Thursday, February 11, 2010

Impoundment barramundi - freshwater hunters


Impoundment barramundi have taken the spotlight in Queensland's freshwater fishing. Other species such as Australian bass, sooty grunter and yellowbelly were once the primary target of many impoundment fisherman.

Now, with the barramundi at consistent sizes of 1m in some lakes, their looks and their ability to jump clear out of the water, it's easy to see why they are getting attention.

The look of a metre plus barramundi is amazing - they have solid silver scales, a chunky tail wrist, a large paddle-like tail and a strange head that slopes down to form their mouth and eyes closely together.

Their mouth is teeth-less, so they have an abrasive sandpaper-like texture surrounding their mouth to grip bait and swallow it whole.

They have sharp scutes around their gills which can cut mono lines very easily - it is unknown why these scutes actually exist.


Their eyes are positioned right near their mouth for accuracy when attacking bait - both of the eyes are on top of the head giving them the ability to see their prey on the surface easily. They are known for attacking all types of small baitfish and crustaceans hanging around on top of the water.

Their jawbones open up to an amazing size so they can swallow bait up to one and a half feet long in one movement - without chewing!

They have all of the features of a hunting fish including a lateral line to detect vibrations from fish movement, amazing eyesight in both day and night, a swim bladder to rise and fall in the water, fins for positoning and nostrils to pick up any underwater scents.

These features are what makes them a unique underwater hunter.

Whether the weather

The weather is an amazing phenomenon, and as we all know as anglers, it brings all different types of conditions to fish in. From, cold, rainy and rough to hot, sunny and calm, the weather is constantly changing.

These regular changes in weather create different effects on impoundment barramundi, and have a large influence on the feeding activities and location of these fish.

Knowing about the weather and how it affects the fish in a stocked impoundment is a great contributor to lure fishing success.


Wind-created current flow

If you’ve spent time fishing the barramundi impoundments anywhere in Queensland, you’ll know that the wind is a constant issue to deal with when fishing.

If there was an average level of wind to expect on an impoundment such as Awoonga or Monduran, 10 to 15 knots would probably be about right, with anywhere between glassy calm to strong 30 knots of gusty breezes in the mix.

Wind is a large environmental factor in the positioning and activity state of impoundment barra. Wind creates friction on the surface layers of lake water thereby moving water in a direction, known as current flow.

These wind-created currents are usually constantly moving all over the lake, deviating off shorelines, pushing small organisms and trapping them in collection zones. These currents can be hard to see but they have a large effect on the lake.

Winds generally create only weak currents near the surface that move in the same general direction as the wind. A strong prevailing wind blowing for many days in the same direction often creates a deeper flow.

The speed of these currents is believed to be about two percent the speed of the forming wind. Surface flows that hit shores at an angle usually deflect, like a pool ball off the edge of a table, and bounce away from the shoreline.

However, currents which push directly onto shorelines cannot deviate to the side and often become mixed and churned. These changing water directions where currents hit the shoreline often create unstable swimming conditions for baitfish, making them more vulnerable to attack from barramundi.

Depending on the strength of the flow, the water currents in these areas tend to reflect and push water directly back out. If you have ever seen a strong wind muddying the water through shoreline wave action, the coloured water will push out a long way from the bank. This shows the flow pushing back towards the wind as a result of the reflected current.

A consistent wind, blowing in the same direction for several days, has time to create a consistent current with predictable flow. Winds that shift direction after a few hours can mislead the reading of current flow, as the currents formed may not overcome the inertia of pre-existing flows.

After the winds ease, strong wind-generated currents continue in the established directions due to momentum. They gradually slow unless a strong wind in a new direction creates a more rapid change.

When using the wind to select fishing areas, the consistency of the wind over the last several days is more important than the current wave action when winds have recently changed direction.


Bite times

If you’ve spent a lot of time fishing for impoundment barramundi, one thing you might have experienced is several fish biting during a small period of time.

These ‘bite times’ or ‘windows of fish activity’ are small amounts of time that fish are quite likely to actively feed in an area due to an improved weather change.

Johnny Mitchell of ‘Lake Awoonga guided barra fishing charters’ has an exceptional ability to predict bite times by reading subtle changes in the weather. This knowledge is built up through on the water experience guiding charter anglers onto barramundi in all types of weather conditions. Johnny is the best in the business when it comes to picking these windows of good weather, and he has used it to advantage on endless occasions to catch great fish with his clients.

By being very observant on the wind, sun and clouds, Johnny can pick small, improved weather changes that fire fish up and make them feed. If the right type of weather occurs, Johnny can even predict likely fish feeding activity down to seconds.

These triggers can be tricky to pick up, as they are relatively subtle. One type of bite trigger involves a sudden rise in water temperature. When large patches of cloud cover move away and the sun blasts the water this creates warmth, and can create small periods of fish activity.

During this small amount of time, presenting your lure to a spot you know holds barramundi is a good idea. Try it out next time you’re fishing an impoundment and see if you can notice any subtle increase in fish activity – a leaping barramundi on your line is a strong sign!

Tough times

Tough fishing times on the barramundi impoundments are common. For the last 5 years we have pursued these fish, we have had some amazing sessions catching a lot of big barramundi.

However, these sessions are usually very far between. Two to four fish landed is probably the average of a normal four to five hour casting session. On very tough days, it’s quite common to catch just one or even go without a fish boated.

Tough barramundi fishing is usually associated with poor weather. Overcast conditions with wind that constantly blows strong and cools the water is one common example of tough fishing weather. However, there are ways to improve your odds, even when it feels like there just aren’t any fish in the lake!

When the weather makes the fishing challenging, it’s when you have to change the way you fish to get results. With the poor weather, many barramundi will not be interested in feeding, so you have to try and stimulate them into biting. Like advertising, you have to make them want to buy it, even if they’re not looking for it!

This is where a fine-tuned lure and retrieve can give you better results. By adding small, enhanced movements to the retrieve such as tiny jiggles, adding long pauses and using a lure with a lot of vibration, this will improve the lure’s look and sound.

When the fishing get’s tough, a system we sometimes apply is to increase everything. Increase the vibration of the lure, amount of extra rod movements, amount and length of pauses, and even more time fishing a particular area. You often have to fish smarter to get the bites in the tricky times.

When the fishing is very tough, sometimes it seems as though this approach still doesn’t work – but it does.
When the fish are not on, it can be hard to catch them, but this approach will catch them!

You just need to make sure you are doing it well, use it over an area where there are fish, stick with it and the fish will come. If you get it right you will catch fish in any challenging weather condition.


Tune in to the weather

Obviously, the weather and fish have been around together for many, many years. Who knows what small effects the weather has on fish that humans don’t know about? One thing is for sure, if you’re observant and learn to understand how the weather affects the fish and the environment they live in, you’ll get better results.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Finetune your barramundi fishing


If you want to catch more fish, one way to do this is to finetune your fishing. The definition of finetuning is ‘to make small adjustments to something in order to achieve the best possible performance or appearance’.

Finetuning your fishing can result in consistently catching fish. The detail is usually the difference between a highly successful angler and one with average results.

Johnny Mitchell, owner of Lake Awoonga guided barra fishing charters has been fishing and working with the ocean and nature for a large part of his life. He has developed a highly detailed knowledge on everything to do with fishing and is very experienced with impoundment barramundi, which he spends many days of the week guiding clients onto.

His guided fishing charters on Lake Awoonga have become known as a very consistent and quality fishing business, where Johnny guides anglers to catch barramundi on lures in the daylight, time after time, in all conditions - an extremely challenging feat.

His advice and ideas on fishing has assisted us to reach high levels of success in both ABT BARRA tournaments and the Australian Fishing Championships. For the past 4 years we have known him, we have fished with him on many occasions at Lake Awoonga, Peter Faust Dam, Monduran Dam and the saltwater around Gladstone, so we have a good idea on the reasons he catches so many fish.

So here’s some ways you can learn from Johnny about finetuning for success when targeting the barramundi of Queensland’s impoundments.

Lures

When choosing a lure to put on the end of his clients lines, Johnny makes sure he has a lure with the best possible chance at tempting a fish to strike. With this, he generally modifies the lure to improve its swimming action, sink or float rate and lure strength.

Johnny once said to us ‘what lure doesn’t need to be changed or altered in some way to catch more fish?’ We agreed as we also make changes to almost every lure to get more bites and land more fish.

It can be a good idea to adjust the weight of the soft plastic you’re using to the area you’re fishing. If you’re fishing very shallow water with weed growth, trimming some weight out of the lead will make the plastic sink slower and not into the thick weeds.

Johnny also adds lead weight to his floating hardbody lures by using ‘sticky-weight’ or super gluing a small amount of lead to the lure. This makes the lures rise very slowly or suspend in the barramundi’s face.

Another thing Johnny does to his soft plastics is to check to make sure the plastic swims straight and not to one side. After that he often trims some of the plastic from the tail of the lure. This frees up the tail and gives it a bit more beat and vibration in the water for fish to detect.

Retrieving

Johnny’s skills in lure retrieving are first class and he seems to know what fish want. When he fishes with us, he always winds nice and slow and keeps the lure in the strike zone.

He also puts in different movements of the lure to trigger fish into biting. By adding a combination of small pauses and tiny rod pulses, he makes the lure look and sound very realistic swimming through the water.

We were once fishing at the back of his boat at anchor and casting our lures with a fairly straight retrieve through the strike zone. Johnny then put on a hardbody lure with a slow, fine-tuned retrieve and caught a fish almost straight away. This shows how productive a well-tuned lure and retrieve can be at triggering fish to bite.

Casting

Another part of fishing that you can finetune to get better results is in your casting. Johnny is a master at casting long and accurately, placing the lure well into the strike zone.

When fishing in the saltwater for barramundi, we were amazed at how Johnny could cast his lures deep in past the strike zone with great accuracy. The result was he caught more fish than us as he could place the lure deep into the back of the area and retrieve through where the fish where – right in close to cover.

Doing this from a distance is even trickier, especially when there is some wind to blow your lure and line around. Casting accuracy isn’t something that can be finetuned overnight, but with experience and practice, you can get much better fishing results by being able to get your lure right where you want it.
Boat position

When going for a fish in one of the barramundi impoundments, it can be easy to focus on main things such as what lure you’re going to tie on but other aspects like boat positioning and stealth can be equally important.

When driving into a fishing spot with charter clients, boat positioning and stealth are two things Johnny puts a lot of attention towards. Johnny will usually turn the outboard motor off well out from the targeted fishing area. By drifting in with the wind or slowly moving in with the electric motor, most barramundi in the location are not aware of his presence and will focus on feeding opportunities rather than safety.

Putting the boat in the right spot is an art and Johnny is a master at it. When fishing with him, he positions the boat so you can just reach the target area on a long cast. Positioning your boat too close to the area can spook some fish and too far out can make it hard to reach the strike zone with your casts. There is a ‘sweet spot’ in the middle where a long cast just reaches the back of the strike zone and this is where you want your boat to be for maximum chance at catching barramundi.

Try it out

These are some parts of fishing that Johnny has finetuned over the years to be consistently successful when lure fishing.
Finetuning these aspects of your fishing and putting them into use on the barramundi impoundments will put more fish in your boat.

All alone!


When searching for places to fish with lures, many successful anglers try to target ‘fish holding features’ where fish like to frequently rest and feed. These features come in many forms, but they are all places that fish like to be close by to. Casting to these features is obviously a good idea as the zone of water around the area usually has a high chance of having fish in it.

One type of feature that seems to attract fish very well is isolated structure and cover. These isolated features attract many different fish species in the saltwater as well as the freshwater impoundments.

Isolated barramundi features

In the barramundi impoundments, these isolated features can be small exposed islands which are surrounded by deep water. Depending on the layout of the banks, barramundi will often hold around the edges of exposed islands where aquatic weed lines the shallows.

Isolated underwater rises, where the earth rises out of the deep and comes up to within 3m to 1m depths are also likely barramundi holding/ feeding grounds. If the shallows have cover such as laydown timber or weed growth, there is an even greater chance of fish life in the area. These types of features are fairly rare to find in barramundi impoundments but if located they can be dynamite fishing zones.

There is some great underwater rises in the impoundments where the water level needs to be at a particular height to hold fish. For example, you might find a submerged underwater rise on your sounder and catch some nice barramundi from the location. Then, 3 months later you return and it is a dry island which sticks well out of the water. With the changes in water levels, the fish holding features in the lake also transform.


Isolated saltwater zones

In the saltwater, these isolated features can hold some great fish. One example of these features includes any isolated rocky outcrops, which rise out of deep, open water. Giant Trevally love these types of areas and will frequently feed in the fast-flowing currents which rip past the structure.

Another excellent isolated feature is any shipwreck which lies on a featureless bottom in the deep sea. These wrecks can attract a mind-boggling amount and variety of fish, with anything from big cobia to large jewfish and even bill fish.

Isolated fish holding features don’t have to be in the middle of nowhere to hold large amounts of fish. A big, deep jetty on a long, sandy, featureless coastline has the potential to hold big fish as it’s the largest piece of cover for a long area.

This usually brings in fish such as big queenfish, bream, flathead, fingermark and mangrove jack from long distances to seek cover around the pylons and other jetty structure. The cover also brings large amounts of baitfish to the area which they use as protection from predators and a place to escape the strong current flows.

Where there are no fish holding features nearby, an area of cover or structure can be a magnet for fish life. In the saltwater and the fresh – these spots are prime places to go fishing.