Heat, sweat and barra! – Fishing the build-up

IT’S hot and sticky, real sticky. Sweat forms above your eyebrows and runs into your eyes, stinging like hell. The body’s sweat glands are working overtime as gravity keeps the flow heading down. There’s hardly a dry piece of clothing to be found.

The early morning cloud build-up makes for some of the best sunrises to be seen and also the promise of relief from the intense humidity in the form of brief and sometimes intense storms. These storms are also very spectacular to view, unless you happen to be in the middle of one and in a boat.

This is the Northern Territory’s build-up to the wet season.


Dark stormy skies and hot sticky conditions signal the build-up to the wet season in Australia’s north.  

It may be a bit uncomfortable but it’s also one of the very best times to be fishing the Top End, especially if you’re chasing barra. Big barra are starting to gather along the rocky headlands and river mouths. I’ve been lucky to have been at some of these special places at this time of the year and witnessed some great barra fishing. Days when more than 20 barra around the metre mark happen. There are usually a few smaller male barra hanging around as well (All barras are born male and if they make it to larger sizes turn into females) and mixing these with the big females makes for some memorable fishing.

Some of the best spots are rock bars located in rivers not very far from the river mouths. There are some absolute beauties in the rivers around Arnhem Land, Tiwi Islands and Darwin that have provided many memorable days on the water at this time of the year. Also, deep holes and snags in deeper waters can produce the goods as well. Once again, such spots located within the first few kilometres of river mouths are the ones to work over. Some years it starts to happen as early as October and other times they won’t start to show till December. I think that rain may get the big girls active and bring them from wherever they’ve been hiding for the last several months to seek out these spots to begin spawning when conditions are right. It’s the same as run-off season; you have to be there at the right time and no one can tell you exactly when it’s going to start or end.


Leaping barras, the build-up’s here!

Trolling is a great way to target these fish and a lure that runs just off the bottom and occasionally bumps it is the one to tie on. Use your sounder to select the appropriate running depth lure. I like lures around 12cm in length. Anchoring up and casting to the rocks is also productive and larger sizes in the shallow runners are the go.


Sunrise and sunset during the build-up can provide spectacular skies.

Remember, we are targeting large barra and to me it just seems to make sense to throw big lures to big fish. Surface lures such as poppers, fizzers and stickbaits can attract the interest of these larger barra and it’s one of the best sights in fishing to have a metre plus barra boof a surface lure. Bouncing soft plastics and bibless rattlers also produces fish while on the anchor. Fly fishing can also pay off and I’ve been lucky enough to hook and land a couple of metre barras on fly. One memorable night while fly fishing with mate Dean Butler, I hooked and landed a 15kg black jew. QD fly lines and big flies with weed guards did the trick for me.


Steve with a typical sort of barra encounterd at this time of year.

Another thing we have witnessed at this time of the year are large gatherings of threadfin salmon. Just recently in Goose Creek on Melville Island at a spot known as the Honey Hole I saw hundreds of threadfin milling and they hung around for a couple of weeks. We hooked a couple but they were actually hooked in the back, they were that thick. I’m sure they had other things on their minds. Also further up in the fresh water reaches of Goose, saratoga were also gathering in large numbers. A great sight but once again no interest in lures. Maybe Dr Ben Diggles can let us know if threadfin and saratoga also spawn at this time of the year?

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Woohoo! Catching a nice silver saltie barra is definitely something to howl about!

The build-up may be a bit sticky and you’ll probably get rained on but along with the run-off it’s one of the very best times of the year to be chasing big barra. If you can’t access places like this, there are fishing lodges located at the Tiwi Islands and Arnhem Land that can put you amongst them. Darwin also has some great fishing guides that can get you amongst it as well. Best of luck.

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From little things big things grow – This fish took a liking to a small 3″ soft plastic. 

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