by Lee Brake
After last week's guide to jigging after dark, Lee Brake stays on the nocturnal subject and tells you how to smash the metre mark after dark in Queensland’s impoundments.
Is there anything better than the still beauty of an impoundment after dusk? Sure is – and impoundment exploding with barra the size of beer fridges!
It was two o’clock in the morning and things were looking grim. My fishing partner Isaac Fenek and I were struggling like one legged men in an ass-kicking contest. The dam was pitch black and deader than a maggot with five kinds of cancer and no private healthcare. We had one sooty to our name and things were bleak! Then, like the surreal ending to a nocturnal horror flick, an ambient glow appeared on the horizon as the moon began to prepare for its ascent. We’d just holstered our rods for the night’s final breather and were seriously contemplating hitting the frog and toad, when suddenly someone started throwing hand grenades around.
Isaac with one of his horses. It’s a long night on the dam, but it can be worth it just to experience even a single hour of monster mayhem.
Boney bream were trying to climb the bank and the water literally rippled with their panic only for the night to be split apart every 50 (or so) seconds as something akin to a wrecking ball drove itself into their midst. Thoughts of a warm bed and some shuteye were forgotten as we lunged for our inadequately slim graphite rods.
I hit the water first with a 5' Hollowbelly and managed two cranks of the handle before the rod did its best to leap from my hands and a Massi-Fergusson with a yellow tail started throwing itself across the surface like an orca with a seal in its gob. I clung to my 4kg Live Fibre like it was the last beer on earth and did my best to grind my teeth into a fine paste only to feel a small, barely detectable bump as the hook moved. I let out a groan and sure enough, the hulking great barra hit the air once more and spat a chewed up piece of plastic at me with all the indifference of a brat kid spitting gum. The next cast though, and young Isaac was on!
Isaac swims his 123cm barra beside the boat before release… Look at the shoulders on that big girl!
It hit the afterburners and stripped enough line to see me starting the outboard and charging off in hot pursuit. Now, Isaac had only just recently cleared the metre mark and was keen for a new PB so he babied the fish for the next 20 minutes, doing everything by the book and using only the barest minimum of drag. He only became more tentative when a silver shape materialized beside the boat with the dimensions of a small chest freezer. We were in my little 12’ punt, the Little Lucifer which made the beast look even more impressive, but also meant that to save room the barra net had to be sacrificed in favour of a pair of boga grips. So, comfort lift the big girl we did, all 118cm of her. The scary thing was she was the smallest fish for the session!!!
From then on, every second cast brought about a monster, or a monster explosion and a miss. I was next aboard with a 119.5cm fish and Isaac backed up his first mammoth effort with a 119cm and a 123cm fish which the cheeky bugger called a rat, reckoning it a smaller fish only to realise, as it covered the entire casting deck of my boat, that he’d just cracked the 120 club. In the end, like all good stories, we left them biting and I even returned the following week for another session which really did yield a pair of rats (two mere 102cm fish).
That’s a 110mm Slick Rig in the cavernous mouth of a 119.5cm barra. Slow rolled paddle-tail softies are a great option.
Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am by no means a dam junky, especially when it comes to night time. Instead I prefer the more visceral thrills offered by a visual barra bite in tight timber, which of course is not something possible after dark. However, for a session like the one outlined above, I’ll do whatever it takes; heck, I’ll cast at floaters in a treatment plant for that kind of action!
Night fishing the impoundments is a very different experience, one that requires time, patience, perseverance, intelligence, preparation and a willingness to adapt. Let’s start with preparation:
Timing – What makes the barra explode in a fashion like they did for us? Well, there are several key bite periods that play a big part in a good session and are well worth noting. The first is obviously dusk and this is an ideal time to start your nocturnal assault, as it will usually give you a fair indication as to the position of weed beds, islands, etc, before you completely lose visibility. Often though, in summer, the heat keeps the bigger fish deep until later in the night meaning that initially you might be facing fish under the magic metre.
Impoundment specialist Jason Crofts working a point in Peter Faust Dam. Jason loves to find a prominent point and stay there from dusk until well after dark.
The next bite time is moon rise and this can be the trigger for those titans of the dam that range well over the metre. Try to be in the right place at the right time. A good trick is to find bait on the shallows with a spotlight (they will ripple and rise to light) and work the area heavily as the moon starts to rise, because if the bait is there, the big predators won’t be far away. Also worth being aware of is the moon wane and morning dawn. Both can be bite triggers and are worth being well positioned for.
The other trigger that I heard about recently is an interesting one. A few of the regular impoundment night crawlers reckon that the barra bite tidally. Now I know how silly it sounds, but a few have just about proven that the barra will come on the bite at the turn of the tide, even though dams obviously don’t run. I can’t confirm or deny this one yet, but I have it from some reputable sources, so it’s worth giving some credence to.
Tackle - Fish to the conditions. If you’re working the main basin at night and the only structure is weed, then you don’t really need to be working ultra-heavy barra gear, in fact you’re more likely to get a better and longer hookset with a slightly softer rod and a smooth drag. By all means, use 30lb or 50lb braid, but don’t feel that a 20kg+ barra needs a 15-24kg rod – a 4-6kg will usually do the trick.
Always be fishing for dusk! It’s not just a top time to catch a few barra, as Sam McCowan can attest with this 90cm fish, it’s also well worth it for the view
Tactics – I like to mix things up. I bring a minimum of three rods, usually a 4-7kg spin stick with a surface lure like a fizzer or top walker rigged and ready, a 4-6kg, 5’6' baitcaster for throwing hard bodied minnows and a 4kg, 6’ baitcaster for rolling soft plastics. Then, I usually pick an area of bank that has a defined edge to work continuously. As I go along I’ll watch for signs and use a rod accordingly; for example if there’s bait or bugs on the surface, the surface lures will be brought out to bowl a few overs, if the sounder shows bait low in the column the softies with deliver a few slow deliveries rolled across the bottom and jazzed up with the odd quicker burn of the handle. The hard bodies seem to be an ideal weapon to draw a bite from inactive fish as they can be ripped hard down into the mid-water column and then left to suspend – ideal if the barra are sitting lethargically on, or in the weed edge. Wind direction can have a part to play, as can temperature, so pay attention to these also. If one bay has a breeze pushing warmer water and bait into it then that’s where you want to concentrate your assault.
In the end it boils down to the old saying, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, keep bloody trying’! If you combine a few key factors like temperature, bite periods, bait and the right lure it is only a matter of time before the fish turn on. The impoundments are heavily stocked, but like humans, barra don’t feed full on, all the time. They may snack if something looks appealing enough, but a session like the one we had depends on you still being around when it’s feeding time. After all, no one catches fish in bed. Till next month, fish hard, stay safe and hopefully I’ll catch you out there.