The Barramundi is one of Australia's most sort after species and an internationally recognized game fish. Growing to over 50 kilos, though Barra over 35 kilos is considered rare, an average specimen would weigh between 2 & 10 kilos. They are found predominantly in the northern half of Australia reaching as far south as Bundaberg in Queensland and Exmouth Gulf in Western Australia. The Barra lives in both fresh water (billabongs) and saltwater. It can be caught throughout the year but is best during the warmer months. Barra are often caught on livebait, especially during the dry season (June/July) when the cold weather slows the fish down somewhat. No licence is required to catch Barramundi for sport but strict bag limits apply to the number of fish kept. Unlike many gamefish, the Barra is superb eating and often kept for the table.
Barramundi is word derived from an Aboriginal word "Barramunda", meaning large scaled fish. The Barramundi has a similar but somewhat reversed breeding pattern to most Salmonoid or Trout type fish. Spawning occurs at night near river mouths on the incoming tide during the full and new moons over the spring and summer monsoon season. The Barramundi swims upstream generally under the influence of "Wet Season" rains for feeding. Spawning occurs in late summer, towards the end of the Wet Season when larger fish move to river mouths and spawn. The juveniles are then carried from the spawning site by currents and tides to other river systems, where they move upstream to the fresh water to feed voraciously. During the Wet, many Barra swim so far upstream they end up landlocked and can live out their lives in lakes and billabongs without ever returning to the ocean.
The Barramundi species, like many other fish, are asexual, and undergoes a sex change during its life history, with all fish commencing life as males then undergoing a sex change to become females. Juveniles mature first at 3 to 4 years of age as males and change at 6 to 8 years of age to females. Although sex cannot be determined externally, generally fish less than 80cm in length are males and those over 100cm in length are females.
Saltwater specimens are colored bluish or greenish-gray on the upper side and silvery below with yellowish fins. Freshwater specimens have darker upper bodies, a golden underbody, dark fins with a deep girth and a thick tail. Juveniles have a form and structure similar to adult fish quite often with a white dorsal head stripe. Freshwater Barra don't fight as hard as the salt or brackish water variety, and on occasions, when eaten, the flesh does taste somewhat "muddy". However, they are still a challenge to hook up and land.
The female, which is larger than the male, is a prolific breeder, capable of multiple spawnings during a wet season and generally produce 3 to 6 million eggs between 0.7 and 0.8mm in diameter per season. Barramundi eggs and larvae require saltwater for successful fertilisation and survival, even though the juveniles and adults can survive in fresh, brackish or salt water.
They are avid lure and fly takers often putting on an aerial jumping display when hooked. They can also be caught on live baits such as mullet, bony bream, prawns and shrimp. Barramundi are found haunting underwater structure of the estuaries as well as the tidal and lower fresh water reaches of most tropical river systems.
At the end of each Wet or Monsoon season, Northern Australian rivers are capable of producing exceptional Barramundi fishing. No two wet seasons are alike and the Wet just happening in the N.T. seems to be one of the largest and longest on record. Barramundi will swim from their normal areas of occupation in the tidal reaches of creeks and rivers, well upstream when the rains raise water levels. The reasons for this are not mysterious, a lot of water means access to areas not previously available to the fish as hunting grounds. These may have been unused for as long as twelve months. In addition to this, the Barramundi can expect higher concentrations of insects and young fish of other breeding species whose habits take them to the fresh water for procreation. Indeed the entire food chain upstream is bolstered by the rain. When the rain stops the feeding can begin.
Catching the rivers and creeks at just the right time is difficult. Different areas will "fire" at different times as the waters in that particular habitat reaches just the right level and flow. The keen angler must attack his chosen areas over a period of time as the chances of hitting just the right day for the weekend fisherman are more limited still. Certain creeks, rivers and lagoons may "fire" for up to two weeks or more, however, reports show that several days is the average time for voracious Barra feeding in any one particular area. So this really means that many great fishing locations in the N.T. will produce their best Barra fishing for 12 months in the space of a few days sometime between February and April.
Barramundi and the Wet are integrally linked and only when the conditions are perfect will the fish respond to the call of the season to feed. There are several areas that are considered to be Wet Season sure bets for good Barra. These occur in almost every creek and river and even the least trained eye can see the potential for fish with the following tips.
Feeder Creeks: flows of water no matter how small, preferably running directly into the main branch of the creek or river. Any small flow of water can wash insects and other small prey into the creek and the Barra will sit at the entrances to these flows waiting for the prey to be swept to them. It is worth patiently casting these areas with a variety of depth lures as the larger fish will tend to the bottom and may come and go throughout the day.
Water Falls: take the example of Feeder Creeks to the next level, all the features of the feeder with the added attraction for the fish of sound cover, high oxygen levels and more turbulence to disturb the prey's ability to escape. Barra will laze at the base of water falls and pick off the stunned prey that flows inevitably past them.
Snags: In particular, new fallen trees with cover on the surface. Young and small fish will quickly congregate around this new source of protection and the predators will not be far behind. Once again patience can be the key as until the snag establishes its own populations, predators may tend to come and go. Snags after the Wet take on a new complexity, as fish that may have lived there for some time will move upstream to feed. The best snags after the wet seem to be those either blocking direct current flow thus providing slack water for prey and those within 100m of a feeder creek as this gives the Barra cover from the currents as they wait for their food to come by.
The timing of the start of post Wet feeding is very tough indeed to determine. There is no substitute for time spent on the water and the lessons learned there. A good rule of thumb however is 5 days of Dry after the last heavy rain of February and you are about as close as guess work can take you. Suffice to
say the Barramundi's cycle of life and the ebb and flow of the fresh water are clearly linked in many complex ways. A larger Wet will almost always produce a good year's fishing and the opposite is certainly true also.
The best time of the month to fish for Barra is anytime ! but 2 to 3 days after the full moon can be productive. Ideal times during the day is either 2.5 hours before the bottom of tide and 1 hour of the first of the run in, or, 2 hours before the top of tide and 40 minutes of the run out. A run on the tide when there is a 1 to 1.5 meter difference can reap results as well. The ideal preference is a tide bottoming out in the afternoon ie fishing from noon to dusk, with the run in just before dark. The sunnier and hotter the day, the better.
Remember, if you are going to release your Barra after the mandatory snap shot, please hold the fish as if you are holding a new born baby. Do not hold the fish up by its head, mouth, or gills. Grab the underside of the fish with one hand, and the tail with the other hand. Always try to net your fish if you are to release it, and do not gaff.
Legal Minimum Length
Do not keep a Barramundi which measures less than 58 cm and more than 120 cm in overall length. If you have a Barramundi fillet in your possession which measures less than 27 cm, it can be used as evidence that you have taken an undersized fish.
There is a bag limit of five fish per angler. There is also a closed season between November the 1st and February the 1st. There are also varying closed seasons in the Gulf of Carpentaria, so it is advisable to seek local regulations before fishing.
Type of Tackle
Use line between 5 to 10kg, line poundage depending on the size of the Barra being sought.
A rod around 1.5 to 1.8m is ideal for both trolling, spinning or bait rigs.
No.3/0 - 5/0 Mustad Beak for bait, or a No.1 - 2 Trebles for lures. Barramundi have extremely big mouths, and rather than biting their prey, they tend to do a "global suck" of the bait/lure when on the bite.
Barramundi can be very hard on treble hooked lures. Because they feed by implosion, their mouths tend to inhale the lure. As soon as a lure's hooks bite home, the mouth rapidly opens again. This can mean that as the circle of the Barra's mouth grows in diametre, the torsional strength of "hook pulling against hook" can tear a lure apart.
Barramundi are quite adept at spitting out and busting up your favourite lures, so it's fairly crucial to keep the tension on the line when hooked onto a Barra.
Live prawn, frog and baitfish such as mullet, garfish work well. When trolling and spinning, lures that are favoured are Rapala minnows, Frog lures, Bomber Long A's, Nilsmaster Spearheads, Killalure Terminator II's and Cordell rattlers. The Killalure Terminator II's tend to be the most popular.
Rig No. 1
Lure fishing requires constant movement and activity. A lure must be repeatedly presented and constantly moving. This means to catch a fish on a lure requires a lot more physical effort.
The general rule of thumb with colours for lures, is that in clear water systems, natural colours such as blues, browns, chromes and greens work quite well. As water clarity diminishes, luminous and fluorescent colours come into their own. It pays to have quite a few colours available as fish can be quite fickle as both water depth and colour changes. A fantastic lure for big saltwater Barras is the Red, Silver and Black RMG Scorpion 6" lure.
If using a snap swivel directly onto a lure, ensure that it is as small as possible, so as not to dampen the lure action. The diagram below shows a snap swivel being used, but with a 1 metre trace to the lure, tied off with a half-blood knot. The 1 metre trace still gives the lure the flexibility it needs in displaying a free lure action when being retrieved after a cast. By using a slightly heaver line for your trace, it will safeguard you from the Barra cutting the main line off on snags or wearing it out on its sharp gill plate.
Some people like to tie the leader straight onto the lure eye by way of a Half-Blood Knot or Palomar Knot. The easiest way is to use a small quality snap swivel tied to the leader. This allows for a quick and easy change of lures and you don't keep shortening the leader up by re-tying. Normally, a swivel will only upset the action of the smallest lures.
If using braided line such as SpiderWire - Fusion, tie your line using a Palomar Knot.
Rig No. 2
For bait rigs, small fish such as mullet or garfish are best, and used with one hook under the dorsal fin and a second hook through the eye. When using live prawns, use a dropper or paternoster rig with the leader attached to a ball sinker with a dropper loop 70 cm away from it. A second leader approximately 25 cm long is then attached from the dropper loop with a snelled 3/0 - 5/0 wide gap hook on the end of it. Prawns should be attached to the hook through the last link in its tail.
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