Fishing for Cash

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THERE’S a million dollar catch swimming around up North and STEVE COOPER offers some tips on how to land it:


Anglers heading to the Northern Territory between October 1 and February 28 have a chance to win $1 million.

That’s the value of the prize hanging off a tagged barramundi. But as the TV ad-man says: Wait, there’s more: another 100 barra will be tagged and released, and each fish has a $10,000 price tag.

Big barramundi are an awesome sight when they jump alongside your boat.

This is the third Million Dollar Fish season promotion run by NT Tourism. It is all about attracting anglers up north during the Wet season.

In the first year of the promotion, 10 tagged barra were caught. The tally of tagged barra in the second season was eight. One couple caught three tagged barra between them over the first two seasons, netting a cool $30,000 for their efforts.

The price for heading north and enduring what is a hot, humid climate between October and late February is worthwhile, albeit if you happen to hook a prize barra. And I guess it’s one way of attracting tourists.  On the downside though, this is the hot season: temperatures can top 40°C, and the humidity is such that you don’t need to shower, simply carry a bar of soap, and go for it.

Dean McFarlane with a 39 pound barra caught in Wildman Creek.
Dean McFarlane with a 39 pound barra caught in Wildman Creek.

For those anglers who fish across the Top End, barramundi is an icon species. The fish is promoted as northern Australia’s premier sportfish. I have no argument for the tag, however, this wasn’t always the case.

In the late 1960s and 1970s barramundi stocks were so low in parts of the country that there was a serious move made to introduce Nile perch from North Africa. This is no longer the case.

To ensure the stocks of barra are maintained at a level high enough to encourage visitors, the NT Government reduced commercial fishing effort, and introduced strict guidelines for anglers. All of which is good news for the fishery.

Barra have all the attributes of a classic sportfish. Visually pleasing, they are a hard fighting fish that often leaps clear of the water in spectacular fashion, with the added bonus of providing top table fare. Barra will attack lures and live baits with equal ferocity – when they are feeding. Like any fish though, certain conditions trigger aggression. These triggers may be the state of the tide, a change in barometric pressure, or more simply a school of baitfish.

Barramundi live in a range of inshore water environments from salt to fresh, ranging into estuaries and brackish waters. Most are found not far from river mouths, harbours and inlets, as they need access to salt water for breeding purposes, however, these fish can survive for years in billabongs and lagoons blocked off from the sea.

Barramundi caught in salt water are silver to bronze in colour, while landlocked fish are darker and not rated as highly for their fighting characteristics by anglers.

A unique characteristic of this fish is that it changes sex from male to female as it matures. Few male fish are caught over 4kg in weight, and few females caught below this weight.

Big barramundi are an awesome sight when they jump alongside your boat.

A word of warning to the uninitiated is to be aware of the razor edge of the outer gill casing that can easily sever line or leave a nasty cut on unwary fingers.


The barramundi is a predator and can be caught on bait, lure or fly, either from the shore or a boat. March to December are the best months to fish for the barra with the end and onset of the Wet season the peak times.

Live prawns or popeye mullet set out under a float make excellent baits, although the banning of throw nets in the Territory has made sourcing live bait more difficult and consequently reduced the popularity of this method. Barra will sometimes crush and kill bait without taking it in so it pays to be alert. If this is happening it may be the fish felt line pressure too early and should have been given longer to take the bait properly.

Most anglers seeking barramundi prefer to work lures up to 15cm long, mainly poppers and diving minnows. Surface lures are always preferred in areas where snags are a problem as they have less chance of becoming fouled and lost in this environment. Many anglers remove their treble hooks and replace them with single hooks for the same reason. Soft plastic lures are popular as these can be worked through snags.

Steve Cooper fighting a small barramundi in a swollen creek.


Outfit is either threadline or baitcast. Tackle needs to be tough and 15kg breaking strain braid line is about standard. Because of the sharp gill cover, a 20-30kg monofilament trace is the minimum requirement, and the lure is attached with a Perfection Loop to allow it to swim properly.

When using prawns as bait, long shanked hook about size 2-4 is fine. For live baiting, hook size is governed by the bait size and a 3/0 to 4/0 Suicide would cover most situations.

Lures used range from hard body, diving minnows through to soft plastics, some of the latter more than 20cm. Barramundi are not put off by size. Smart anglers look to match their lure size and appearance to the available food source, which includes small barra (yes, they are cannibals) and large mullet.

Fly-fishing is popular for barra and most anglers employ 8-10 weight outfits. Intermediate, sinking, and sink tip lines work in most applications. Flies to use include Dahlberg divers when the barra are feeding on or near the surface. When working deeper, 10cm long, green and white Lefty Deceivers and Gold Bombers will produce results. In muddy drains, heavily weighted Clouser minnow flies are effective. These should be allowed to skip through the mud. Hook size on the flies should be 2/0 to 3/0, and use a minimum 8kg breaking strain tippet to the fly.

Brad Woollams shows off a 90cm long barramundi caught in Arnhemland.








Author: Steve Cooper

STEVE COOPER won two Walkley Awards for investigative journalism but his great love is fishing and he is renowned as one of Australia’s foremost writers and broadcasters on the subject.



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