Barramundi - Lates Calcarifer

 Did you know? Almost all Barramundi are born as males, then turn female at around 3-4 years of age.


Sustainability and stock status

Barramundi have a wide distribution throughout northern Australia and up into Papua New Guinea and parts of south-east Asia. Because of this wide distribution, which often includes remote and unpopulated areas, barramundi stocks are in good shape in most areas and all stocks are classified as ‘sustainable’ by the latest Status of Key Australian Fish Stocks reports (www.fish.gov.au). However, closer to populations centres and commercial fishing ventures, barra need to be carefully managed to avoid overfishing.

Barramundi live to around 35 years of age, with males reaching sexual maturity at between 2-5 years and females at 5-7 years of age. Because females reach sexual maturity at between 82 and 91 cm in length, it’s important to let most of the bigger ones go to help ensure sustainability of the population. In most recreational fisheries, it’s great to see that most of these bigger fish are released.

Barramundi recruitment and food availability are highly dependent on wet season rainfall events. The effects of long-term changes in climate on barramundi populations are unknown.


Habitat

Barra are a euryhaline species, meaning they can tolerate fresh, brackish and salt water. This makes them highly adaptable, and can be found on reefs far offshore, in estuaries and rivers, right up into brackish and freshwater sections, and in freshwater impoundments.

Barramundi are an ambush predator, which generally dictates their choice of habitat.  During the dry season, barramundi usually hold up in snags, where they are offered protection from predators such as crocodiles and birds and can easily duck out to feed on wide-ranging prey species. During the wet season, barra go a bit silly and tend to congregate in areas where bait is concentrated, which at this time of year is at the mouths of creeks and rivers. Fresh water from up on the wetlands flows into rivers and the ocean, bringing with it the productivity of the wet season in the form of millions of baitfish. At times, the barra will literally line up at the mouths of these watercourses and eat themselves silly. The ‘runoff’, as it’s known, is probably the most fun and successful time to target these amazing fish.

Barrumundi in stocked impoundments will always be found near structure or food. This could include snags, rock walls, weed beds, banks and bait schools.



Biology, behavioural characteristics and time of year

Barramundi have a powerful body built for short bursts of speed. Raspy teeth and big eyes set towards the top of their head make for a perfect bait ambush machine. They are an intelligent fish, sometimes only taking the most natural presentation, but at times they can be completely suicidial and hit pretty much anything that swims past their nose. 

During the runoff, they will often be found sitting where clear water runs into murky or muddy water – known as the ‘colour change’. This change provides the perfect place for the fish to ambush their prey, and anglers focus on these areas.

Barra can be caught throughout the year, but can be difficult in the dry season, or in impoundments, during the cooler months of the year. Most of the fun happens during the run-off in Northern Australia, and the summer months further south.


Fishing gear and techniques

Barramundi are the quintessential Australian sportfish, so targeting them with lures is generally the preferred technique. Nonetheless, some anglers do well using live fish and cherabin baits. Cherabin, which are a large crustacean, are often irresistible to barra, and a lightly weighted or unweighted bait cast into likely habitat is the undoing of many fine fish. 

In terms of lures, barra will take almost anything when they are on, but can be notoriously finicky when they are shut down or when they are fixated on a certain prey item. These prey items are diverse and can include pretty much anything a barra can fit into its mouth. I have had experiences where the fish are fixated on tiny jelly prawns and archer fish, and the only thing that worked was a small fly with black stripes down the sides. 

A lot of the time, barra will happily take a larger lure. Gold bombers, fizzers, x-raps, roosta poppers, scorpions, barra classics and B52s are some of the popular choices, but the list is almost endless. Soft plastic lures can also be deadly on Barra, particularly when they’re a little finicky. For the ultimate challenge, flies are hard to go past, and you will have the luxury of being able to cast all sorts of presentations that other setups may be too big for. 

In terms of set-ups, a stout 6 foot rod, baitcasting reel and 30lb braid is about standard. Leaders can be between 20 and 50lb, depending on the size of the fish and the type of habitat you’re in. Some people prefer spinning reels, and a 3000-5000 sized reel with the same line as described, and a slightly longer 7 foot rod is a good choice, and will generally allow a slightly longer (albeit potentially less accurate) cast than a baitcasting setup.


Killing and cooking

The iki jime method is undoubtedly the best way to kill barra. Use a iki jime spike, or even a small screwdriver is sufficient, but you want it to be sharp. It should be inserted into the bony section directly in line with the middle of the eyes, but further back just before the bony section of the head meets the flesh, and angled towards the spine. Barra are reasonably easy to fillet, but a sharp knife is the key. 

Barramundi are a firm textured, white fleshed fish, with a hint of sweetness. Barrumindi from salty water are better eating, and can be identified by their chrome flanks and sometimes yellow fins. Barra from freshwater, sometimes called swampies, will generally be a lot darker and can take on a stronger and slightly muddy flavour.

*Information provided by Lee Georgeson. Photos courtesy of Lee Georgeson and Michael McRae

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