Learning to catch freshwater barramundi on Lake Monduran.
There’s a special magic about freshwater fishing that just can’t be replicated elsewhere. It’s hard to put your finger on it exactly, but you can feel it when chasing Murray cod in Victoria, bass in New South Wales, and barramundi in Queensland’s freshwater impoundments.
A big part of the appeal of chasing these true native species is the places they take you. When you’re used to jostling with throngs of hopefuls at crowded coastal spots, the solace and rare majesty of plying an inland waterway without seeing another soul all day is a breath of fresh air.
It feels like a workout for your brain to try your hand at new skills, and there’s something freeing about approaching a fresh challenge as a novice.
I might fish the saltwater 100 days per year, but that experience counts for little when fishing non-tidal freshwater systems, where a whole new set of nuances must be observed in order to catch fish.
Lake Monduran is a sprawling freshwater impoundment formed when the Kolan River was dammed in the 1970s. It’s around an hour inland from Bundaberg and just 20km out of Gin Gin.
It’s also one of the best waterways in the country to get connected to a truly big barramundi. When we decided to focus this issue of the magazine on central Queensland, I knew I’d have to factor in a visit to Monduran.
The lake is at near 100 percent capacity these days and has a surface area of over five hectares, which is to say that there’s plenty of water to cover.
When you’re trying to wrap your head around the process of locating fish in such a vast waterway, it really pays to enlist the help of a skilled local.
I first fished this system five years ago, in the middle of winter. Not exactly prime barramundi season, with water temperatures dipping down to around 20°C.
I was visiting with two other blokes and we got in touch with local fishing guide Jamie Bein of Lake Monduran Barra Charters to help get the lay of the land. Jamie informed us that the fishing would likely be tough in the chilly conditions, then proceeded to take us out and tried every trick in the book until we’d each boated a fat barramundi.
On my return visit in May last year I got back in touch with Jamie who made time to take me out for a fish on his decked out 5m fishing boat. He’d been putting clients onto up to 20 barramundi a day in the weeks prior to my visit, which is outstanding fishing in anyone’s book.
I managed to line my visit up with the first cold snap of late autumn, which slowed the bite down somewhat, although we did experience some fantastic fishing. Spending a day on the water with a bloke who fishes this system every week of the year certainly provided plenty of insight and helped speed up my learning curve.
It was interesting to note the importance of stealth when chasing barra in the freshwater. While we criss-crossed the lake with the 115HP outboard at full throttle, I noted that Jamie always killed the petrol motor well in advance before entering any bays that we were going to fish.
We silently nosed the boat in amongst the snags using the remote controlled electric motor and tied off to standing timber when we wanted to fish a particular spot for more than a few casts.
Whenever we had to bring the boat up close to the structure we’d been fishing to retrieve a snagged lure, we’d generally move on to a new spot as the commotion of the boat passing overhead could be enough to spook the fish.
Jamie mentioned that it’s sometimes worth hammering particular snags with dozens of casts, as it’s possible to prompt territorial barramundi into striking a lure that keeps invading their space.
This proved true at the first spot we fished for the morning. I must have fired 30 casts at this one snag and was starting to wonder whether it was time to move on when a fat 68cm barra smashed my lure a couple of cranks out into clear water.
After a short but intense fight we had it boatside and brought it onboard for a couple of photos before a quick release.
We hit the water early and the predawn fog was just starting to part as we motored out from the boat ramp. Jamie mentioned that the morning’s prime bite time was approaching at around 6am and would continue until nearly 8am.
These bite times are calculated using solunar tables that anglers have been observing for generations. The tables predict two major bite times and two minor bite times each day that are predicated on the movement of the sun, moon and tide changes.
Sure enough, once we pulled up at our first fishing spot, we could see plenty of barramundi moving about on the sounder. By the time the major bite period ended at 8am, we were seeing far less fish activity and movement.
After a couple of slow hours, we began to note considerably more fish activity as we approached the 12pm midday minor bite period.
The solunar theory can be applied to many forms of fishing, and the updated info is published each year in a book called The Anglers Almanac, the info is also available online on a number of sites and downloadable apps.
Fishing for barramundi in a system like Lake Monduran involves a fine balancing act between picking gear light and supple enough to cast featherweight lures all day and work them with finesse, yet robust enough to muscle big fish out of tight structure and minimise lost fish and lures.
Freshwater lure fishing purists prefer to use baitcasting tackle due to its superior accuracy and casting performance, and Jamie indeed looked very comfortable firing off pinpoint accurate casts amongst the snags.
I, on the other hand, only pick up a baitcaster a couple of times each year, so suffered a few line backlashes and mistimed casts into the foliage before getting back into the swing of things.
Crisp seven-foot graphite rods matched to streamlined baitcaster reels loaded with fine gauge 50lb braid were our weapons of choice. A metre or so of stiff 80lb leader is necessary to provide enough abrasion resistance to offer a chance of muscling a big barra out from between the snags and standing timber.
You won’t win every battle fishing with this gear, as there are some true monster barramundi up to the 120cm mark patrolling these waters, but it offers enough grunt to give you a fighting chance to boat most of the fish you hook and it’s lightweight and comfortable to cast with all day.
Our lures of choice were the classic Reidys B52 diving minnows. There’s something about the slow body roll of these divers that’s just irresistible to barramundi everywhere. When the bite slowed up, we mixed it up with a few different patterns of soft plastics that could be fished deeper in the water column.
Lake Monduran would have to be one of the prettiest places in the country to spend a day on the water. Apart from the hordes of big barramundi on offer, it’s also stocked with plenty of big native bass, sleepy cod, silver perch, sooty grunter and saratoga.
The waterway also supports an incredibly healthy ecosystem of over 600 species of birds. It’s a pretty special experience to spend a day catching big barramundi while ospreys, sea eagles, kites and wedge tailed eagles wheel overhead, water monitors cling to bankside timber and kangaroos, dingos and wild boar crash through the undergrowth.
LAKE MONDURAN BARRA CHARTERS
If you’re passing through central Queensland and want to get your arms stretched by a big barramundi, make sure to book a session out on the water with Jamie. He’s been fishing the lake since 2002 and running barra fishing charters every week since 2006, putting clients onto thousands of plus-sized fish.
Phone: 0407 434 446