The mighty barramundi is the Top End’s greatest sport fish.
As far as fighting fish go, there’s no more worthy opponent than the mighty barramundi. They grow to epic proportions, slink like silver ghosts through croc-infested swamps, and charge like wounded bulls when hooked.
They’re one of the few species that remain shrouded in a kind of mystique. They’ve got the upper hand in just about any tussle, and any angler that puts in time targeting them learns to respect them.
While barramundi remain one of the foremost targets for anglers based in the Top End, the locals often consider them more of a sporting target than a table fish.
For lots of southern fishos, a big metre plus barramundi is the stuff of dreams, as exotic as fishing gets, and often the impetus for mounting a fishing pilgrimage to the great north.
The barramundi’s broad tolerance to salinity allows it to live and hunt everywhere from the pure saltwater of the coast, through the brackish estuarine reaches, upriver to completely fresh tributaries, lakes and billabongs.
They prefer to live most of their lives in tropical rivers, and descent to estuaries and tidal flats to spawn, although it’s possible for individual populations to become isolated in wholly marine or freshwater environments.
Pretty much any waterway in the Top End of Australia is happy hunting grounds for the mighty barramundi, from Queensland’s northeast coast, right across the top half of the Territory and down the west coast as far as south as Exmouth.
WILD AND FREE
While plenty of dams and impoundments across the country have been stocked with barramundi over the last couple of decades, catching wild fish in rivers and billabongs remains the classic barramundi fishing experience.
Nothing can really compare to the rawness of dropping your tinnie into a remote river and charting its furthest reaches in your flimsy craft.
Keeping one eye out for the next likely looking snag, and another on the giant prehistoric lizards that line the banks, occasionally slinking a little too close for comfort!
Wild caught barra don’t tend to attain the bulbous heft of their dam-bound brethren, but their chrome-flanked beauty and battle instincts more than make up for their more diminutive size.
Average fish in many river systems will be between 50-70cm, with larger 80cm plus fish not uncommon. Any fish over 80cm in length is worth getting excited about, with the magic metre mark remaining the gold standard for local anglers and visitors alike.
While fishing stocked impoundments can feel a little canned at times, the fact remains that it’s the best way to get connected to a genuine metre plus specimen.
Even smaller barra in the 60-80cm range will often be in extremely good condition, growing fat due to the abundance of stocked food and lack of natural predators.
Where wild barra need to dodge marauding salties and bull sharks, impoundment-bound fish are living the good life, free to feast on stocked mullet and bass without a care in the world!
One of the trickier aspects of getting your head around fishing impoundments is that the normal rules of fishing estuaries and rivers don’t apply.
There are no tides in effect, and there’s a lot of water to cover. If it’s your first time fishing one of the big name barra impoundments like Lake Awoonga, Mondurin or Tinaroo, it can pay to enlist the aid of more experienced anglers.
If it’s possible to tag along with a mate that knows his way around the particular impoundment you’re fishing, it’s certainly worth your time to pick his brain. Otherwise, it can be worth shelling out to pay for the services of a local guide in order to get shown around and maximise your time on the water.
Wherever you’re wetting a line, there are three primary tactics that should form the basis of your barra gameplan: trolling divers, casting to snags and live baiting.
If you’re unfamiliar with a particular river or waterway, trolling lures is your best bet in order to start covering some water and potentially finding out where the fish are holding.
You can troll a spread of up to three diving lures and make your way up and down a waterway until you get a strike.
If you do get a hit or land a fish at a particular spot, it’s often worth trolling back and forth over the spot a few more times, as there will sometimes be multiple fish holding on the one snag.
Casting lures is a more active tactic than can be employed when you come across particularly enticing looking snags.
The idea is to cast your lure as deep as possible, right up against a snag or structure, and work it back to you in the hope of enticing a strike. It’s an exciting way to fish and it’s worth a thousand fruitless casts when you finally hook up on a big barra in shallow water.
Live baiting is a somewhat less active, but nonetheless deadly effective, technique that’s often busted out when lures are failing to draw strikes. Live mullet and prawns are some of the barramundi’s favourite foods, and fresh baits, lightly hooked and deployed under a float, will often prove the undoing of otherwise cautious fish.
These combos are perfect for casting light to mid-weight lures with great accuracy, and have the grunt to muscle stubborn fish out of treacherous structure in shallow water. They also work well for trolling lures and livebaiting and can be considered a good all round barra setup.
Depending on the size of the fish being encountered and how bad the structure is in the waterway you’re fishing, it might be necessary to beef your gear up and grab a 50lb setup – if you’re hooking metre plus fish you’ll need all the help you can get!
If you’re fishing fairly open water and the average size of the fish you’re encountering is less than 80cm, you might want to fish light 30-40lb fluorocarbon leaders in order to entice more strikes.
However if the terrain is rough or the fish are big, you’ll no doubt quickly get put in your place and opt to beef up your leaders to 60lb or even 80lb to avoid getting dusted in the snags.
Barramundi are perhaps the most frustrating yet rewarding fish to target in Australia’s tropical waters. They’ll always have the advantage, always keep you on the back foot, and keep you guessing. No decent barra comes easy, which means that each one counts for a lot!