lures and the former more suited to throwing light soft plastics.

Spin rods are usually a little longer than their baitcasting equivalents and often have a softer tip section that aids the delivery of the lighter lures. A powerful butt section helps control any tough customers. Again, good quality composites make great beginners rods but high modulus graphite will assist in improved casting finesse.

Most fishers choose 8 to 15 kilo braid as their line of choice these days when fishing for barra although there are a few that still like a top quality low stretch nylon or fluorocarbon. Again, choose quality line rather than ‘el cheepo’! Saving a few dollars only to lose that fish of a lifetime is a very poor outcome in anybodies terms. I’ve used Platypus braid ever since it came on the market and particularly like their Platinum product for strength, castability and durability.

No run, no fun!

Learning and applying this barra ‘mantra’ is essential to catching fish regularly. Basically the rule goes when the tide is running, the barra will be biting, although they are generally easier to find on the bottom half of the cycle. When the water is high or low and conditions are still, try dropping a softie into a deep hole somewhere for other species until the run picks back up.

However, don’t forget the first burst of the ebb, when the water starts to move off the mangrove edges and mudflats. Fish will often lie in ambush along the roots and drains waiting for bait to be flushed from the shallows. The water is invariably skinny and that makes a quiet approach essential but the action at this time of the tide can be spectacular.

Colour changes!

The meeting of currents of slightly different colour can signal the perfect spot for a barra ambush. There are two major scenarios where this may occur – freshwater run-off from the wet season meeting a larger waterway or a wind effected mudbank drain discharging its discoloured water as the tide drops. Both of these situations will find the baitfish attempting to hide in the murky areas while the barra patrol the edges picking off the stragglers.

These are the places where the characteristic ‘boof’ of feeding barra are most likely to be encountered. Other good signs are jumping prawns and very nervous mullet. Anchoring close to a likely junction and working lures through the colour change is the best fishing option in this situation. Species such as queenfish and threadfin salmon are other predators attuned to this situation.


Barra fishing requires the use of a heavy leader due primarily to the presence of razor sharp protuberances on their gill plates but also to combat abrasion from the rough, sandpaper-like mouth. There has been much written on what constitutes the minimum breaking strain for a barra leader, particularly now that abrasive resistant fluorocarbon has become popular.

What some less experienced commentators seem to sometimes neglect to consider is the worst case scenario, that is, when that fish of a lifetime jumps on! Unless the fisher has a considerable dose of luck on their side, even a 20 kilo piece of the best fluorocarbon snagging those gill plates under tension is prone to lasting less than a couple of seconds – much to the chagrin of all involved! In my own experiences, I’ve witnessed ‘tough’ rated 30 kilo mono severed in an instant on more than a couple of occasions, usually after a sudden turn by a heavy fish.

This being the case, my recommendation is to use a leader around a metre long when fishing for barra, the breaking strain of which should be a minimum of 20 kilo fluorocarbon or 30 kilo abrasive resistant mono. When deep trolling for larger fish around rock bars and heavy snags, rigging with 40 kilo mono may sometimes be required.

There’ll be those who claim this is ‘overkill’- and in probably 90 percent of occasions it will be – but that depends on whether the angler wants to have the very best chance of a win when that 120cm beauty turns up. Even fishing with a fly, my shock tippet is 25 to 30 kilos, and my best pink eyes on a feather duster to date measured a cool 107cm off the beach!


I’m not planning a lengthy dissertation on techniques here just a couple of important tips. When fitting braid to your reel, always make sure to pack the spool first with a couple of layers of mono line. If fitting 15 kilo braid then initially tie some 15 to 20 kilo mono to the spool and run on a couple of metres before joining the mono to the braid.

Make sure you then wind the braid on under a fair amount of pressure. Get a partner to squeeze the spool between a couple of tea towels while running the tight line through a wet cloth for best results. If the braid is wound on too loosely, the line has a tendency to pull down into itself under a heavy load – and another big fish disappears into the sunset!

As far as braid to leader knots go, I’ve finally mastered the FG knot by using the latest method of holding the end of the braid under pressure using my teeth. Not sure if my dentist will like my choice when I visit next month but it certainly works a treat. Have a look at the IGFA web site for an excellent video on the technique.

Looking after your fish!

Many fishers these days choose to release a large proportion of their barra, particularly the big breeding females over 80cm in length. Of course, any fish under the 58cm legal length must also be returned to the water in good condition.

To make sure any released barramundi survive long term, they must be handled correctly. For best results, fish should be scooped in a landing net that won’t cause damage to scales or the slimy coating that covers their exterior. These days, there are plenty of large landing nets around that feature knotless, slippery mesh that assists in this regard.

If the fish is to be photographed, make sure it is supported under its belly when being lifted. Try to avoid hanging its full weight off fish grippers as this can cause damage to the neck region that will have fatal consequences, even when the fish seems to swim off strongly.

Large fish often need to be revived by placing them gently back in the water then moving the boat slowly forward while gripping their lower jaw. When the fish starts to clamp down on your thumb and attempts to swim by itself, that is the signal it is ready to go. Showing respect for the fish we catch is very important in these days of radical groups calling for ‘sport’ fishing to be banned.


Well, that’s about all for this month. Get out and chase those pink eyes while water temperatures and conditions are at their peak!