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Posted 26th October 2022

How to Catch Impoundment Barra: A Complete Guide

How to Catch Impoundment Barra: A Complete Guide
How to Catch Impoundment Barra: A Complete Guide


By Robert Thornton

Barramundi fishing in stocked impoundment has experienced a few ‘boom and bust’ cycles since it became an option in the 1990s, but it’s safe to say we are in a boom period right now! Good water management, consistent stocking, new technology and information sharing have all aided this boom, and it only looks to be getting better and better!

Barra already have an enormous appeal to anglers, but in dams where they regularly grow to well over a metre and respond to a range of techniques, it’s about as much fun as you can have in freshwater.

There is a wide-held belief, though, that stocked barramundi are easy, and don’t perform to the standard of their wild cousins. Anyone who has caught impoundment barra will tell you that this just isn’t true. Dam fishing is a challenging game with high rewards. They may not be ‘wild’ fish in the true sense, but once on the end of a line they are about as wild as it gets!

What’s more, Daiwa Australia has stacks and stacks of gear that is designed for these amazing fish, with all sorts of techniques and preferences catered for.

But if you want to know how to catch dam barra, an angler must gain an understanding of their habits, and be able to read the body of water they wish to chase them in. 

Wild at Heart

In the wild barramundi live most of their lives in the saltwater estuaries and bays. ‘Salties’ are generally characterised by their slimmer physique, bright silver-coloured body, pale yellow tail, and smaller average size.

In impoundments, the stocked fish (which cannot breed without access to the salt) are often darker in colouration, well-conditioned, and are commonly caught in excess of a metre long and 20kg. In comparison to the wild rivers, a dam has very little in the way of other predators, especially once a barra reaches a certain size. Dams also usually have a huge biomass of food for larger barra to snack on, and because of this they can pack on weight very quickly, sometimes reaching a metre long in just 4 years.

Impoundment fish live a cruisy life compared to their wild cousins, which spend a lot of their life navigating obstacles to find food or sanctuary from predators. Wild barramundi can and do grow just as big, however the odds are stacked up against them when you consider the challenges they face in the harsh tropical estuarine environment. 

Basically, if you want to catch a big barramundi, especially as a southerner, making the trip to one of our many stocked impoundments is probably your best bet.

While these lake fish share many characteristics with their saltwater counterparts, they have also adapted well to the landlocked environments and developed a few of their own quirks. Because of this it takes a slightly different approach to bring them unstuck.

Nick Moore lives around the Mackay region, where there are several barra impoundments clustered together. All have their own unique qualities, and all have good numbers of barramundi over the metre mark.

“The main thing that drives me to chase dam barra is that it’s always challenging,” Nick says, “I like continuous progression, and I find that you don’t get bored of them, because just when you think you got them worked out, they throw you a curve ball.”

Nick, who has spent plenty of time chasing barra in the salt as well, is also really drawn to the “convenience” of dam fishing.

“In the salt you need to wait for tides and wind, or for little windows to open up,” he explains, “whereas impoundments are always there, there’s always a ramp and it’s easy to get to.”

“I guess it refines the factors to a certain degree.”

Seasonal Learnings

One of the first things to get your head around is the seasonal habits of these fish. Stocked barra are creatures that chase comfort above all else, and comfort for them is related to temperature.

Anywhere between 25-30°C is considered good, but it may vary depending on the area and time of year.

The summer and winter months tend to be the most difficult times of the year for anglers to find good impoundment fish, however it’s not impossible.

“In December and January when it’s really hot I find there’s a slump in the fishing,” Nick says, “it becomes harder due to water temperature getting above 27°C, so they look for more temperate water out deeper.”

“With more volume of water to find them out in the deep, it can be harder to target them, and harder to present lures.”

Anglers fishing during this time tend to drop or cast sinking lures to fish on the sounder, or troll out in open water. Summer trollers will often cruise around at random, trying to tempt those fish that are sitting at a comfortable depth and temperature.

Winter sees the exact opposite happen, and cool water temperatures mean that comfortable temperatures for barra are at a premium. On winter days, slightly warmer surface water will get moved about the dam with the wind and collect in bays and along certain banks. Winter barra anglers will want to find these windblown areas where the water is slightly warmer, even if it’s only by a degree or two. These shallow sun-warmed areas (sometimes only a foot or so deep) will see barra grouping up and moving very little to conserve energy.

If you do go in winter though, it’s better to pick the days that are slightly warmer.

“If you get 2-3 warmer days in a row and can get out at the end of that little period, it can be really good,” Nick says. “Overcast days are good as well, because they can trap the heat in on winter days.”

“The sun also warms the tops of weed beds, and this in turn warm the whole weed bed up,” he continues, “and it makes it a stable environment without too many changes in temperature.”

These fish still need to eat despite their slower metabolism in winter, so if you find a shallow sun-warmed bay with barra in it, hanging out nearby and waiting until they decide to start eating is a good ploy. Alternatively, methodically working over an area that looks good can help you to find active and hungry fish during winter. Just remember to be as stealthy as possible when chasing them in really shallow water like this!

Prime Time

Spring and autumn are when a lot of impoundment barramundi are caught. During these “shoulder seasons”, the surface water temperature often sits in an area that’s comfortable for the fish, which in turn makes them hungry and encourages them to go out searching for food. Generally, fish will feed in shallow water between 5-15ft during lowlight hours, and throughout the night. Experienced anglers often time their sessions around factors such as full moons, moon rises, tide changes in nearby saltwater bodies, as well as the sunrise and sunset.

Spring is particularly good, because it is traditionally a very stable period with the weather, meaning anglers can generally plan a trip without worrying about too much about cyclones or big storms.

So how do you make the most of this prime time? Social media will often shows us really clued-in anglers parked up along points or in bays, watching the Side Scan for fish moving through. This tactic works really well, but if you don’t have confidence in your spot, it can be difficult to persevere.

“I like to bounce around a lot,” Nick says, “Prior to the session I’ll flag key spots that might hold fish based on variables like wind direction and the moon, and I’ll tailor my game plan according to that.”

“Normally I’ll hang out on a spot for 20 minutes – one with a choke point the forces cruising fish to swim past – and I’ll just watch the sounder.”

A “choke point” might be the hump of a shallow point, a small channel between the weed beds, or a clearing through some drowned timber.

“If I see a fish [on the sounder] or I get a hit, I’ll reset the 20 minutes, and if not, I’ll move to the next spot.”

“Soon I get an idea of what’s going on in the dam.”

Other anglers have started using LiveScope and 360 sonar technology to actively search for fish in likely areas and cast to these fish when they swim through the beam. Once again, looking at factors such as wind and water temperature will help massively to narrow down all the barren water in a dam.

Those Dam Lures

Learning how to catch barra on lures can seem a bit of a daunting task, given the sheer variety of what they will eat at certain times. In the dams, there are a few main forage species, with bony bream, red claw and garfish probably the most commonly snaffled critters.

Imitating these animals is going to help you a lot in your search for a big ditch donkey, however there’s more to it than just that.

“The main thing I think about with my lures is depth,” Nick explains, “I’ve found that with barra you have to present lures to them at the right depth.”

What Nick means by this is that you wouldn’t, for example, throw a topwater lures in the direction of fish sitting 50ft down. The topwater lure might be appetising to a barra, but those fish down there aren’t going to notice it 50ft away!

“Ideally, you want to get a lure about 1ft above a barra’s eyes,” he continues, “and I love the Bait Junkie 6.2 Minnow on a 1/2, 3/4 or sometimes even a 1oz head.”

“They have got a good kick to them, and while 1oz seems heavy, if you’re rolling it, it’s not going as deep as you might think.”

Soft plastic swimbaits are a stalwart of impoundment barra fishing, and having a few different weights set up means you can cycle between them and cover different depths, and gradually work out where the barra are sitting in the water column.

“The Steez Current Master is good when barra are eating smaller stuff in the shallows, and I tune mine up so they suspend,” Nick says, “The Double Clutch 115 is another good jerkbait.”

Steez Soft Shells are a cool lure I’ve tested, just by hopping them along the bottom trying to imitate red claw.”

Fishing with topwater lures for barra is heart-in-mouth stuff, and when they’re in the mood it can be really effective. For a standard walk-the-dog type presentation, the Infeet Slippery dog 97F will draw attention from hungry fish. If the fish are craving a bit more speed, or they are holed up in thick weeds in the shallows, the Bait Junkie Kikker Curly rigged weedless can see some explosive action.

Tackling Difficult Situations      

Dam barra gear absolutely must be up to scratch if you want consistent results. In an arena where the next fish could be 40cm or 120cm, it pays to have sturdy gear that won’t let you down.

For general lure casting with soft plastics, jerkbaits and soft vibes, the 22 TD Zero 702MHFB is a great mid-ranging allround baitcaster rod. This rod paired to a Tatula 300 reel makes a perfect outfit for throwing the above lures for long periods without wearing the angler out.

Anyone interested in using spin gear will find the 22 TD Zero 742MHXS perfect for casting hardbodies, working vibes and twitching topwaters. A 21 TD Sol MQ 3000 or 4000 is a suitable reel, and capable of withstanding the punishment these fish can dish up!

For those who wish to throw large swimbaits, Daiwa also has gear for that! The 19 Tatula Swimbait series (consisting of an extra heavy and an extra extra heavy model) are designed for hucking large hard swimbaits around for extended periods. The Tatula 400 reel sits on either of these rods perfectly, and has large gears that will cast big heavy swimbaits with ease.

When it comes to lines, it pays to go heavy. Good 30lb braid should be a minimum, with some anglers going up to 80lb if fishing around particularly heavy structure. Believe me, once you’re hooked up to big impoundment fish, you’ll understand why some anglers go so heavy!

Leaders are also better on the heavier side, and 50lb fluorocarbon or monofilament should be your minimum, with 80-100lb trace sometimes necessary. The leader will suffer added abrasion from the barra’s jaw, and large fish can occasionally wear through even the heaviest leaders.

The bottom line is that if you want to give yourself a chance, research the lake you’re going to and choose your gear accordingly!

Like Shooting Fish in a Lake

Despite what some people may say, fishing for barramundi in dams is not like shooting fish in a barrel… far from it, in fact! The challenges these fish present make them one of the most rewarding targets in the fresh, and being able to crack the impoundment code is so incredibly satisfying.

Make sure you make a trip to one of the many barra lakes scattered along the coast if you haven’t already. It’s certainly not for the feint-hearted, but all those unanswered casts will be forgotten when you’ve got 20kg of barra tailwalking on the end of your line!



By Nabeel Issa 

For someone who has lived their whole life in QLD, I had never gone for a barra trip. To some that may sound sad, and well frankly, it is! Most years I amp myself up for it but never seem to be able to pull the trigger, whether it's due to work, family, weather or some other excuse that pops up. However, with our second child due in a few months, I knew it would only get harder to go so with all the news of how well it had been fishing, I booked the accommodation at Lake Awoonga and locked it in.

I had spent a lot of time reading, watching, listening all about barramundi and their habits. I have caught a few locally here in Brisbane, but never anything huge and not consistently. I knew from my brief encounters they can be incredibly hard to tempt and can pack some serious power. The lead up to this trip for me involved learning as much as I could about our venue. This meant studying maps, looking up successful lures, techniques, and areas. 

As with the excitement of an upcoming fishing trip, there is the prospect of buying new gear. I did not hold back and made sure I had every possible lure I could think of needing. Making sure to upgrade all rings and trebles, I was not going to let gear failure come in the way of any fish this trip. Rod selection was crucial for me, I wanted to make sure that I had the right rod for the types of lures I was going to be using. That meant spin rods, 7-7’6 long matched to 3500/4000 reels. I wanted to be able to cast my lures a long way and for me, a spin set up is best suited for that.

The two outfits I used for the majority of the trip were a Daiwa Team Daiwa Black “Macka matched to a 4000 Kix LT with 20lb J-Braid Grand. The other was a Team Daiwa Black Supercasta matched to a 3500 Catalina with 30lb J-Braid Grand. Both had 80lb Spartan Nylon leaders.

So on with the trip, we arrived to the dam and was instantly in awe of its size. All the thoughts that run through your head prior to arriving are now in disarray when you physically lay eyes on the waterway. The size was intimidating, but I had a plan and I was excited and confident we could pull it off. The first session was on the afternoon we arrived, windy and late in the day, we did not have a great deal of time to find a location before the sun set.

The plan was to locate a likely area and work it for a few hours into the night. Reading the water was key and we were able to pick out a point that looked likely. Anchored up and making long casts with the wind, it took all of 30min before the first bite. It was violent, aggressive, angry. As I type I can still remember the feeling of it. The fish was boated and measured 98cm. I was over the moon. It made the lead up to that moment all worthwhile. 

Over the next few days we were able to boat more fish including a few over the magic meter mark. We kept it simple and stuck with our main plan and persevered.  A couple of memorable bust offs as well that keep me up at night and fuel the fire for the next trip.

Now it’s been a few months since that trip and I still find myself buying more gear for the next trip, whenever it may be. The barra addiction is real! They are an amazing fish to target, and I cannot wait to get back up there!


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