Up here in the Top End the months of October and November signify what’s referred to as the build-up – the lead into the Wet Season when the temperature heats up and the humidity skyrockets. Yes, it becomes very hot and sticky and things won’t cool down until the monsoon rains arrive in late December. It is also the time of year when at creek mouths and around the coastal foreshore you’ll find big barra lurking… hungry for food and love. This is when locals brave the testing conditions, try and dodge the ever-present threat of thunderstorms, and chase what could be a PB barra of a lifetime.
A few days ago I took up an invitation to jump aboard gun Top End guide Mark Parkinson’s big 7.5m Raysea Marine custom boat for a day-tripper down to the Finniss River south-west of Darwin to check things out. His huge vessel is more ship than boat and is purposely designed to chase both barra in close and billfish out wide - hence why he’s named his highly successful operation Adrenaline Barra and Billfish Safaris (www.adrenalinbarrabillfish.com.au).
Robbie Syme from the Dundee Beach Fisherman’s Inn showing that it’s not only her visiting guests that are pretty handy with a fishing rod. Picture: Peter Zeroni
When we got to Dundee Beach we stopped off to pick up the third member of our party, the affable Robbie Syme. Robbie, along with her husband Tony, runs the Dundee Beach Fisherman’s Inn. It’s a great little place to stay if you want to spend a number of days fishing around the Dundee area (search for it on www.takeabreak.com.au).
After being launched by local tractor operator and identity Jethro, Mark opened up the big 300hp Yamie and we blasted down the coast to hit some coastal rocks before we got to the Finniss. The main technique for the day involved trolling big minnow lures over bommies along the foreshore and drop-offs while in the river. For this style of fishing it’s hard to beat a Reidy’s Big B52 and soon we had three of them trolling out the back.
The author’s new Canyon HS-15 jig reel press-ganged into service as a heavy-duty barra troll outfit. With 11kg of drag it all helps to try and stop those big build-up girls. No surprise that the lure rigged and ready to go is a Reidy’s Big B52. Picture: Peter Zeroni
On the day Mark and I took the opportunity to test some new Canyon HS-15 overhead reels (www.canyonreels.com.au). These little lever-drag reels are actually designed for deep-water jigging as they hold over 400m of 50lb braid, have a 6:1 gear ratio and can dish out over 11kg of punishing drag. Those stats are pretty amazing for a reel that still has a drum size of a normal barra baitcaster. As a result of their small size they fit easily onto a barra rod and I mounted mine on a GLoomis GL2 665. This little crowbar of a stick is just perfect for muscling big barra away from structure.
On the second run of the morning a solid chromie in the low 80s crunched my B52 and then exploded out of the green water. My rod was quickly exchanged for a Nikon SLR to try and snap some barra hang time. Despite being of a decent size, it was no match for the heavy drag of the Canyon/Loomis combo now in Mark’s hands. In very short order the barra was in the net, photographed and back in the water. I just love it when a plan comes together!
A Finniss River barra hooked on a B52 gets some air time. Picture: Peter Zeroni
Robbie then landed the next two chromies that came aboard, one in the high 80s and another in the 70s, quickly putting both Mark and I back in our place. Mind you, later in the day in the Finniss River she was pulled out of her seat by a thumper of a barra strike from a fish well over the metre mark. Unfortunately the hooks pulled shortly after on that one. Earlier Mark too was done over by another very (very) big fish which ended up smoking him on the rocks despite 11kg of reel drag and two clamped-down thumbs on the spool. But those big girls can do that which is why we pack the big guns and always keep coming back for more!