Chasing Meter Plus Barra

Ayr Barra

Chasing Meter Plus Barra

My mate Scott and I just returned from a guided fishing trip to Ayr which is about 90km south of Townsville.  Both of us have fished this area before and we wanted to return before the close of the barra season in a couple of weeks.  In summary the trip was fantastic.  Unfavourable wind and tides meant we had to change tactics several times (hence the length of this report).    This wasn’t a problem as the major drawcard for this area is the diversity of quality sport fishing available.

 Day 1 – The Burdekin River

After a not too early start we launched the boat at Hell Hole Creek and headed out to sea and back into the Burdekin River.  The Burdekin is one of the largest rivers flowing onto the Barrier Reef at approximately 700km long.  Floods wash huge trees down the waterway which get deposited in the first several kilometers of the river.  In this section of the river there are hundreds of visible and many more submerged snags.  The fish seem to concentrate around only a handful of the snags.  Our guide John uses the side scan sounder to find the productive ones worth targeting.  Without the sounder you could spend the whole day casting where no one is home.  Although, just because the fish are there is no guarantee that they will be interested in the lures.

First snag close to the mouth appeared to be holding some good fingermark but we couldn’t entice a bite.  We moved further upstream to a tree branch that was just protruding from the current.  The side scan showed a completely different story with several big trees washed up together and a stack of fish holding over them.  Casting over the snags and working our lures back into the rough territory we had our first volunteer to come aboard.  This little GT put up a pretty good fight on light spin gear.

A few casts later I hooked up to a solid barra that John called for 85 to 90cm.  It was the usual barra performance with hard runs and big jumps.  Just out of reach of the lip grips it went ballistic and took off with renewed energy.  Seconds later we found out why when it was monstered by a 2.5m bull shark on the surface.  It was time to move elsewhere.

We found another good snag further upstream and worked out plastics right through the snag.  It was pretty intense bumping weedless plastics through the snag and trying to avoid getting hooked on the timber.  After quite a few casts trying to fire the fish up Scott hooked up to a massive barra.  It went mental on the light spin gear.  Just as it was coming to the boat it made a deep run under the boat and shook the hook free.  I’m not quite sure what Scott was mumbling while he held his head in his hands but he looked pretty devastated.  Back into it and a few casts later Scott hooked up to another barra.  It looked quite a bit smaller than the first but still measured a respectable 84cm.

After lunch we headed over to a cluster of small trees washed up against the bank. John showed us a school of what he called “small” barra on the sounder that were sitting on a tree about 3m from shore. I managed 6 hits from 6 casts with zero hook-ups on my plastic. While I was busy not catching fish Scott landed one of these “small” barra which John estimated as mid-70s.

Later in the afternoon John wanted to try another spot he had only discovered quite recently. It was only known to a select group of locals and rumoured to hold massive predatory fish at certain times of the year. It was a shallow expanse of water and full of 2 foot long mullet waiting to push along with the tide. We cast poppers and stickbaits around for a while and were beginning to get a bit discouraged. Then the tide changed…

By the size of some of the explosions in the water you could tell something amazing was about to happen. Scott’s stickbait got smashed first in a huge explosion. After a long tussle with this fish we got a fleeting glimpse of it in the muddy water. Judging by the girth of the shoulder we both called it for a GT approaching 20kg. It took another few screaming runs and surfaced again just out of reach. It was an enormous queenfish that, without a good look, John estimated would have been between 10 and 15kg. As soon as it saw the boat it took off again and then pop… The stickbait floated back to the surface.

There wasn’t any time to mourn the loss of this fish as there were regular explosions to get back into casting toward. I even saw a meter long Queenie on its side chasing mullet up over the shallow flats. Shortly after Scott set the hooks into this smaller fish that would be about 7 to 8kg.

After I swapped my popper for a little walk-the-dog style stick-bait I was getting hits too. One cast I had three queenfish all about this size taking swipes at the lure. We had several more waves of fish come through on the tide and had an awesome time watching them attack our surface lures. This went on for about 45 minutes until it shut down and the fish dispersed with the tide.

Day 2 – Baratta Creek, Jerona

With the wind blowing and the Burdekin being an exposed waterway we had to change plans on day 2. We put the boat in at Barratta Creek near the small township of Jerona and drove around to an area where John knows the barra tend to school up. Several small schools of very big fish showed up on the sounder and we followed these around using the electric motor. I got a big hit and a powerful run from a fish but pulled the hooks. When the plastic came up there was a scale about the size of a 20 cent coin attached to the hook. Just to show I wasn’t a complete amateur a few casts later I landed the smallest barra John has ever seen at this spot. The estimate was about 65-70cm. This was shortly followed by a founder.

Once the wind picked up we headed into a nearby creek where I landed a small flattie. Impressed with my ability to catch fish that I could back at home John took us further upstream to work plastics through the snags. The plan was to look for some fingermark, jacks and barra. Next up for me was a baby jewfish that I pulled off a tree in the middle of the creek.

Like in the Burdekin we found the fish only holding on specific bits of structure.   The side scan made the difference between flogging spots that looked good against ones holding fish. Even on the snags holding lots of fish it was hard work to entice a bite. Scott and I landed some good fingermark, jacks and the occasional small barra throughout the rest of the morning.

Once the tide stopped flowing the bites completely shut down. Scott was now in a zombie-like state after taking antihistamines for the insect bites he suffered on the first day. My right shoulder was in severe pain from aggravating a previous injury. We did what any fisherman would do in this situation. We had a lunchtime nap.

Refreshed, John took us into a tiny creek that was nearby. We only just scraped through on the tide. This looked like prime jack territory. John had us casting weedless rigged plastics right up against the shore as he manoeuvred us around using the electric. As soon as my first cast hit the water I had a reasonable jack flash out and nail my lure. We landed over a dozen fish in a couple of hours in this little creek including this nice jack that Scott picked up.

The terrain was very tough and the jacks were holding tight against the snags.  I lost several good fish when I couldn’t react fast enough to the strike.  This was one of my better fish.

Scott landed and released another nice little barra that was holding on a snag. Then this grunter unexpectedly smashed his lure when it was almost back to the boat. Grunter are only an occasional capture this far up the creeks preferring to live out in the open waters of the bay. It put up a good fight in the narrow creek.

At the end of two days fishing I was wishing I could stay up there longer but unfortunately had to head back home. Even though we had to adapt to the weather and tides we landed some quality fish including new species as well as breaking some long standing PB’s.

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The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.

John Buchan