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Tips for Success

Impoundment Barra

If you want a trophy barra, the big Queensland dams are the places to go. But they ain’t easy. DAVID GREEN has done the hard yards and has compiled a list of tips that will help you catch more and bigger fish.

THE phenomenal success of the stocking programs in central and north Queensland dams has created a fishery that has a relatively short history, and a constantly changing landscape. I first fished for impoundment barra 10 years ago, and since that first trip have been back to various impoundments multiple times each season. These are fascinating places full of big freshwater barra. If you want to catch a big barramundi, the impoundments are your best bet to join the metre club.

All newcomers to impoundments such as Lake Awoonga and Monduran arrive with great anticipation, but are often disappointed with the results they achieve. The dams can be kind to some and cruel to others, but the secret is adapting to the conditions at hand and following a few basic rules so you have a reasonable idea of where the fish are going to be. Impoundment barra fishing rewards the persistent and intelligent angler who reads the clues around him. Impoundment barra move around a lot, and the big ponds they live in have a lot of water shift, current and temperature stratification that is important to understand if you want to find barra.


Water Movement
Unless there is a great rise in a dam level from a dump of rain, most of the water movement in the main basin of a dam is the result of prevailing winds. This tends to move the warmer layers of the water at the top of the dam towards the windward shore. The dams are often very windy places, and in general the hot northerly winds of spring and summer produce more fish than cooler south easterlies.

The windy shore sees a lot of baitfish such as gar and bony bream move with the waves, and points and rough shorelines can produce outstanding fishing for big barra in seemingly impossible conditions as the warm water and bait are pushed onto the shorelines. In these conditions a lot of prominent points will produce a line of muddy water just off the weedbeds that tend to form a fringe around the dams. The best way to fish these conditions is to anchor up well out from a point, mud line or windy shore, and cast from deep water into the shallows. In daylight hours the barra tend to hang a bit wider out, and venture into the shallows as night falls. The wind and waves can be quite extreme at times, but these are often the best conditions. Sometimes you see big barra surfing down waves.

In calm warm conditions the surface layers don’t move as much, and because of this a thermocline tends to form. This is a distinct surface layer of warm water that “laminates”, generally at between three and six metres. This means all the warm water and baitfish will be in the surface layers, as well as the phytoplankton on which the bony bream feed. In these periods you will commonly see large flocks of black cormorants, crested grebes and pelicans hunting in groups well out from the shoreline. These birds are looking for the same tucker as the barra are hunting, and this is an excellent time to troll the main basins of the dam using the birds and your sounder to locate the fish. It is important to keep your lures above the thermocline, and even though the water depth may be 10 to 20m, a lure with a running depth of three metres is often the most successful. Remember that dam barra tend to be very mobile when feeding, and if the wind is calm and the bait is well out in the middle of the dam, the barra will be there as well.


Temperature Issues
In cold conditions, especially in winter and early spring, barra look for the warmest water. It is often quoted that barra come on the bite at a water temperature of over 25 degrees, but we’ve caught plenty in water as cold as 19.4 degrees. Look for the warmest parts and track your water temperature carefully. Less than a half-degree rise can make a tremendous difference to the fish. Look for warm shallow bays with rocky bottoms that get a lot of sun exposure. In these conditions the fish often don’t bite until well into the afternoon when the water has warmed up a bit. When conditions are cold, the best method is to look for the spots where there are the most tortoises. This will generally be the warmest part of the dam. Sometimes when things are cold, and you stumble on a warm patch, there will be hundreds of barra in a single shallow bay. A few years ago I found such a place and the whole water surface was full of the bow waves of big barra moving away from the boat.

In summer when the water is warm all over the dam, the fish will be a lot more scattered and it is more important to chase the wind than the temperature.

Moon Phases
Barra in dams feed actively at night, and generally hunt prey from underneath. A moonlit sky lets barra silhouette their prey against the sky, and for this reason the full moon period is a good time to fish. If you are going to fish the dams at night, the full moon also is a lot easier for anglers to work in as you can see the shoreline easily.

There are corresponding theories that barra bite better in the dams during daylight hours during the dark phase of the moon, but I’m not sure how valid this is. Without a doubt the week leading up to the full moon is the most popular time to fish the barra impoundments. In general, however, the activity of the fish is more dictated by wind and temperature than moon phase.


Trolling v Casting

There is a lot of crap written about trolling that it is a mindless and boring way to catch a big barra and that casting is a much more meritorious method. The reality is that to effectively fish a dam properly you should spend time using both methods, and each has particular scenarios where one will outfish the other.

Casting is the best method when you’ve located a good spot and know fish will be there when conditions are right. Trolling lets you discover a lot more about larger areas of the dam by allowing constant surveillance of your sounder, and finds you new casting spots. It is also a great searching method when fish are scattered and you want to present your lure at a constant running depth for prolonged periods. Both methods complement each other, and in general I spend about half the time on each method.

Working out Troll Runs
Trolling is not a method of random chance. To troll a dam properly you need a good GPS and sounder, and a fair bit of surveillance beforehand. Mapping out your troll runs is quite easy but requires preparation. Firstly, work out a good depth contour. In general, water depths of four to five metres are often the most productive. Set out a spread of lures with a running depth of about three metres and start working the contour. Move in and out looking for structure. In most dams the bankside vegetation was cleared prior to the dams filling, leaving large numbers of stumps and logs, and these provide cover for fish. Mark every snag with your GPS, paying careful attention to running wide and narrower of the mark on subsequent troll runs so you find more snags. A side scanner can be a big advantage. Once you plot out all the snags, clear your track lines and set up a troll line that joins the snags, so in cricket terms you are trolling “stump to stump”. In practice this keeps your lures close to structure for longer and in my experience increases the strike rate by about 300 per cent over random trolling. Once you’ve plotted out a troll for three metre lures, work on another for four metre and five metre lures by working deeper contours. It is best to plot out your troll lines during the day, and then put in the hours at night carefully working the lines and plotted contours. You’ll soon find that the bites are indeed not random, and the prior homework you’ve done getting your plotted troll lines exact will be time well spent.

Trolling Tactics
The single biggest problem with trolling is the effect of the boat on shy fish, and without a doubt engine noise can make a big difference. You’ll catch more fish behind a boat trolling on a four-stroke than a old tech two-stroke, and a quietly moving boat under electric power is the best method of all. One of the secrets to trolling success is to put the lures well back behind the boat, from 50 to even 100m. This can make it harder getting your lure accurately over the snags, but if you get the lure swimming back in the quiet water returning to normal activity after the boat has long passed, you’ll get more bites. This distance can mean small 100 size baitcasters can be a bit thin on line capacity when a big barra hits, so you may need to upsize your reels or use threadlines, as we do.

Use fairly light leader if you can get away with it on the troll. Unlike soft plastics, most trolled hard bodies don’t tend to be swallowed, and 40 to 50 pound hard mono is usually adequate, with a mainline of 10 to 15 kilo braid. My favourite lures for trolling dams at night are the Arafura Barra 130 in gold/bleeding mullet and the Classic Pro Alternative in gold or purple. We use Owner ST-66 trebles on these lures. Once you get a lure you are confident in, stick to it. There are a wide range that are very effective, and the secret is to deliver multiple lures at the right running depth at once to all the snags you’ve plotted on the GPS. We usually troll a spread of four lures at a speed of 3 to 3.5 kph. This wide spread means you’ve got a much better chance of hitting the snags, and it is a system that gets a lot of bites and has caught stacks and stacks of metre fish for me behind my 4.25m tinny.


Casting Tactics
Get yourself a decent anchor and plenty of rope. Controlled drifts under electric power can be ok when you want to work long sections of bank, but the more silent anchor approach works even better. Anchor well upwind of your chosen spot, and use a running foam float on the anchor rope. This lets the anchor set and holds the rope up above the weeds once the float is hitched to the rope via a half hitch.

Barra are highly mobile at night in the dams, and if you’re happy with your likely spot you need to back yourself that the fish will, eventually, come to you. The usual pattern is the barra show up in bursts of activity, usually after a long period of unproductive casts. When they show, double hook-ups can be relatively common. I’ve seen over a dozen big barra on the sounder at the same time when they turn up, and the little clues of nervous flicks of bony bream or gar are generally indicative of a barra in the vicinity. Most of the ABT tournaments run in these impoundments have been won by staying on a good spot for long periods and waiting for the fish to come to the persistently casting angler.

When casting I generally have three rods rigged up and do a dozen casts with each. One generally has a shallow hard-body such as a B-52, Smith’s Saruna or Rapala X-Rap, the second has a deeper hard body such as an Arafura Barra, Killalure River Rat or Rapala Shad Rap and the third rod has a soft plastic such as a Hollowbelly, Slick Rig or Storm Bait and Twitch.

These three rods mean I can constantly vary my lure, retrieve speed, depth, action and vibration. When I hit on a pattern (one bite is a hint, two is a trend, and three is a definite pattern!) I stick to that lure.

A minute or two in boiling water greatly increases the tail action of some soft plastics such as Squidgy Slick Rigs, and is definitely worth doing. With these lures I change the hooks by modifying a Nitro or TT jig head and I sometimes add a stinger. I like my soft plastics to be no bigger than 110mm long, as this seems to get a better hook up rate.

I hope the above tips can help take out some of the frustration of impoundment barra fishing. The dams of central Queensland offer world-class barra fishing at times, and the number of huge barra often averaging a metre in length is unheard of in any wild barra fisheries. While the barra fishing went through the doldrums in 2008 after extensive weed die off, water rises and low oxygen levels, stable conditions recently have seen the fishing improve markedly.

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