I’d like to begin by saying, barramundi are insanely good fun to catch off a ‘yak!
After catching wild barras to 90cm from tinnies in the past, I almost wrote them off because the fights were eventful but often way too short. My recent three nights at Lake Awoonga have forever changed my perception of hese amazing creatures.
From a kayak, barra are simply sensational! From the strike to the fight, right up to sliding them onto
your lap for a gratuitous photo, they’ve earn’t my utter respect when it comes to interactivity between ‘yak angler and fish. I also believe catching these fish either on the ‘yak, or land-based are the ultimate
ways to experience barra fishing.
If there is a downside, you might need to prepare for some long paddling hours and deprived sleep cycles, but that’s what dedicated fishing trips are all about. When I get too old, fat or frail to fish open waters for stonker snapper and summer pelagics, I would be quite happy to permanently swap to the sweetwater and target impoundment barra as often as possible. It’s excitement plus with a capital “P”!
Stuart Thompson just finished a big plumbing job and got a few weeks off work. On short notice he said he was going to Awoonga around the December full moon. Kayak angler Al Biggles and his mate got onto a few fish last December so I selfishly invited myself along to this pre-Chrismas camping trip with Stu.
After an 8.5 hour drive on Sunday I arrived at camp and spotted a pair of unknown ‘yaks on a couple of car roofs. The anglers I hadn’t met yet introduced themselves to my buddy and remarked on their barra
encounters from the night before. Their stories got the blood boiling! My tent was pitched in record time and we hit the water 10 minutes after arriving.
Typically for new spots expecting to catch a fish on the first night would be a big ask. True to tradition the first night we caught nothing but watched two expert freshwater ‘yak anglers pull in a couple of hefty red eyed stonkers. In betweeen those magic moments, our new found barra buddies Denis and Mike would gave us uo to the minute tips each time they passed. Stu and I pulled the pin fishless at 2am.
The second morning started with hot and sunny conditions. We slept a few hours and got back in the drink from 7am till 2pm in 37 degree heat. Man, it was hot but we got a feel for the sticks, holes and
weedbeds we were going to fish that night. On arrival at camp we had an afternoon visit by Mike and Denis and learnt about barra and ‘yaks and soon discovered the absolute legendary status of these guys. At the time of writing, Denis had landed 286 barra to 132cm from the ‘yak.
Mike followed close behind making a collective total of more than 500 fish for the two blokes between June 09 to December 09. These guys live for barra fishing and have fished every Central Qld barra dam,
time and time again on ‘yaks. I think they had gills…
They went through our tackle boxes and told us ever so politely that our lure collections were basically wrong. These fellas then gifted us with one Squidgy Slick rig each and sent us to the moonlit dam where Stuart promptly landed a 117cm barra on a weighted 135mm paddle tail. I never got a hit but the Kayak Kings of Awoonga found the numbers while Stu’s 117 knocked off Mike’s 112 as the fish of the trip so far.
Stuart Thompson and a 120cm Awoonga stonker.
Between 7pm and 4am the legends hooked and landed 14 fish between them to 112cm while trolling the weed edges with softies in glassy conditions. When the clock struck midnight on December 1, I experienced a massive “boof” and a splash at the side of my ‘yak. My rod buckled in the holder and line screamed off on a tight drag. I grabbed the rod and wound fast at the first jump and was on. Five minutes of total madness ensued. With some screaming runs along weed and around sticks and
about four big leaps, I had a metre plus barra within lifting distance of the ‘yak but pinged my leader because I was giving it too much vertical lift on the top jaw. My failing came as a result of the fish facing down under the ‘yak, which rubbed the leader as I applied upward pressure.
On the next drift, I repeated this exact scenario to the letter with another strike and made a mental note about the final stages of the fight. Now that my dismal November fishing month was finally closed off, things were looking up for December and I was happy to call it a day.
The next morning Stuart and I embarked on a tackle buying frenzy at Gladstone in search of Squidgy slick rig 135’s. There were none. All stock was gone apart from one pack of greens and a couple of big
unweighted gold and black tails. We grabbed what they had and some 3/4oz TT jigheads. Back at camp, we broke out the tools and performed Squidgy surgery so that our totally wrong softies might fool the fish In the same way the Slickies used by the barra masters were. This process involved colouring the
green slick rigs with a permanent marker or embedding 3/4oz jigheads into the black and gold paddle tails, then soldering them back together with a hot knife to make them look as close to a 135mm Slick
Rig as possible.
Dan Bode and a 118cm barra caught on a modified Slick Rig.
We waited until 11pm before we hit the water in windy southerly conditions. Battling the wind and dark cloud it finally paid off for me when I landed my first ‘yak barra on an experimental Squidgy set
nearer to the yak than what you’d see on an Awoonga motor boat. After revisiting my trip notes, this fish came in at 94cm. The fight was spectacular with leaps, bounds and braid shredding the weed beds.
Stuart felt a couple of hits while barra Legend Mike put in an all-nighter and reported four fish to 108cm when the water glassed up from about 3am.
With confidence levels at a high, the “right” (makeshift) lures and one night of fishing left. Stu and I hit the more protected daytime billabongs because the temperature dropped a few degrees and the wind
came right up. After a morning of unweighted frog casting over the lilypads Stu came up spectacularly tight one a metre plus fish in less than a foot of water in broad daylight. He didn’t have a chance
but fought it long enough to get a good taste of lilypad action.
Later, a thunderstorm and heavy rain rolled through and by the time it was dark there was an eerie calmness of a finished storm. I was the first one out in the evening and could only put in a short session due to the big drive the next day. At the 6 metre hole we spent a lot of time working, I noticed the bait schools flipping violently and got that lucky fishing feeling. With my modded lures set out and on a slow
troll out of the weed, I got a massive hit. As soon as I locked up the rod, the other one went off and I was in the full throes of a double ookup on a pair of metre plus barra. There’s no other way to describe
the next 5-8 minutes. It was maximum insanity. After nearly two minutes of a ‘yak spinning in two different directions at once, my second rod thankfully went limp and I was then able to concentrate all
my efforts on the fish I was fighting. Shortly thereafter I was paid off with a 118cm barra just as the guys arrived for pics. Stuart then ad his turn on the 120cm barra that found every weed in Awoonga and I
topped the night off with an 87cm fish that fought a long and sustained battle down deep.
Night moves – Michael Hardiker with another nice ‘yak-caught Awoonga barra.
Without a doubt, I will be back at Awoonga to chase barra. For the 120km we paddled, the sleep deprivation experienced and the techniques we slowly developed along the way, the long gaps between magic moments were well worth the effort. Due to some phenomenal mentoring by Denis and Mike everything finally clicked into place and we found the fish using tiny vessels in a massive waterway. We owe those guys an unforgettable fishing experience and a massive thankyou.