Learning and growing – By John Boon
I would like to just take a quick moment to celebrate the reopening of saltwater barra season here in Queensland. That three month break never gets any easier I can assure you of that. Now that old pink eyes is back on the radar you can now stow the bream gear and throw the slow pitching to the side because it’s GO time. If you’re wondering if I’m a complete barra nut then the answer is a big HELL YES!!
If I could chase only one species for the rest of my life barra would be it. It’s been written about time and time again but they are the ultimate sport fish and look a million dollars dressed up in full bodied chrome. I believe the biggest draw card to this particular species is that they are the ‘thinking man’s fish’. What I mean by that is if you want to become consistent then you’ll need to start paying close attention.
Many moons ago I was bloody hopeless at catching a barra. Most anglers when they start out chasing a particular fish won’t be very good and that is completely understandable. It’s human evolution that you will require experience to become good at anything.
The biggest piece of advice I could give to anyone that’s sitting back in the lounge chair reading this article and really wants to improve their barra game is that you have to dedicate time to it. Back in the day I had my list of ‘safe’ fish I could go and target and feel really confident that the great white hunter would return with photo’s to show and stories to tell.
It wasn’t till I stopped, took a step back and admitted to myself that I needed to change what I was doing in order to find some sort of consistency. Some legend wrote those very words a long time ago talking about expecting change without making changes.
There are two ways to improve that I believe have really helped me over the years. They are by fishing competitions and by targeting pressured areas. I can hear the lounge chair experts kicking back and saying “how the bloody hell is trying to catch already pressured fish going to be any help? They don’t bite anyway”.
Most anglers will know the frustration of trying to catch a fish off a spot that generally has boats on it all the time. Sometimes even those boats will sit on top of them and just drown live baits all day. Will those boats get results off those spots? You bet they will. At the end of the day a barra is an animal and they need to eat to survive.
The best thing about fishing a pressured spot especially with lures is it will force you to change and it will force you to spend a lot of time getting to know that particular area. Don’t just go in all guns blazing and expect to crack the code straight away.
The best thing you can do is take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
If you see boats there constantly then pay attention to what they’re doing. 9/10 times if I drive past a boat sitting on a common spot up towards the town reaches of the Fitzroy I would almost bet money that those anglers are throwing soft vibes and using the same retrieves as each other.
Cast it out, let it sink and then a slow lift and drop all the way back to the boat. BORING!!!!!! That particular technique will still work but if that’s the only way that you know to catch a fish then I’m sorry to say but your results will be limited. You’ve got to keep an open mind and be prepared to try different retrieves.
Soft vibes would be one of the easiest lures to use in the world and that’s why anglers use them a lot, especially around the Rockhampton Net Free zone. You can turn your brain off, cast and still catch fish but I can assure you the thinking anglers results will speak for themselves.
Anyway, back to the pressured area conversation. You know where those boats sit and what tactics are generally used so now is the time to fish differently to everyone else. We used this same tactic in our last saltwater barra comp. We have fished a lot of 100mm soft vibes and 3 inch gulp shrimps for barra in the past but last comp not one barra between us was caught on any of those techniques. We changed tact, communicated and came away with our best finish to date and just like the title of this article states ‘always learning and growing’.
So what could you do different to the average angler lifting and dropping a soft vibe? The sky is the limit. Paddle tails from three inch to ten inch. You can slow roll them which does account for about 80 percent of our bites but what about something like casting it into the middle of that school and letting it sit for five seconds, then give it a good hard rip so it darts towards the surface about a meter and then falls again. You could even up the weight of that particular paddle tail and try a fast burn but keeping it in the strike zone. Remember when I said before that barra are the thinking man’s fish? I wasn’t joking.
Fishing competitions has been really important in learning how to fish for barra in all conditions. Anyone can go and catch a barra when the weather is favourable and the conditions are stable. But what happens when the only day you get to go fishing it’s either blowing the dreaded westerly, local flooding, a massive temperature change or when the wind is 30 knots or worse?
Fishing comps will force you to figure out how to catch a barra no matter what the conditions. I’ll give you a perfect example of what we have learned over the past two years fishing one of the best saltwater barra competitions, ‘The Frenchville Barra Bash’.
The rules are simple, you need to catch as many barra each day but they will only count your ten biggest fish. Pretty simple to say that when you catch ten then it’s a matter of going and looking for upgrades.
The 2020 event was a very big eye opener for us. I have never been so confident going into one of our local barra comps. We had a big list of spots to get our fish from and had worked hard on getting the timing right. We had spots up our sleeve for most weather conditions.
The two days pre-fish before the 2020 kickoff we went and took the hooks off our lures and went to our spots to check out a few things. We wanted to know if the numbers were present, if they were sitting in ‘feed mode’ and we would cast those hook-less lures to make sure they would bite. Everything was working and we were set for the tournament to begin.
Our first spot for day one was a clanger. At this particular stage of the tide there would be at least 100 barra that would push to this particular part of the Fitzroy. We got on our spot early and waited for them to show up. We waited and waited some more, they never showed. They were there the last two days so I was definitely scratching my head. We wanted to leave that spot with at least 3 or 4 fish on the board but we left without even getting a bite.
We then went to a few sneaky spots we had up our sleeve that we had only found in the last couple of days, those spots were now barren. This would be what we faced for the next two days. Super frustrating.
For the event we had one spot of small barra that saved our bacon. Out of the 100 or so teams we still managed to hold on to 17th place. Disappointing after the last couple of years we managed to stay in the top 5.
So why did our plan fail? The short version is that we failed to adapt to the conditions. The spots that we had worked so hard for didn’t work due to insane water clarity and a severe lack of tidal run. These conditions we weren’t prepared for and had never really fished them. It was a big reality check for us and we came tumbling back down to earth in a big hurry.
Fast forward to the 2021 event and low and behold they had picked the same tides from the previous year. We were back smarter and more educated after the failure of last year’s effort.
Did we fish the same way as the previous year? That would be absolute madness. Our pre-fishing for the two months leading up to the comp was based around learning to fish those conditions.
The time on the water that we spent leading up to the comp was tough to be honest. Howling wind and rain definitely takes the shine out of a day on the water but what if we got those conditions for the Barra Bash?
The biggest changes we made were looking in places we wouldn’t normally look. Major tidal flow areas were a priority. Areas that normally would have too much run would be prime locations for low flow tides. We also stayed away from the areas that were way too clean during 2020.
There were so many hours spent behind the sounder looking for new locations and figuring out how to fish them correctly. Come comp time we had a handful of new spots so hopefully we could piece the puzzle together on the day.
The hard work had paid off. The further we got into the competition the better we adapted. We had never caught a bag of 10 fish in the past years of fishing and both day one and two we submitted our ten fish with a few upgrades on day two.
The third day was going to be our worst because it’s a half day and it’s a high tide start.
Imagine our surprise when team mate Luke Peisker put a 99cm barra in the boat off the first cast of the morning.
That’s exactly the confident start we needed. We ended up with 7 for the final half day and had broken all of our personal competition records.
By recognising your strengths and weaknesses you can narrow down what you do well and what needs work. Don’t ever be too proud to admit what needs improving, it’s how we move forward as anglers.
In closing, this month we have the Shimano King of Kings competition. It’s a great comp but slightly different to the barra comps we usually fish like the Frenchville Barra Bash. It’s a 3 day event and you can choose multiple different species to target but the clincher is that you only need to catch your biggest two.
We love our barra so that’s what we are going to be chasing. The only issue is that the tides that the KOK’s crew has picked aren’t the tides that we usually fish as in there’s going to be massive tidal run. You could throw your hands in the air and say “I’ve got no idea” or you could grab some of that confidence you’ve developed and have a red hot crack.
The main driver behind catching barra on less than ideal tides or conditions is you have to learn how to fish them. So we are going back to the drawing board and putting a few brain storming sessions together. I hope to report back with some of the findings. Wish us luck.