Tag Archives: Cardwell

Lights, Pylon, Action!

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.

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Not a bad way to spend a few hours

“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.

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Come on, who isn’t interested in getting one of these?

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.

Bait

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.

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Big baits are the way to go

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.

Tide

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.

Moon

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.

Tackle

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.

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Fish of this size are good fun in tight country – and bigger ones are pretty tough to control

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.

Tacklebox

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!

 

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The Big Trip – Planning

It’s that time of year again – Barra season opening is something to look forward to as of February 1st. Out of a habit started while at university, a February trip to northern QLD  is again on the cards.

This time of year can be a tough time fishing wise, what with the potential for cyclones and certainty of heavy rain at some stage during a trip – if not for the entirety (as February 2010 found us). Even so, there is no reason that a trip during a potentially less-than-comfortable time of year can’t be a success. All it takes is good planning.

The aim of this article is to provide a first instalment of things to consider when planning a trip away. My aim is to outline the generic approach I take to planning and I will incorporate useful bits and pieces learned through undertaking a variety of trips – so if fishing isn’t necessarily your thing please don’t give up yet! The principles are the same regardless of whether you are chasing fish or planning a sight-seeing venture.

Bad weather is always bad, but planning ahead will ensure you get the most out of your trip
Bad weather is always bad, but planning ahead will ensure you get the most out of your trip

As a quick summary, I will be covering the base stages of planning; from deciding what it is you want to do to setting goals for the trip and doing the necessary research. The next article will address preparation and travel.

What Floats your Boat?

As obvious as it may seem, the first stage of any adventure is deciding what you want to do. As many people could attest, I’m a classic for getting carried away with grand schemes and vague ideas that are unlikely to eventuate without sitting down and working out what I really want to get done.

Start listing the things you want to do - a backlog of magazines are a great place to start
Start listing the things you want to do – a backlog of magazines are a great place to start

To help this process you need to set yourself some goals. The first time I went to QLD I wanted to travel as far north along the coastline as I could and chase fish in spectacular places. And I wanted to catch a barra. We travelled the coast for a month camping in the scrub and living off whatever we caught; stopping off in Seaforth, Cardwell and Cooktown – which was the limit for my 2WD hilux at that time of year. We worked hard in pelting rain the entire time; but we caught a couple of barramundi as well as varied other species.

The second time I went, being pressed for time, we gave it our all for two weeks at Cardwell. My target species was mangrove jack – and we got a few good ones. We also caught some cracking barra and even though we had a mishap – getting our boat motor and a heap of lures stolen – the trip was a good one.

This time around, having a bit more knowledge under my belt, I’m going to broaden my wishlist a little. The one species we didn’t land last time was the jungle perch. I will be making a concerted effort to rectify this. In addition, I want to try for a queenfish and a few more trevally, and I would love to see a threadfin salmon. While I’m there I should probably also try to finally catch the local bread-and-butter species: grunter (AKA javelinfish).

So having those target species, I know that I will have to work out the freshwater, beaches and sand flats; in addition to continuing the search for a metre barra! With that variety of species, breaking things into components and thinking ahead is most likely to put you in casting range.

Research, Research, Research

I’m lucky now in that I have the benefit of experience during two previous trips to QLD. While that in no way makes me very knowledgeable in regards to fishing up there, I have a little better understanding of what I can hope to achieve. But if I were going somewhere I hadn’t been before, this is how I would start going about it.

  1. 1.      Get to know the target

Unless you are just keen on heading to a particular location and taking whatever is on offer, you are going to have to choose your destination based on whether or not the species you are after occurs there. This can obviously be a daunting task for some species without local knowledge, but you can piece things together by starting broad and narrowing down.

For example, the barramundi occurs in coastal fresh and saltwater habitats throughout northern Australia. It goes without saying, however, that some locations hold more or better fish than others. This has as much to do with fishing pressure as environmental conditions, so there is plenty to think about. These days, google is a good place to start.

Barra turn up all over the place up north - work out where you can specifically target them
Barra turn up all over the place up north – work out where you can specifically target them (and wear an appropriate hat)

Obviously, the internet and fishing forums have changed the way we hunt down information and there is plenty of great stuff out there. But, if like me, the rats nest that is a fishing forum makes your eyes glaze then don’t despair. The printed word still works! If you happen to have access to stacks of old fishing magazines then start there – I’m lucky enough to have gotten in with the right people when starting out and was given untold numbers of back issues. The articles in these are a perfect place to start filtering.

Sitting back over the Christmas break I started flicking through magazine contents pages to see what was relevant. Sure enough, the September 2007 issue of Modern Fishing Magazine had a great article on chasing jungle perch. Luckily for me, the Cardwell region is bang in the middle of top notch JP habitat!

  1. 2.      Locate your area

Once you have worked out what makes your target species tick, you will have probably started to form a few ideas on where you want to find them. For me, the first step is generally to find the most remote place I can within the known range of the species, and then see if I can actually get there.

This was the exact approach Dick and I took on our inaugural north-coast NSW jack fishing adventure last year.  I’m not going to give the name of the place away, but I will say that proximity to towns and difficulty of access factored heavily in the decision. When a couple of blokes on motorbikes turned up, stared slack-jawed at the old hilux and us sitting back with a beer and said “how did you get that in here? We were flat out getting in on the bikes!” I knew we had chosen the right place. And while we didn’t land a jack, we got smoked by some beauties.

Use a range of sources when planning a trip - and hard copy maps are hard to beat
Use a range of sources when planning a trip – and hard copy maps are hard to beat

Google Earth is a fantastic tool for scanning the landscape and finding likely spots. It is probably the best way to quickly scope out a region from afar and see what’s going on. A few print outs of the aerial photography are also really useful in identifying key landmarks when you are out and about.

That being said, there is no way I can overestimate the importance of topographic maps for when you actually get out there. I will cover these in a bit more detail in the next article, so don’t forget about them.

  1. 3.      Learn the lay of the land

Once you have selected your location you will want to start determining where you can get to and how. The lay of the land may have already fed into selecting your location. Accessibility is a key factor in determining the success of any trip and needs to be given serious consideration. Roads, rivers, ridgelines. These features are likely to be what you will use to move within a landscape, so make sure you can get to them.

I headed out into the backblocks of Victoria in 2012 in search of Sambar. A long and winding road into the forest found my planned route blocked by a logging camp so I decided to leave the vehicle at the end of the track on the next ridgeline east, follow it out on foot and cut back across the valley and to my intended ridge. That would get me down to the lower country and some semi-open river flats that would be easier to stalk.

After half a day of scrambling through thickets on a mountain side, I decided that it wasn’t feasible to travel from ridge to ridge. Stuck to the ridgeline I was on, I took that as far as I thought I would be able to pack a deer out in the week that I had, and set up camp. The deer were there, but stuck on top of a ridge with solid scrub on either side and the only water half an hour straight down into the gully didn’t make for ‘silent’ hunting.

Hard going to get to, but the places you might find can be pretty amazing
Hard going to get to, but the places you might find can be pretty amazing

Don’t get me wrong, waking up an hour before first light and listening to a powerful owl calling from the adjacent basin, watching gang gang cockatoos feed above me during the day, and inspecting the stags rub tree next to my tent still made a great trip, but next time I’m going to take the canoe across Lake Dartmouth and get to my valley flats via the water.

Having topographic maps allowed me to change plans when I couldn’t take my original route. Thorough planning may have made a better trip. I don’t think you can know the land too well.

  1. 4.      Find out what lives where

If you are taking on a range of challenges during your trip, then it is best to know a good deal about each of them. Species specific research will feed into understanding the landscape and flow on to identifying places that those species are most likely to be found in. Use this knowledge to form basic plans.

When I feel like a stroll, I can go and chase jungle perch and sooty grunter in the mountain streams. Hitting creek junctions and mouths during the last stages of a run-out and the first stages of run-in tides are likely to put my lure in range of actively feeding predators like barramundi. Drifting sand flats and walking beaches at high tide might locate cruising queenies and trevally.

Having a basic knowledge of species ecology will go a long way towards tightening a line on one of them.

The only jungle perch captured to date - from a cast net off the Cardwell jetty. It took lots of rain to get it there
The only jungle perch captured to date – from a cast net off the Cardwell jetty. It took lots of rain to get it there

The Heart of the Issue

With all this planning it seems easy to fall into the trap of becoming too rigid. Don’t get like this. Have bare-bones ‘fail-safe’ plans as a base line, but if something presents itself, well, the best laid plans… The point of having an idea of where to find things is to feel confident at the outset. Confidence goes a long way in finding success.

The next article will cover preparation, packing and travel considerations for the big trip. Stay tuned!