Barramundi are an enigmatic and exciting target wherever you find them, and the extra-oversized models found in our impoundments are no exception. Anyone who wants to nail their first metre-plus barra would be mad not to consider one of the many dams scattered across the top half of the country. These fish are big, challenging, and they go absolutely crazy on the end of a line.
Make no mistake, despite living in a big ditch, these fish present a huge learning curve, and even though they don’t have to deal with the rigours of the wild, they are a very tough adversary; both figuratively and physically! Delve into the impoundment scene though and you’ll soon discover that landing big barra consistently isn’t just for locals who fish for them all the time, but there are a few little things to understand about impoundment barra if you want tip the odds in your favour.
If you don’t live nearby a barra dam and need to travel, it’s important to gather as much knowledge and intel as you can before your visit so you can maximise your time while you’re there. In this blog we will cover the basics of how to find and catch impoundment barramundi.
Wild vs Stocked Barra
Barramundi in dams are stocked, which means they have been put in there specifically for angling. Barramundi cannot breed in still freshwater, so stocking needs to be ongoing for a dam to maintain a population.
Wild fish live in estuaries, along coasts or in natural bodies of freshwater like billabongs and oxbow lakes, so their supply of food is dependent on the environmental conditions and will fluctuate. Dam fish on the other hand usually have a consistent oversupply of forage such as bony bream, crayfish, garfish, barred grunter and even recently stocked barramundi fingerlings! Because of this, dam fish can pile on the pounds very quickly, sometimes reaching a metre long and over 20kg in just four years!
Chasing large fish that never go hungry is part of what makes impoundment fishing challenging, but once you identify the areas where they like to feed and when they like to do it, you can significantly reduce time spent aimlessly casting and second guessing yourself.
Impoundment barra will move about a dam to seek one of two things, food or comfort. If they aren’t capitalising on a feeding opportunity, they’ll be hanging out somewhere comfortable, not moving very much, and recharging for their next feeding opportunity.
Barramundi are lazy fish, but this doesn’t mean they won’t cover distances if they have to. If they need to cross the dam to find an area where baitfish are piling up or where the water is just degree warmer, they will.
Summer in the tropics is generally stinking hot or pouring with rain – sometimes both! In times of severe heat over 30C (with surface water over 27C), barra will tend to seek deeper water where its cooler. At night they may move shallow to feed, or they may stay out deeper if it’s still too warm in the shallows.
Following big bouts of rain, barra often seek out areas where water is flowing into the dam. In these areas they can soak in cool, oxygen-rich water. All barramundi tend to seek out flowing water instinctively, and in the wild areas like this can provide an inflow of food.
As it starts to cool through autumn and into winter, the barra will begin searching for warmer water. Sun-warmed shallow bays and banks tend to be their favourite areas, especially if wind is blowing slightly warmer surface water into them.
In winter, a barra’s metabolism slows down, however they still need to eat. Finding fish at this time can be easy, and often anglers will be able to see them with the naked eye sitting in the shallows. Getting these fish to eat a lure can be a frustrating exercise, however there will be narrow windows when they will eat.
At it warms up into spring, the barra will become more active as their body temperature rises. Spring is widely acknowledged to be the best time to target impoundment barramundi. This is because of their willingness to eat a variety of presentations, and the regularity of ‘bite times’. Bite times are occurrences such as a moon rise, high moon (when the moon is directly above your position on earth), under moon (directly beneath), a tide change in a nearby saltwater system, sunrise and sunset. Full moons at night are always a favourite time for barra anglers through spring and summer, and travelling anglers will often try to time their visits with a full moon.
When the water climbs above 25C barra will seek out areas of the dam where bait has collected, and this usually has a lot to do with the persistent northerly winds that generate currents in the dam. Wind-blown areas such as off points, in bays and along creek beds will become favourite haunts for hungry barra. During this time, the fish will favour shallow areas with deeper water nearby. Barra like to be able down into comfortable temperatures during the hottest part of the day, and venture up quickly into the shallows when it cools off a little.
Fishing for dam barra
Finding barra is the key to catching them, and an understanding of their seasonal movements is a good start, however barra aren’t always predictable.
A good sounder with the side imaging and/or 360 live imaging is fairly standard equipment these days, and is a great tool for sorting through the barren water.
When you rock up to a dam, you need to decide on a few areas you wish to target. In autumn and winter, these may be sun-warmed areas in shallow water under 3m. In spring, wind-blown points (with wind blowing either on or across the point), bays, and creek channels are the places to be looking, especially in the 2-5m depth range. Through summer, you may want to search out deeper, and techniques like trolling can be very successful.
Identifying areas to slowly cruise around with the sounder on and hopefully mark fish is a great way to get started. If you start to notice fish in a general area, you should begin fishing.
Anglers with side imaging will tend to station up in areas where barra are likely to cruise past or hang out in, such as the tip of a point, the back of a bay, or near a small channel in the weed or timber that the wind is blowing into. Structure such as weed or dead timber is good to have, but not necessary, as some dams do not have either of these things in abundance. Finding a natural ‘choke point’ helps when fishing in this way; this could be a small gap through the week, a channel through some timber, or the very tip of a point where the water is very shallow.
Using an electric anchor, traditional anchor, or tying off to a piece of timber is important for holding your position. During this time, you should be casting continuously at the choke point, watching the sounder for any fish moving through, and taking note of any activity, such as bumps, follows, fish feeding or other boats nearby catching fish. Make a note of any bite times that will occur when you’re out on the water and make sure you have lures in the water during those times.
If you don’t register any activity with half an hour or so, it may be worth finding another likely looking area to station up and repeat the process.
Anglers with 360 live imaging can cruise around in these same areas and cast lures to fish they can see moving around on the sounder in real time! You may need to present a lure to many fish before you get a bite, however.
What’s important to remember is that if you find numbers of barra, whether on the sounder or with your naked eye, be sure to stick with them. Presenting different lures at different depths is a good way to figure out what they want, if they want anything at all. Chances are, if they’re in a likely looking area, they will bite at some point throughout the day or night.
Dam barra tackle
Barramundi will regularly grow to colossal sizes in dams, so it’s important to fish with adequate tackle.
Spin and baitcast outfits in a medium heavy rating (approximately 4-8kg) are probably the minimum standard, with braided lines between 30-80lb and leaders between 50-80lb depending on the size of the fish and the type of terrain you’re fishing.
Daiwa’s Tatula XT series are great spin and baitcast rods, and fitted with a Tatula 200 HD LTD or TD Black MQ (3000 or 4000 size) respectively, they make a great all round impoundment outfit.
Shimano’s series of Curado rods and reels are also up to the task, with Curado reels being a trusted barra-catching tool for many years.
For lures, impoundment barra will eat most things, and anything between 100-250mm is considered a good snack size. A few favourites include the Lucky Craft Pointer 100XD, Zerek Fish Trap in 95 and 110mm, Bait Junkie Kikker Curly, Rapala Skitter V 13 and Squidgy Slick Rig 130mm, with the latter taking taken countless barra over the years. For trollers, you can’t go past the Halco RMG Scorpion Double Deep 125, a valuable weapon when it gets too hot to fish in the shallows. The trick is to cover your bases from the top of the water column to the bottom, and be prepared to cycle through them to find what the fish are looking for on the day.
Make the trip
The only way you’re going to crack the dam barra code is by getting out to a dam and giving it a go! There are many impoundments that hold barra, such as Lake Tinaroo, Lake Proserpine, Teemburra Dam, Kinchant Dam, Lake Awoonga, Lake Monduran, Lake Callide, Manton Dam, Lake Kunanurra, and more.
The rewards from this style of fishing makes all the time and effort totally worth it, and once the impoundment barra bug bites, it’s hard to shake it off!
Article by Bob Thornton.