By Brent Delaney
The Barra Classic and the Barra Nationals are two iconic fishing tournaments that see many of the finest barramundi anglers in the country gather on the mighty Daly River in the NT to do battle against each other, the elements and big barra!
Both tournaments are held around April to May each year and the length of the wet season determines how high the river is and what forms of fishing will be effective. The Barra Classic is a trolling-only event while both casting and trolling are permitted at the Barra Nationals. This year I’ll be fishing my third ‘Barra Nats’ and I can’t wait!
These comps are intensive hot-houses of barra lore and the techniques used by successful teams can be directly applied by everyday anglers to catch more barra. These comps last for five days, so anglers are forced to adapt to varying tidal conditions during the week that often dramatically change where fish are located and what they are biting on.
Catching barra in freshwater impoundments is a completely different kettle of fish to catching them in the big tidal rivers of the Northern Territory. That being said, many of the techniques used in the southern ‘ABT style’ bream, bass and barra tournaments are starting to influence how fish are caught in the tidal environment of the Daly River.
Trolling remains by far the most effective way to catch big barra in the Daly – this is unarguable. However, electric motors have finally found their way north and savvy teams are using them to make targeted trolling runs over key snags – and they are catching more fish as a result. More teams are also using quieter petrol motors. The Daly sees high boat traffic during these times and electrics spook fewer fish.
Tournament breaming has also infected the north. During the Barra Nats, teams often catch large numbers of smaller barra in creek mouths by casting lures. The optimal times tend to be an hour before to an hour after low tide. Teams will then go trolling to find bigger fish moving up-river with the rising tide.
Large pre-rigged shads used to be the plastic of choice for this scenario. These still take fish, but some teams are now going ‘breaming’ with smaller 3” soft plastics and employing a twitching technique with long pauses on the bottom. This finesse approach can often convert head taps to hook-ups and the lighter weight of the jig head is harder for the barra to throw. Slow-rolling soft-plastic swimbaits can be very effective but anglers should be prepared to go ‘breaming’ if the barra are tentative.
There is also a host of traditional barra trolling lore that emerges that can help you catch more fish. If you are trolling a rockbar or snag, vary your speed with each pass and subtly alter your course. Also ensure that your lure is in the right zone, either bumping through the timber and rocks, or in the top of the water column if you are targeting fish drifting upstream with the tide. Who can forget the ‘mackerel trolling’ technique popularised by barra legend Col Cordingly. This involves towing a big mackerel lure at high speed down the middle of the river to target big barra cruising upstream on the tide.
Barra tournaments test your endurance. Five days of fishing dawn ’til dusk in the sun, often followed by equally long nights, takes its toll. That being said, being ‘forced’ to fish for barra on the Daly River for a week is the type of hard work I’d take every week of the year! Not only are they great fun, but they are an intensive barra-catching tutorial that helps you to catch more barra in the long run.