Staring into shadows cast over the water by the jetty I was standing on, I watched as the tidal run lapped at the concrete pylons beneath me. Big poddy mullet, snub-nosed gar and longtoms darted to and fro, generally staying clear of the jetty shadows. Beyond the ‘safe zone’ of light something suddenly tore up the surface of the water, the dull slap of a heavy body carrying out across the bay under the moonlight. Then, a couple of pylons up, I heard the hollow but amazingly loud ‘boof!’ of a big mouth sucking a baitfish to its death in a lightning fast underwater implosion.
“There’s a barra” I murmured to no one in particular as a massive grey-black shape loomed out from under the crowded oysters on a pylon. It held facing the run of water as I crept to a position above it, the only movement being ripples of its caudal fin. I gently guided the big mullet on my hook to hang about half a metre under the surface and the same distance in front of the fish. The barra moved forward to investigate. I felt the mullet quiver through my line. The barra sank lower to get a better view, then ‘boof!’ My rod loaded up as the fish dived down and back under the jetty. The heavy drag gave a few inches in a couple of bursts before I heard the fish erupt from the water somewhere below my feet sending a shower of water droplets out into the light. Grabbing the spool I heaved on the rod, dragging the fish back out, it’s next run taking it away from the dreaded pylons and into open water where it leapt and struggled until it was done. Now came the long walk down the jetty, gingerly steering the fish past each pylon, to bring it to hand on the beach. What a tough way to spend a night.
There is no doubt that hooking a good barramundi is a great thing however you do it. For those of us who like to add to the adrenaline rush associated with tangling with Australia’s premier sportfish, you can combine this with spotting and targeting individuals, watching (and hearing) the strike, then holding on for dear life to try and keep your fish from reaching the safety of line-cutting pylons: this is what livebaiting for barra from a jetty at night is all about.
We got the chance to experience this full on action while on a recent fishing trip at Cardwell, QLD. The opening of the barramundi season in February had us making the trek up north to tangle with some estuary heavies, and after a few days of wash-out rainfalls and getting to know the area again, we started to tick off a few good fish.
As we were only in the area for a short period of time, I can’t say exactly how the myriad of environmental factors contributed to the fish being at the jetty, but I can give a breakdown of what we saw when we were there.
It goes without saying that where there is bait there are big fish. Jetties and other structures that have lights are a magnet for baitfish at night, due in part to the low rung food chain species also attracted to the lights and because of the apparent safety of increased visibility.
On the nights that we experienced the most action, baitfish, particularly mullet, were present in large numbers. Other baitfish regularly observed were snub-nosed gar and longtom. We used live mullet as a first option, but snub-nosed gar were also readily attacked.
Mullet are a hardy bait and survive well when either hooked through the skin directly behind the dorsal fin or through the top lip. Garfish are a little more delicate and fare better if hooked through the top lip. Our hook of choice was the Owner K-hook in 4/0. This hook worked well for the large baits we were using, and even undersize barra had no trouble tackling a 20 – 25cm mullet.
The tide was a major factor in finding barra on the pylons. While bait were present at the jetty throughout the night, the barra action turned on about two hours into the run-out tide. At this stage the tidal flow began to make its presence felt and baitfish moving through the bay were pushed under the jetty by the current. The pylons also provided barra with a reprieve from the current, where they either sat in ambush on the downstream side of pylons or in the pressure wave created directly in front of pylons on the current side.
Once the run got going, takes came thick and fast – downtime between fish only being the time taken to drag one to shore to land and release it. To make things really exciting, once the fish got going the ‘boofs’ from them attacking fish left right and centre really pump up adrenaline levels; especially when one erupts right next to you! Some of the big girls I was watching were clearly audible even when half a metre or more under the surface!
This action lasted only as long as the run, and as soon as the current started to slow the fish began to shut down. At these times it may be a good idea to throw a bait further out in the hope of attracting a fish as it makes its way to parts unknown. A small sinker may be of benefit here in order to keep the bait from swimming back to the light of the jetty.
We fished the few nights leading up to a full moon. By the time the full moon arrived, baitfish were scattered, for reasons unknown, and correspondingly the barra were not as thick. It is well known that the days around full and new moon correspond to the biggest tides and therefore the strongest tidal runs. I have also read that the few days either side of the full and new moon usually fish best for large predators including barramundi (and mulloway down south); and this fits with the results we obtained.
This form of fishing is fairly unforgiving given the close-quarters country and proximity to nasty structure. Heavier rods with a fast action work well here to put lots of pressure on a fish that doesn’t want to cooperate. We fished 7’ rods because that’s what we had, but a longer rod may be useful for steering fish and keeping them out in the open away from pylons. And for the super keen, fish like the locals and use a heavy handline!
Heavy drag settings are a must in these circumstances as you never know where the first run of a fish is going to go. A reel that is capable of this and that has a quality drag is the way to go; and I fished a 3000 Daiwa Caldia while the old man used a 4000 Daiwa Tierra. A locked drag isn’t a necessity, but the couple of extra seconds provided by a heavy setting give the quick thinker a chance to try some evasive manoeuvres. A hand on the spool will soon stop a fish in its tracks if necessary (or relieve you of a beast you were obviously unlikely to land!). Even so, we both got smoked by some beauties – that’s the nature of the game.
Following on, the line used dictates how much hurt you can put on a fish. We still fished relatively light for the situation, running 20lb and 30lb mainline respectively and both fishing 30lb mono leader. This might sound a little light, but in all honesty if they get you around a pylon you are done anyway – no point in having a line that won’t break.
Have a Go
While we’ve only tried this tactic at one location so far, I’m sure that similar opportunities exist wherever there are lights and pylon structure. This could include jetties and bridges – so if you are looking for a barra and know a jetty or bridge near you, give it a go.
Don’t think that this only works up north either. Southern mulloway have many similar behavioural traits to northern barra, and I’m thinking that this technique could work very well given the right conditions.
Sitting upcurrent of bridge pylons in a boat or canoe and drifting a livebait into the danger zone should also find you connecting with some decent fish. Get out there and let me know how you go!
Fishing the Cassowary Coast
Fishing in northern QLD at this time of year can be great with a host of sought after northern species on the cards for both land-based and small boat owners. Cardwell, situated between Bowen and Ingham and tucked amongst coastal rainforest and Hinchinbook Island, offers the angler everything from thumper jungle perch to jacks and barra to coral trout and giant trevally. I haven’t had the opportunity to fish out wide and on the reef but from all accounts there is plenty on offer. Keep in mind that, at this time of year, rain is almost a daily event. Big downpours also have the capability of messing up a lot of fishing – so check weather and fishing reports before you go.
When up that way we stay at the Cardwell Van Park which has everything we need and plenty of friendly folk to have a yarn with.
We use rods in the 7′ range though for keeping big fish away from pylons a longer rod of 9′ may give that extra leverage and reach. Rod line weights in the 12-20lb range are enough to put hurt on fish while still giving plenty of fun.
Spin reels in the 3000 – 4000 range are all that is required; drag pressure is all important in these situations so ensure you have plenty. This is a fight hard and fast scenario.
Line of 20 – 30lb range holds up pretty well with the occasional bust off. A 30 – 40lb leader is a must. While the no stretch nature of braid really takes this fighting style up a notch, the added abrasion resistance given by monofilament mainline could give an advantage once things get into the oysters; either way, it’s tough on gear!