by Lee Brake
This week Lee Brake takes a look at how best to target barra during the transition period between winter and spring.
Headland flats are great water warmers and if you target drains as the water drops you can pinpoint feeding barra.
I'm not someone who only chases barra and believes all other species are bycatch. No, I'll admit that when the temperatures in the early morning are below 15 degrees, chances are that barra are the last thing on my mind. However, as the sun starts to get that comfortable and very familiar warmth in it again, I can't help but get a twitchy casting arm. It's at that stage that my brain goes into overdrive and I'll start venturing back into the fray. However, if you chase barra exactly how you always have throughout the year when it's still jumper-wearing weather, you'll more than likely strike out.
So let's get the bad news out of the way first! Barra don't feed hard when the water is less than about 24 degrees.
Whether their metabolism drops or they just feed less because they expend less energy in their cool water docility, I do not know, but the fact is that they will not be actively looking for a feed for much of the time.
Go light to get the bite! In the cooler weather slow sinking soft plastics are lethal especially when fished on light line and leader.
The good news, though, is that they still need to eat and they still need to defend their territory. This means that if you can specifically target certain bite times and certain locations, you will still catch barra!
This means your aim as an angler is to put yourself in the barra's shoes... fins. Look for warm water and areas that represent an easy feed without the barra having to expend much effort. Drains dropping off flats are my personal favourite.
Rock bars also retain heat and can be cool weather hotspots!
The open, black, muddy mangrove flats that exist near the mouths of many coastal estuaries are great natural, solar-powered water-warmers. When the shallow, warmer water – and the bait in it – from these flats then starts to recede via winding drains and gutters, the barra can simply sit where the drain drops off into deeper water and wait for not only a feed but a rejuvenating flow of warmer water.
However, in saying that though, remember that during this time of year barra aren't the eat-till-they-spew-and -then-keep-eating fish that they are through summer. Instead, they are eating to get by. To cater for this, your offering needs to be an easy feed. It needs to be easy to catch and easy to digest. It's the famous peanut effect – if you're full, you'll snack on a peanut but ignore the prime rump steak. You'll also probably only be tempted by said peanuts if they are sat in front of you; you're not going to go chase a bowl that's carried past you by a fleet-footed bar tender.
Little lures and big barra mix well. Look for tough Aussie-made lures with strong hooks like this little Richos Lure that worked for Graham Brake.
Barra are the same. Think small lures with lots of hang time. Suspending lures or lightly weighted plastics are ideal and try to stay around 8cm - 10cm in size. Just watch the quality of the terminal tackle, as few small lures come off the shelf with barra-grade hooks and split rings. Once you've picked the offering, work that drain mouth repeated and really focus on the strike zone area of the drop off with the slowest retrieve you can manage.
Another barra that fell to the peanut effect. This one took a little "Jack Snack".
This brings me into the second trick, which pretty much balls down to p!$$ing them off! Barra are not super territorial fish like mangrove jack or sooty grunter, but they can and do get agro if provoked. As someone who has a fish tank, I've watched barra a lot and have noticed that they will normally hold in a structured area when not feeding. However, if a smaller tank mate gets too close, the barra will give them a push or bump to give them the hint to back off. If the fish keeps coming back, the barra will get more and more agro. This little observation works very well in the wild as well. If you just know that a barra should be in a snag, then simply by casting into its territory enough, you can turn bumps and touches into hook-ups. Notice I didn't say 'bites'. This is because often you'll jag hook these fed-up barra as they swipe at the annoying lure.
Impoundments are the best place to get your barra mojo back after winter. Watch your temp sensor on the sounder and focus on warmer bays.
The other option is to head to the impoundments. Dams heat up faster than the wild, as the water doesn't circulate as much. Look for shallow bays that have the breeze blowing into them. This will often bring a slight rise in temperature and a rise in barra activity. Technique wise, smaller lures like frog imitations, 100mm soft plastic paddle tails and sub-surface stickbaits are top options. Unlike in wild, tidal waters though, the barra in impoundments seem to respond better to plenty of action, noise and water movement. Explain to me why barra will carve the water like tuna while chasing a soft plastic frog cranked at rooster-tailing speed across the surface on a winter's afternoon! I have no idea, but I've seen them do it repeatedly! The thing with dam barra is to look for warm water and then let the fish know your lure is there. Afternoons through till dusk are also best, as this is usually when the water is at its warmest.
Well, that's it from me for the week. I'm off to pack the boat. All this talk of barra has my casting arm shaking like I've just drank my body weight in Red Bull. See ya next week.