Heavy timber tactics – By John Boon
There’s no other type of piscatorial pursuit that even comes close. It would be the closest thing to getting ready for war. The weapons must be of premium calibre or you will be left standing there with nothing but your pants around your ankles and a look of defeat on your face. Preparation must be perfect, faults or floors will no doubt be exposed. You could almost say it’s the best fun you could have with your pants on.
I’m sure you have hooked a barra out on the flats or on a mud bank…..”YAWWWWNNNN!” They are still an amazing looking creature with full chrome body armour flying through the air but as long as you get a good hook set you can just back the drag off, follow them around and wear them out. Sure, you get the reward at the end of the day by landing the fish and getting a mint piccy to post up on social but what about chasing them when the odds are a little more even?
I’ve been lucky enough to hook and land good sized barramundi on just about every type of structure available. Have I won all of those battles? That’s a big HELL NO. Like I mentioned before, everything needs to be set up perfect to give you the best chance of landing one of those big silver maniacs. I call them maniacs because you’re running high drag pressure and the more you pull on them the more they want to pull you all over Australia.
Most of the battles I’ve had have been in the salt but lately I spent a few days out at Lake Maraboon catching up with some good mates. I did an article a while ago about Maraboon Magic with Matty Arnold at the centre of attention. Time on water and attention to detail since that article in my mind has put Matty in a league of his own. When locals seem to struggle, Matty always seems to know where he needs to be.
For this trip we were fishing out of Matty’s Quintrex Renagade side console. There was Matty, myself and another good mate Luke Peisker. We shot off from the ramp and we settled into a timbered bay near the front of the dam.
The wind was pushing in and the big Maraboon barra were rolling through. It just looked prime. We had tight drags and high expectations. We were all running Abu Revo Beast 40 reels with 50lb Suffix 832 braid. The beast has a max drag of 14kg so it does kick some serious ass. The gear ratio might be a bit low for some people trying to get line back on the reel in a hurry, it sits at 5.8-1. We went this way because the lower ratio allows us to slow roll those paddle tails and swimbaits at the perfect speed.
I had my beast matched to a Dobyns swimbait rod while the lads had theirs on Gary Loomis Edge Delta 777 cast rods. Leader material consisted of 80lb Sunline FC100. It was fairly safe to say that we were well prepared.
If we use a soft plastic out in the timber nine times out of ten it goes on a Berkley Nitro jig head. I’ve used these in the salt for a lot of years and have very rarely bent one. We have now put them through the paces on big barra in the fresh and they have come out a winner. Tough as nails.
The Berkley Nitro jigheads now come in packs of 5/0 and 7/0 that have cool stinger attachments on the front of the lead weight making adding a chin stinger a piece of cake. Just a word of warning though, don’t go overboard on the size of the treble you use on the front as it can affect the action of the lure.
Chat was at a minimum as we all watched big barra shadows rolling through on Matty’s Helix. You knew that everyone was on edge because someone would bump a bit of timber and almost throw their shoulder out with a reflex strike.
It definitely wasn’t the time to give someone a sneaky rod tap but with the calibre of blokes on board it did happen, multiple times.
I sent a Zerek Live Mullet out into a big pile of standing timber. About two cranks into the retrieve it got inhaled and full bodied chrome took to the air. All the boys heard me say was “I’m in trouble”. I went as hard as I possibly could but the big barra had stitched me up around a tree. I went to free spool and we snuck in to see if we could untangle it.
As we got closer I had to engage the reel to wind up the slack, as I did this the barra went for another run, the thumb bar on the reel jammed under the tension and the line went slack. BUGGER! Remember how I said the odds are about even? Well, I just had my ass kicked.
Matty was next in line to have a go. The wind had shifted slightly so the boat was repositioned.
Matty was slow rolling his Zerek Flat Shad back to the boat when it got belted next to some standing timber. He went from relaxed to full tension in a split second.
He had the barra jumping around the boat very quickly which is what you want. If they get their head down, they’ve got more chance on stitching you up. I had the net at the ready and Matty’s barra decided to take one final run and done him on a snag under the boat. Not the best start to a trip but what a rush.
After that, fish things went quiet and we went searching trying to find better numbers. We were casting down a narrow corridor with a break in the thick timber.
Luke down sized his paddle tail plastic which turned out to be the right decision. The barra hit and came out of the water. IT WAS BIG, and absolute madness from the start.
Matty was on the electric chasing as the barra pulled line against a tight drag. Luke did an awesome job steering it around trees. It managed to stitch him up in some timber but came straight back out. Luck was on our side.
It was a sight to be seen when that beast hit the deck. It stretched out to 1185mm and was an amazing capture in such tight country. It was the size of small elephant. The pump doesn’t just affect the bloke on the rod but the entire crew. Adrenalin and shaking hands are standard practice when chasing big angry barra in tight structure. Team work is paramount to swing the odds in your favour.
The rest of the trip went along the same lines, we would chase the wind and scan the points and have a cast when fish were located. At the end of the trip we were sitting about 50/50 with fish lost and landed. We all boated some heavy timber giants which ranged from 91cm to 118cm.
The go hard or go home tactic worked well. There was one exception. When the barra were on their game and choking the lures the hook-ups were solid and it was happy days. When they weren’t committed and were only swiping at the lure, we would hook them on the side of the face and with tight drags pulled hooks weren’t uncommon. I did try and back the drag off a bit to try and compensate but it was almost useless with how thick the timber was.
So that’s enough about the fresh, what about the salt? The gear is pretty much the same but about the only thing that changes is the types of lures used. In the fresh we run a lot of paddle tail and swim baits. We believe this is because boney bream are their main food source. We see coughed up boney’s on the water’s surface and also boney’s regurgitated when the barra are on the deck.
In the salt one of the main lures I run is a Reidy’s soft vibe Fish Snakz. First of all they are pretty cheap, second they seem to keep their action when you beef the hooks right up and third they have a solid wire connection to the back treble.
Some people might think I’m nuts for throwing vibes at heavy structure because they are relatively snaggy. There’s a couple of tactics we use to be able to do this successfully. First of all you can use the current in your favour. If you cast up current then the vibe will be buried in no time. If you cast down current the flow will give your vibe a bit more hang time and less chance of snagging. It’s a technique that has taken a while to perfect and the only way you will get good at it is to give it a go and try some different ideas. I’ve been able to get reaction strikes with vibes out of buried barra when other lures have failed.
The second tip is the type of trebles we use. I’ve found that the Decoy YW-77 curve point trebles snag less than standard trebles because the hook point is tucked inward. They still have a great hookup rate though. Most of the time the treble is wedged in the jaw bone. The size 4’s are a bit on the light side for this style of fishing so I’ll run size 2’s on the Reidy’s and even size 1 on bigger vibes.
It’s a well-known fact that barra love prawns in the salt so no tackle box would be completed without a few weedless prawns. We really like two options from the Zerek lure range. The Live Shrimp and also the Cherabin. Both of these lures come with a weedless hook as standard. Weedless is a good option when casting right into hectic structure. They will still snag but nowhere near as much as a conventional jig head. The standard weedless hooks are pretty good quality although I have bent a few when turning up the drag pressure. If this is an issue then maybe look into replacing them with either Owner Flashy or Owner Beast weedless hooks. Anything from Owner is built tough. Due to the hook having an elongated bend it would be hard pressed to find a weedless hook that wouldn’t bend under full load. If you have been using one then I would love to know which model.
The last piece of advice for the salt would be on vertical jigging. We all know that bigger barra can be really stubborn and ten times harder to get to bite then a small barra. Throw in a bit of pressure on some known spots and it gets even harder. One technique that has paid off is sitting on top of them and vertical jigging.
I kind of like to think of the lure as an annoying toddler. They sit there and persist (jigging the lure up and down in front of their face) and basically annoy the living crap out of the parent (barra) until they get a reaction. Reaction strike or nuisance bite, that is the question.
We have successfully jigged on timber piles, wrecks, deep rock bars and pylons. Just like casting vibes at timber this will take a bit of trial and error to get it right. Just make sure you’re holding on tight and super ready or old pink eyes will make you look silly and all you will have left to tell your mates at the pub is about the shredded leader and broken dreams.
Well I hope I have inspired you to grab the heavy gear out and start looking for potential spots. Just remember the harder spots are to fish, the less likely the average angler will want to fish them. There’s only one thing left to do and that’s go and get bent.