Cleveland Bay has a pretty good reputation for producing top quality chromed up saltwater Barramundi. Tides in excess of 3m present anglers with the opportunity to fish the mangroves that line the bay, all the way from Ross River to Cape Cleveland. In fact, the rock inside the Cape, and the Mangroves along Long Beach, are frequent produces of big Barramundi. On the top of the tide the bait gathers deep in the mangrove roots, and Barramundi can be heard boofing as far as 20 or 30m back. As the tide falls, the Barramundi follow. And for a short time fish can be targeted as they head out of the trees and back to deeper water. But care must be taken not to get stuck on the flats with the falling tide. It can be a long wait for the water to return.
However, while the tide is low, the fish need somewhere to hide and feed. The bait too has to go somewhere. My theory is that the bait and fish hang in the deeper water off the flats, anywhere a bit of a drop off, hole or structure can be found. These same locations will also hold Grunter, Fingermark and Salmon at various times. And pelagic fish such as Trevalley and Queenfish will move through at different stages of the tide to chase the bait. Even Mackerel will move into these locations when the water is cold enough. So if you know of a good bit of bottom anywhere the Bay, it might be worth hitting for a Barramundi at the moment.
Something that I have found effects the fishing at these locations is water quality. Dirty water seems to send the fish off the bite. Maybe they move out deeper where the water remains clean. But due to the shallow water of the bay, any wind chop quickly stirs up the bottom and sends the water brown. The wind can also pick up a lot of seagrass of the bottom that becomes suspended in the water. The seagrass can create havoc for lures, and the fish just don't like the muddy water. Northerly winds are definitely the worst. While it would be easy to assume the ocean is to the East of Townsville, the bay actually faces more North, so these Northerlies push directly into the bay and over the flats. On the flip side, Southerly winds are not too bad. And even 15knot winds can create calm conditions in some areas, and the water generally remains cleaner. Obviously calm conditions with nice clean clear water are ideal.
Once you have a location that might hold fish, its worth using the Side Image of a good sounder like the Humminbird to try locate where fish are holding. Often the Barramundi will literally 'stack up' in a very small location. This might be against a ledge or tight to a log on the bottom. I always turn the motor off 100m or so shy of the mark and use the Minn Kota electric to move in and sound around quietly. Sometimes these spots are in less than 2m of water, and I like to make a quiet approach. Once the fish are located, mark them with the GPS so you know how to position the boat. The boat should sit about 20-30m on the down-current side of the fish. This is very important for effectively working the lures. The addition of a iPilot electric motor will make this very easy. Anchoring isn't really possible, as this would mean dropping the anchor right on top of the fish to correctly position the boat. Sometimes I start by 'spot locking' the boat a little further away, and slowly move closer and closer until the cast comes within rang and fish start biting.
Fish like Barramundi will almost always face into the current. This minimises the amount of effort required to run water over the gills, and the fish can just sit and wait for food to come to them. So it is critical that the boat is positioned behind the fish, that way a cast can be put forward and the lure worked back toward the fish into the direction that they are facing. A lure brought from behind a fish will often do nothing more than spook a Barramundi. Honestly if the boat is positioned well, and you have the right lure and presentation, a bite will often come on the drop before the first turn of the handle or twitch of the rod. Throw the lure as far forward of the boat as you can. Allow the lure to naturally sink all the way to the bottom. While the lure is sinking it is critical to stay in contact with the end of the line. As the current is coming toward you, this may mean steadily taking up the slack as the lure sinks. But let it get to the bottom. A couple of twitches of the rod will then lift the lure up off the bottom by about a meter and back into the current. Again allow the lure to sink while taking up the slack with the reel. Repeat this process all the way back to the boat. Don't give up until the lure is right under the boat, fish will hit from directly beneath the boat.
Soft plastic lures are definitely best for this type of fishing. You need something that will get to 3-4m pretty quickly, and stay there easily. Bibbed lures will really only achieve this on the troll. Soft plastic vibes such as the Threadybuster or larger GIMP lures are ideal. It does not hurt to spice them up with a little S-factor either. They cast well, sink fast and attract attention all the way back to the boat. But lately my left elbow has suffered a lot from a 'tennis elbow' type condition. This has come about from repeated working of soft vibes as they do create a fair amount of water pressure. So I have dropped to a lighter plastic with less water resistance. The GULP plastics have been ideal for this. They are smaller, lighter and flick through the water with minimal effort. I have used several different types and colours, and all have accounted for fish. I prefer to use a TT-lures jig head with a weight to match the current and depth. A 3in GULP shrimp matches pretty well to a 2/0 HeadlockZ, and the 1/6th weight has been about right in most conditions. But Z-man's, Squidgies and Atomic lures will all work. You must have confidence in the lure, and be active in the way it worked. Think like a fish, picture what that lure is doing on the end of the line and make sure you are imparting an action that will attract the attention of the fish. Continue to make casts well forward of the boat, fanning each cast out up to about 20 degrees to either side.
Cleaveland Bay is not the only location where this technique will work. Halifax and Bowling Green Bay also have good structure in the deeper water. Deep outside bends, rockbars and deep timber inside creeks can also be fished the same way.
Fishing Townsville on Thursday, April 2, 2015
Fishing Townsville on Thursday, April 9, 2015
Fishing Townsville on Sunday, April 5, 2015