Wet season awakening
by Lee Brake on 25 Feb 2013
Lee Brake explains how and why heavy rain is the catalyst for some exciting fishing opportunities in the north of Australia.
When it rains heavily, like it's doing in this image, the inflow points in impoundments become hot spots to fish! - Wet Season Awakening Lee Brake
When the rains come we can often fall into the trap of sitting in front of the television or computer. We forget that it is this very rain that acts as a jump starter for many fish species' life cycle and in turn creates some very exciting fishing opportunities, especially in the north of Australia.
Barra are the obvious fish that springs to mind when we hear the words 'wet season'. The big breeding-size fish instinctively head out to the salt to breed and it's the rising water levels from rivers in flood that accommodate this. The juvenile barra also use the floods. They push upstream into the fresh and begin the early stages of life in the relative shelter of freshwater streams, billabongs, ponds and even irrigation channels. Now most times, if we are lucky, all this is going on during the barra closed season and then once the season opens we have as chance to capitalise on the wet weather guilt free.
You see, it's not just barra that use the floodwaters to breed and disburse their eggs and offspring. Baitfish like empire gudgeons, hardyheads, rainbow fish, bony bream and many others all multiply exponentially once the rains set in. It's these same fish that then become food for an assortment of predators as they are washed along with the currents. This floodwater-driven sushi train is what makes the wet season such a great time to be fishing, not sitting in front of a screen!
Every time we get good rains that cause noticeable run-off I'll be waiting with my gear at the ready for the first break in the showers. I live within walking distance of a small freshwater stream that is a tributary of Mackay's Pioneer River. When it rains heavily, a series of rapids, which separate the various parts of the stream, begin to pump as water funnels through. At the base of these rapids barra, tarpon, catfish and sleepy cod all wait to snack on the aforementioned baitfish. I can go down with the fly rod and cast tiny little white clousers and catch tarpon or work soft plastics like Squidgy Slick Rigs for barra. Both work, and I have had some great sessions doing just this. However, it gets better. If you time it right, at the very last set of rapids this stream flows down into a brackish creek, and on big tides the salt will actually meet the fresh at the base of these rapids. Combine this with a rain event and some bait-laden run-off and you have a veritable piscatorial meat grinder. Bait floods down and barra and tarpon move up with the tide and they all meet in this small area in a boofing, splashing cacophony of chaos.
This is not a pattern reserved for my little stream either, it is the same in most little tributaries that flow into our rivers and creeks. You'll even find a similar scene in freshwater impoundment if you look. Every dam has its old creek beds and natural valleys that flow with run-off after heavy rains. Sooty grunter love these inflows and will breed and feed in the running water until they are battered, exhausted and spent. I've had some amazing sessions using spinnerbaits and diving minnows like Reidy's Little Lucifers around the inflows of Teemburra and Eungella Dams.
While on the topic of lure choice, the key is always action and vibration over colour. Freshwater run-off carries lots of sediment as a rule, so the water clarity is either like well-steeped tea or like a chocolate milkshake, depending on the area. For this reason, you want something that has a big action like a Gold Bomber or a B52. Alternatively, try surface lures. Lots of creatures, like frogs, lizards, bugs and even chicks and baby bats, get washed along with floodwater and will flounder on the surface, and all are fair game to a hungry predator. Lures like poppers, fizzers and walk-the-dog stickbaits are excellent imitations of these floundering food sources.
The real key with run-off fishing, wherever you do it, is to be early. The feeding window is when there is a sudden change – be it fresh meeting salt, dirty water ballooning out into clean, fast-flowing aerated water meeting an otherwise still pool, or cool water meeting warm. It's the change, and the feeding opportunities it brings, that triggers the bite, but wait a just a short time and if the rain stops the status quo will return, and if it continues, a new status quo will emerge (i.e. the whole system will rise and run with the same sediment-laden floodwater).
So, next time it rains, don't re-watch Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, tie some leaders, ready some lures and get ready to take advantage of the first gap in the rain.
Fish hard and stay safe.
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