The rise and fall of Queensland's 'Big Barra' dams

A 119cm Kinchant Dam barra. Fish like this are common in Kinchant. This was one of four taken in a half hour hot bite where the smallest was 117cm.
Lee Brake
Impoundment fishing for barramundi has come a long way in the last decade, but the boom areas are not always where you'd expect. There's a lot of hard work and more than a little luck that goes into making an impoundment a 'big barra' dam.

Right up the Queensland coast and inland we are blessed with numerous lakes and impoundments that have enjoyed significant recreational fishing popularity due to the introduction of barramundi into their waters. However, dams, like the wild, are not without their cycles. Two things seem to have an effect on the stocked barra populations of our impoundments more than anything else: cold weather and floods!

Inland impoundments like Lake Maraboon, Callide Dam and Theresa Creek Dam (which lost almost all its fish in the winter of 2007) and southern impoundments like Lake Lenthall, to name just a few, will all attest to the devastating consequences of prolonged cold periods to which barra are just not accustomed. It's also the larger fish that seem less able to cope with these cold snaps, probably due to being less mobile.

Floods are the other big killer. Barra instinctively follow running water in order to spawn and when water starts pouring over the spillway of an impoundment, it takes thousands of big barra with it, usually to their deaths.

Jason Crofts with a Peter Faust metre barra. Faust has always been a big barra dam, but it does suffer during big rain events.
Lee Brake

The big wet seasons of recent years have completely reshaped the map when it comes to the major big barra dams. Many impoundments that are household names, like Awoonga, Monduran, Teemburra and Peter Faust, have all lost thousands of big fish over their walls. Because of this, dams that one year accounted for metre fish captures on a daily basis are now much more difficult prospects. Barra are still there, but catching metre-plus fish is no longer a matter of luck; you'll need to work hard for them.

Isaac Fenech with a 121cm barra from Kinchant that was as long as the boat is wide!
Lee Brake

The good news is that they will recover. There's no doubt about it. The Stocked Impoundment Scheme (SIPS) means that stocking groups have the vital funds to keep the cycle going, and small fish are hungry fish, so anglers won't be bored.

Now, with all this doom and gloom, you could be forgiven for thinking that your chance to fish a big barra dam has been missed. Well that's not the case. The two that immediately come to mind are Kinchant Dam near Mackay and Tinaroo Dam in the Atherton Tableland near Cairns.

Both have been relatively free from the blights of cold and flood. Tinaroo, thanks to the efforts of the local stocking group and campaigners like John and Jennifer Mondora and Alf Hogan, is the only impoundment that I know of with a net blocking off the spillway to stop barra taking the fatal drop. This net goes across the width of the channel upstream of the spillway and has been in place since 1997. In fact the net has been so successful that the stocking group has had to experiment with larger fingerlings to increase their survival rate amongst all the monsters!

Lee Brake with a 113cm Teemburra Dam barramundi. Fish like this were becoming less of a rarity in Teemburra before the floods. Now the average size fish is around 60cm and 90cm is a rare fish (as per the results of recent MTA Tournaments held there).
Lee Brake

Kinchant on the other hand is a smaller impoundment (just 920 hectares when full) nestled in the Pioneer Valley near Mackay. Its small size, lack of standing timber, and proximity to well-known barra impoundments like Teemburra and Peter Faust meant that for years it largely remained the domain of water skiing enthusiasts.

Then, however, we had a year of severe drought (2004 from memory) where water levels got so low that they had to install aeration machines on the water to stop a mass die-off and I believe some fish were even relocated to the Pioneer River.

The curse of the freshwater impoundment: big rains equal fish following their instincts and the running water, often to their deaths.
Lee Brake

This seemed to be when word got out just how many barra were in the Dam. Anglers were attracted to the dam due to the low water levels and numbers of fish. I don't think a lot were caught that year (they don't feed much when they are gasping for breath), but word sure got out. In the years that followed, Kinchant's amiable north Queensland coastal climate has meant that it has escaped cold snaps and, because of its shape and topography, it seems to handle significant rain events much better than dams with higher topography and steeper banks.

Whatever the reasons, both Tinaroo and Kinchant have become Queensland's biggest barra dams with several notable world record fish to their credit. And they are only getter better. Every year those big fish just keep growing and because of the ever-increasing publicity those big fish attract, more and more anglers are fishing these dams and ticking them on their Stocked Impoundment Permits (thus allocating stocking funds in their direction). They will only get better, so if you want to catch a 100cm or even a 130cm barra then I know where I'd be headed.

Peter Faust Dam is a beautiful spot to chase big barra. It also seems to always have a population of metre-plus fish, even when thousands go over the wall. However, you have to wonder how good it'd be if it had a net like Tinaroo.
Lee Brake


Fish hard and stay safe folks.
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