Big barra kayak fishing

Being connected to a big fish out of a kayak is a thrilling experience. It’s completely different than in a boat. Sitting in or on a ’yak when your rod is buckled over and your braid is whirring out through the guides, you feel like you’re closer to the action. The fish seems larger, more powerful and you experience more of an adrenalin rush. As you begin to be towed around by the fish, it feels like more of a battle, more of an adventure.

It’s easy to see why kayak fishing is growing in popularity. These versatile craft are ideal for fishing the coastal waters, meandering creeks and freshwater dams of NSW, Victoria and southern Queensland. And now they are becoming more popular in tropical waters targeting large saltwater pelagics, reef species and barramundi in the impoundments.

Fickle fish

There aren’t many fish species that have the prestige of big barra. As a sportfish, the barramundi has the works. Its long powerful runs, amazing leaps and impressive looks give it a universal appeal. That said, barra can also be extremely difficult to catch, especially in impoundments. Targeting them from a kayak only adds to the challenge. When these fish become inactive, getting a bite can seem almost impossible. The level of difficulty can be compared to playing Tetris on expert level, blindfolded. When they’re shutdown, impoundment barra rank as one of the most challenging sportfish. That all changes when the fish are feeding aggressively. If you’re lucky enough to be on the water when the fish are in this mode, you’ll likely be talking about your trip several years later!

The widespread flooding experienced almost two years ago during late 2010/ early 2011 gave Queensland’s barramundi impoundments a real shake-up. Many fish escaped over spillways, radically changing the dynamics of the fisheries. The fishing is back to its best for some of the lakes – particularly those that experienced a minimal amount of water overflow. The dams that were more significantly hit like Lake Awoonga and Lake Monduran have since been on the mend with some encouraging reports coming in recently. These dams will only get better with the ongoing work from the local fish stocking groups.

Peter Faust Dam, near the Whitsundays in North Queensland, seems to be one of the least affected and has been producing good fishing consistently. This lake overflowed for the first time at the end of December 2010. Many fish congregated around the dam wall and took the slippery-slide plunge down the spillway. However, unlike some of the other lakes in Queensland, the amount of water that overflowed was quite minimal. This lake also has a large pond below the spillway where any escaped barramundi can become trapped. The local fish stocking association, Sunwater, together with the DPI, QLD Fisheries and volunteers, came together to perform a big task of capturing the escapees from the pond by using a boat mounted electro-fishing device that temporarily stuns the fish for easy capture. The fish were then transported in large water-filled containers on vehicles and then released back into the lake. A total of 684 barra were saved with an average length of 97cm, the biggest being a 127cm model. During recent barramundi fishing tournaments held on this lake the fishing has proven excellent. In a recent event there were 87 fish caught in total from the 12 teams. That’s good fishing in anyone’s books! The average size fish was 90cm with a decent amount of 100cm to 115cm fish landed.

In comparison, the fishing at Lake Awoonga further south  Gladstone has been a lot quieter. It feels strange to have substandard fishing at Awoonga, which up until the floods was Australia’s premier big barra lake. Huge numbers of barramundi escaped out of Awoonga during the overflow and this has considerably affected the fishing. At one point the water level reached 137 per cent of capacity and flowed more than 4m over the spillway. On the positive side, recent electro-fishing activities undertaken by the fish-stocking group have been quite successful with reports of healthy numbers in all year classes scattered throughout many corners of the lake. The local stocking group members have also been working hard on heavily supplying the lake with fingerlings. The fact that impoundment barramundi have quite a fast growth rate means the stocked fish will soon grow up and the fishing will gradually improve. Because of this, many anglers believe the lake will again provide outstanding fishing and be back to its best within the next few years.

Lake Monduran, the southernmost barramundi impoundment, also flooded considerably and lost many big fish. Like Awoonga, reports of big fish hooked or landed are now quite rare. However, some anglers fishing this lake recently have been reporting good results on 60–80cm sized fish. This is a good sign for the future. Again with the ongoing work of the local stocking group, Monduran’s barramundi numbers will also replenish and it seems likely that the lake will re-emerge as a world-class fishery.

Unlike the southern barramundi lakes, Kinchant Dam near Mackay has been producing some quality fishing for fish up to and well over a metre long. The average size fish often caught here is between 80cm and 90cm with plenty of bigger fish of 100cm and up. Kinchant is a small lake, which makes it an excellent option for kayaks.

Also near Mackay is the stocked barramundi impoundment, Teemburra Dam. It too has quite a small surface area and is more of a creek-type lake, with meandering river arms lined with dead trees and lily-pads.

Lake Tinaroo, the most northern barramundi impoundment located on the Atherton Tablelands inland from Cairns, is one of the few lakes with quality fishing still on offer. This impoundment has a large barrier net that crosses the dam wall spillway with the aim of stopping fish from escaping with the overflowing water. This is one of the first lakes to be stocked with barramundi and has a very healthy supply of metre plus fish. Tinaroo is an interesting and scenic body of water and well worth a visit if you’re travelling through the area.

The Kayaks

Kayaks are a fun way of fishing the barramundi lakes. They hold many advantages over boats. One main drawcard is that they’re super stealthy. And that’s a great thing for targeting impoundment barra as these fish can be extremely flighty. You don’t seem to spook fish or even wildlife as much as you would in a boat. There’s no outboard motor disturbance or unnatural sound of waves crashing against the hull. Modern ’yaks sit nice and low, which makes it harder for fish to spot you in clear water situations.

Other benefits that kayaks have are that you don’t need to pay for fuel, you can easily launch from any bank or foreshore and they’re an active, scenic and green way of getting around. The only disadvantage is that it takes you longer to travel between fishing spots, particularly if they’re kilometres apart. They’re also not great for rough water, although they will cope with most moderate impoundment swells.

The sit-on-top or SOT style of kayak would have to be the most suitable for fishing. A SOT basically means a kayak equipped with a seat on top of the craft with an open deck. These types of kayaks usually have loads of storage space for fishing gear and provide lots of room to move about. You can get a massive range of equipment and accessories for your kayak. Kayak aficionados often have kitted-out vessels with depth sounders, GPS, anchor poles, drift chutes, live wells and electric motors. These are all useful tools but the most important accessory would have to be the depth sounder. It helps to find fish and fish holding features and informs you of the depth when navigating through the shallows.

In terms of propulsion, there is one feature that has totally changed kayak fishing and that is the Mirage Drive system from Hobie. It is basically two pedal-driven fins that mount through the hull of the kayak. You sit back in the seat and push the pedals up and down with your legs to generate speed. It’s an excellent way of moving around and beats paddling in so many ways. Not only is it easier, drier and more comfortable than paddling, it’s also better for fishing as your hands are free. And it’s faster too! Two-time kayak Olympic gold medallist Greg Barton competed in a tug of war against Greg Ketterman, the designer of the Mirage Drive. Barton used a kayak with a paddle and Ketterman was in a Mirage Drive powered Hobie. As soon as the flag dropped, Barton lost ground and in only three seconds was heaved over the line. It shows just how much power the Mirage Drive can generate. You can check out the video by searching “Hobie Mirage Drive vs. Paddle” on YouTube.

We’ve recently been fishing out of two Hobie Pro Angler kayaks. After using them for some time now, we think they’re the best fishing ’yaks on the planet! With a length of 4.17m and a width of 97cm, they are so stable that you can easily stand up and fish. The Pro Angler has protected storage for six rods and two additional rod holders, 13 Plano tackle boxes, plus loads of in hull storage room. We’ve done several kayak trips of over 10kms and haven’t had any troubles. They are, in our view, the perfect fishing kayak.

Casting & Retrieving

In terms of fishing achievements, it’s hard to beat catching a metre plus barramundi while lure casting from a kayak. Sure, catching one trolling is a great accomplishment but there’s something extra special about catching a fish over a metre on the cast. It’s a more challenging feat and to pull it off is up there with the likes of catching a billfish on fly. It’s an awesome feeling, too. The firm jolt down the rod as a fish takes your lure midway through your retrieve. The bolting charge towards the depths and the unexpected launch out of the water right beside you as water and light rays beam off the fish’s reflective silver scales. It’s an addictive style of fishing!

If you plan to do plenty of casting, there are a couple of things that you should pack in your kayak. It’s important to hold position for a period of time to fish an area. You can do this by either tying off to a tree or anchoring. Bring a small to medium sized anchor with about 20m of rope and some separate extra rope for tying off to trees. Another way of fishing an area is by the use of a drogue, which allows you to cast to new spots while slowly wind-drifting along an edge. If you’re fishing during the evening or early morning, remember to bring an all-round white light as kayaks can be difficult to spot by other boaters.

Barramundi will tend to hang around a variety of features. Productive areas to look for are “laydown timber”, inside and on the edges of weed beds, drop-offs, points and islands. It’s often a good idea to try a variety of locations but remember to give them a solid fish. Fishing an area for 10 minutes and then moving on to another location often works well. When you’re fishing a spot, try a range of different lures from soft plastic swimbaits to diving hard-bodies. Every lure has a slightly different pulse or vibration and some days barramundi just seem to prefer a certain type. Soft plastics such as the famous Squidgy Slick Rig Light in 110mm and 130mm, Squidgy Mongrels and Ridgebacks in 115mm and the 4’’ Z-Man Swimmerz are proven soft lures to have in your arsenal. As far as hard-bodies are concerned, our favourite is the Rapala X-Rap XR10 or XR12 in the floating or suspending model. These are an effective all-round lure and have caught countless fish for us. In calm conditions, early in the morning or late in the evening, it’s often a good idea to try surface luring, which is hands-down the most exciting way to fish. Walk-the-dog topwaters such as the Rapala X-Rap Walk, surface poppers such as the Rapala Skitter Pop or surface frogs like the Squidgy Boof Frog are popular topwaters for barramundi.
Kayak Trolling

If you don’t have much experience fishing the barramundi lakes, trolling is the best option to get a few fish under your belt.

This is especially so in the warmer months when big fish are super active in the deep, open water. Kayaks are great for trolling lures as they’re ultra quiet and move along at a perfect speed. They’ll outfish boats simply because there are no unnatural vibrations from your outboard motor.

The best times to troll lures are during twilight and into the night or early in the morning. Impoundment barra are much easier to catch when they’re actively hunting, which is often during these periods. It’s a good idea to troll the 1m to 4m depth at night, regardless of the depth you’re in. Fish will often hang in the top four metres of water after dark. When trolling in the daylight however, lures that dive from 4m to 8m often produce the best results. We’ve also found that trolling one rod from a kayak is much easier to manage than two. With one rod, you don’t need to worry about keeping your kayak trolling in a straight line to avoid tangles. Working your rod also tends to produce better results over a steady, straight retrieve.

Remember to add some jigs, pulses and pauses every so often to enhance the vibration and movement of your lure.

Kayak fishing is certainly a cool way of getting out on the water and the barramundi lakes are prime areas for it. You don’t have to be super athletic to pedal or paddle around either. So load up your ’yak and give it a try. We guarantee the first time you connect to a big metre plus fish, you’ll be pumped!

CY & Kerrin Taylor

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