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I guess its human nature to blame everything else except your own shortfalls when measuring the results of your last trip to a dam like Awoonga.
Bad weather, windy conditions and a falling barometer become the catchcry when we fail in our fishing endeavours, but realistically is there something else we have overlooked?
I have no doubt those abovementioned variables can make things hard on their very own, but how do you explain a fishery that delivered everything promised and more last time, yet failed to deliver the next visit?

Awoonga dam really hit her straps mid 2005. Word travel fast, just about every fishing scribe in the industry made the trip and reported it, and the bush telegraph was in overdrive.
Some really good information can come out of all that exposure, but the downside is that after a few trips and a dozen metre fish, the overnight experts multiply weekly.
I firmly believe this is one of the reasons impoundment Barra fishing is perceived as a tricky game, and why many visiting anglers miss out.
In all reality, there are no real tricks, just some smart thinking, some persistence and hard work.
I'm also of the opinion that it is easy to misinterpret the fact that these fisheries are easy. They are not.
They do have days when they go ballistic, but I'd fancy my shot at Powerball over holding out for that special day.

Getting back to how fishing changes, if you delve into the relatively short history of impoundment Barra fishing, you will see an uncanny parallel in the Awoonga and Peter Faust dam fisheries.
That parallel is that both dams went through an almighty boom, followed by what many call a progressive bust.
Believe me, Faust, an almost forgotten mighty fishery is still very much alive and kicking when it comes to all time, classic barra fishing.
It has, just like Awoonga, fallen off the radar a little.
Awoonga, is still every bit as awesome as it ever was, and like most of the other locals at Proserpine and Gladstone, I'm quite happy how things have panned out.

Going back to early 2000, I clearly remember how Faust ignited the impoundment barra fuse.
Every magazine in the land had giant barra on its covers, feature stories, glossy centre spreads and tales of wipe-outs and triumph.
Faust arrived in a hurry, but it fell off the masses radar quicker.

Making long, wind assisted casts will increase your catch rates dramatically
Making long, wind assisted casts will increase your catch rates dramatically

Well………….depending on who you talk to, it's either been fished out, or it's just plain too hard to catch them any more.
Funnily enough, my good mate Lindsay Dobe, who's been guiding clients onto impoundment barra for longer than anyone else in the land, rarely misses out on putting punters onto fish at Faust. Then Awoonga fell into the doldrums, apparently for the same reasons, fished out or too hard.

The change
So, what has changed? What has happened for the fishing to be harder than what it was? This question is much easier to answer than you probably think. Has the fishery changed? Yes defiantly. Have the fish changed? Absolutely! Weather patterns, the drought, angling pressure, speedboats and competitions all add to the equation. They have all shaped the fishery in some way. Lets look at how.

The weather is way outside human control, so we just have to live with what's being dished out. It's fair to say that each year we seem to be losing the seasons, and weather cells move through unseasonally and the big drought marches on. Falling water levels, a littoral zone that can't establish combined with weed banks collapsing, all is conspiring to make life hard for resident Barramundi. Climate change is a Pandora's Box that I'll leave alone here, so we will move onto the fish.

Have they changed? Yes for sure. How? Well, in many ways.
Firstly, when the Awoonga boom hit, it's fair to say that it was a dam full of uneducated fish cruising the fringes and open water in search of a food source. They had not been exposed to any serious angling pressure. This also coincided with favourable long periods of extremely stable weather, which is far more important than people realise. Another very important factor was that all that stable weather boosted the productivity of the natural food chain and infact peaked during this period. By that I mean that the full benefit of the dam top up courtesy of cyclone Benny had reached its potential.
The mega amounts of nitrates and phosphates washed in had seen an unprecedented level of phytoplankton explode. In turn the Zooplankton which feeds on phytoplankton multiplied, and then the Boney bream hit their straps feeding on the Zooplankton.
I distinctly remember on clear water days seeing the whole bottom shimmer in most bays on Awoonga. The schools of Boney Bream would totally black out my sounder at times as well, even out in 80 feet of water! The Boney Bream numbers were simply amazing, and it was obvious how well the food chain was thriving.
The apex predator, Lates Calcarifer, was in a good paddock.

During this period the ease at which metre plus Barramundi were caught, especially trolled fish was starting to make me feel ill in the stomach. There's no doubt a lot of metre plus stocks were knocked around, it started to become a frenzy. I know and respect the fact that it's a put and take fishery, but some people misunderstood the word "take".
From pig food to garden fertiliser, many magic metre plus Barra, a valuable iconic Australian sportfish, had befallen a terrible tragic end. I and other regulars were starting to worry.
Fortunately, Mother Nature took control and brought back the South Easters. This in turn made the fishing harder, cooled water temperatures, and also dissipated hot bites.
To coincide with the weather change, a distinct period of "very tuff fishing" had arrived. Were all the fish caught? What had happened?

Considering 3 million fish have been released in Awoonga, and what I see on my Lowrance sounders every trip, the numbers of fish in Awoonga is still staggering. So what's happened if the fish are still in such big numbers?

Getting back to how they have changed, a lot of good fisher folk have really focussed on their catch and release practises, and subsequently a high percentage of barra returned to the water have gone on to survive, as well as learn.
Barramundi, wild or impoundment, are probably not the intelligent fish you might think they are. They can be difficult to catch, yes, but not because they are a smart species.

I can distinctly remember watching Malcolm Douglas catching Barra after Barra in the top end on a piece of tin foil and a bent nail. Some of those fish he had just released. That's no smart fish! I've also caught the same Barra I released ten minutes earlier while fishing in Arnhem land, as well as a repeat capture in the dam.

This 124cm Barra ate a stiffy bony bream fished suspended in 18 feet of water
This 124cm Barra ate a stiffy bony bream fished suspended in 18 feet of water

But what Barra lack in the smarts department, they well and truly make up when it comes to survival. There's certainly no doubt that Barramundi, like many other species become very wary or even suspect, particularly in fisheries that see a lot of angling pressure.

Impoundments fit in that category, and its fair to say that during the peak times at Awoonga, when 150 plus boats were roaring around, sounders pinging, electric motors humming and hulls were banging the fish were learning. Add to that the fish that were hauled aboard then set free, its really not that hard to see that the fish are going to wise up.
In all reality though, the dam's population of Barramundi are just trying to survive. They are not trying to learn algorithms or how to out think you, its purely evolving instinctive survival mechanisms, triggered by human interaction. If we as humans never fished for them, its fair to say that they'd be a sorry bunch probably caught every cast.

So, what I am saying is at the very least, Barramundi are able to associate un-natural sounds, sights and smells with danger, and I expect far deeper than we have previously imagined. They may also wary of frequencies, weather it be sounders, reverberation, light reflection, sounds from heavy braids and perhaps even noisy reels.

What hasn't changed?
We have looked at what's changed in the fishery, so now I'll focus on what hasn't changed.
Let's look at the angler. Has he or she changed?
Well some have, very few actually, but the majority haven't. They have turned up in their droves; gear rigged the same as last time, the same techniques, the same attitude and the same plan of attack. And why not? It worked last time right?

But as the trip wears on, few fish are caught, and the shoulders drop. I can pick it a mile away at the ramp, and can often tell whether its worth while asking how an angler faired. The body language tells the story loud and clear. It's easily been the most common sight at the ramp these past 18 months. The fish have wised up, but the angler has not. It's far easier to blame the weather variables or a flogged out fishery than addressing the problem. Instead of searching for the answers, we as humans tend to look for a way out. The best anglers in the land don't.

The most important step in your preparation is to cover your bases. Don't limit yourself to one style of fishing. At times suspending lures are the go, other times reaction baits like slick rigs are the stand out. Other times large bibbed deep divers will take fish when all else fails. Be prepared to find what the fish wants and where. You'll know when you get it right. Finding the specific depth at which the fish are congregating at and presenting a lure continually will see results. Do what it takes to catch them, even if it means learning a new method, or one you know little about. It's the only way to learn.

The abundance of barra lures and plastics hardly make the choice easy, but be realistic and understand that Barramundi really are not that fussy.
I keep my choices of plastics down to the squidgy slick rig range, these plastics are by far the best lure at covering water, and the results speak for themselves. If there's an active Barra around, the slick rig will undo it.
The same rules apply to hard bodies. The usual suspects are all still great fish takers, the Classic range, the Bombers, the Scorpions, as well as a few new lures that have hit the shelves in recent time.
One of these lures, the Stiffy Boney Bream, has been a standout. This lure was designed by Bushy, and after comprehensive testing on Awoonga by the Stiffy crew it's now in full production. I was lucky enough to be involved in the trial and testing of this lure, but it's certainly not why I'm mentioning it here. It comes standard with owner rings and hooks; the Boney bream is a great big fish lure certainly worth a look.
Another thing to keep in mind is using lures that are different to what's used every day. There's no doubt that something different raises interest amongst the resident barra, it makes sense when you think about it. You've all heard stories about the guy who turns up with the cheap lure from the $2 bin and catches barra with it? Yep, something different.
Suspending lures are also a key, X-Raps, storm suspending shads and lures you can customise yourself with sticky weight or larger owner hooks to suspend can be lethal on their day, and it may be the difference between a wicked session and a doughnut.
Jointed lures like the Evergreen ES Drive also have their place on impoundments, they are not cheap but on their day are hard to beat.

Lures that are a little different to what everyone uses can be an advantage,
Lures that are a little different to what everyone uses can be an advantage,
a jackal swim bait undone this Awoonga Barra

Twenty to 30 pound will see most fish landed and natural coloured braid is also something to consider. If you're fishing timber structure then 50 pound is smart practise. Bright coloured braids are not flash in my opinion, dye it yourself if it's not to your liking.
Leaders are also important consideration, and in clear water dropping right back in leader size will get you more bites. The downside of that is you will land less fish, but you need to hook them first right?
Generally I don't use anything under 80lb, I personally don't like fluorocarbon in heavy sizes because of knot strength.
Leaders are again personal choice, some use knotted style leaders, wind on pre-made leaders, heavy braid leaders and others are happy with single strand mono.
There is no 100% guarantee when it comes to leader systems, I'm quite certain there isn't a fish swimming around that's harder on terminals than barramundi.
The scissor action and raspy lips and mouth mean high abrasion in a short space of time, especially if you are fishing a tight drag.

Casting distance is a critical factor. The simple fact is the further you can cast, the more strikes you will get.
Not just because the lure is covering more water, but because it will enable you to stay well off the weed edges and drop offs. Sitting on top of weed beds will have fish scattering in every direction, those fish are the ones you want to catch.

This is a priority. Sound travels at 1500metres per second underwater, so every noise you emit carries far greater than you think. Don't announce your arrival by banging hatches or gear against the boats hull. A super quite approach will serve you well, and combined with casting distance and tackle choice, this alone will see a marked improvement in your catch rates.
My Minn Kota electric is up there with my most prized possessions, its faultless silent operation means I can focus on the fish, whilst the Minn Kota enables me to cover ground in a silent manner. Moving around slowly and quietly is the key, well away from other boats who may not be observing the same critical factors that you are is good practise.

I run a Lowrance LCX-37c on my console, and an X510c on the bow.Having a good sounder that you truly understand is vital to any fishing application, impoundments are no different. Everyone has personal preferences when it comes to sounders; there are many good products on the market. Whatever you choose, make sure you take the time to understand its functions and understand what the screen is displaying. Being able to decipher the data displayed in front of you adds a very important final piece to the puzzle.
You need to understand what a barra looks like compared to other returns on your set. Catfish, Mullet and other baitfish all throw different returns; you need to know what is what. My Lowrance sounders are easily my most valued possessions. They are state of the art fish finders which I have incredible faith in, and although not cheap they are worth every cent.
I categorically know what Barra look like on my screen; this information can easily be the difference in how you fair on the water. Selective use of sounders is also important in my opinion. Yes, I've heard that fish cannot hear the frequency sounders operate on, but I'm not sold. If you're in familiar territory, anchored or know there is fish in the area, then why transmit? Keep the peace, so to speak.

The difference
As you can see, the things that will make a difference to your overall results are not exactly super hi tech, or even rocket science. Its just smart angling practices, that if applied to your local "fished out" areas, you just may find out it's not fished out at all. More likely a wised up fish population.
None of the info shared here is anything new or tricky. The factors I have highlighted often get overlooked in favour of less important practises like lure colour.
It's what I call the 5 percenters. The small but important factors that combine and make all the difference!

Jason Wilhelm
Barra Madness Fishing Tours www email



Copyright © 2008 Jason Wilhelm. Sweetwater Fishing Australia