Last weekend, the first round of the 2018 Top End Barra Series (TEBS) took place at Shady Camp. Shady Camp resonates for many Top End fishos as the place to go if you want to be in the chance to land the barra of a life time and this was certainly on the mind of many of the TEBS competitors. But this year proved to be hard fishing for many, and only one barramundi reaching the magical Metre mark was caught. Dwight Sheppard did very well with his 100cm fish being right on the mark. The weather was hot, and the water in Love Creek for example was at 33.9 degrees. Is this perhaps what made it hard for many to find the illusive barramundi? Who knows? But it is a fact that for some it was a difficult weekend.

In the ‘needs to be mentioned category’ was a gigantic blue salmon of 78.5cm, caught by Mitchell Rider which was built like an absolute tank. This beast had the jaws of a bulldog. I was lucky enough to witness the capture and release of this impressive capture, and I can assure you that it pulled like a road train on nitro. Two other worthy catches were a couple of massive Queensland Groper (by both Evan Dixon and Morris Pizzutto) with one of them measured at 1.15 Meter. There is some contention about whose was bigger 😉 One can only wonder if such big fish are on the return since the professional fish netting moved on or perhaps this is for some other reason unbeknown. Another out of the ordinary captures was a small croc, which snatched a lure. It is not known if the surprised angler ever got her lure back… Also heroic was James Mitchell, who was fishing the Wildman, and on return helped a fellow Tebsie out by towing them halfway back to the ramp. Apparently he reached speeds close to 40km/h.

Here are a few statistics for the angling nerds amongst us. Of all the barramundi reported during the round there were approximately 90 in the 50s, 30 in the 60s, 30 in the 70s, 20 in the 80s, a dozen in the 90s, and the two big girls over the metre mark. Some nice Threadies were caught too, and I heard of a few big cat fish, but it is usually rather hard to see photographs of the latter… Still the system seems to be in good health, with some impressive catches over the weekend.

Some fish were caught on hard body lures, others on soft plastic, everything from old Nilsie Invicibles to the recently released Reidy’s C-Kar Vibe. On the troll or casting. James Park shared an interesting technique for the tech savvy, marking fish on the sounder, and dropping soft vibes straight over them.  We can’t really determine a real pattern. Many of the happier anglers were the ones who did the miles. These fishos head straight from the Shady Camp barrage, to places like the Dead Forest and upper reaches of the Wildman. Taking out the top three was in third place: James Mitchell, in second came Peter Cooper, and the title of round winner went to Shane Moon, a talented angler who has already claimed the title of Top End Barra Series Champion a number of times. To win this round Shane caught a huge bag of fish made up of a 77cm, 82cm, 91cm, 93 and a 96cm Barramundi. Some familiar faces are in the top twenty and plans are being hatched for round two when we again convene on the mighty Daly River.

As it has now become tradition, the second round of the Top End Barra Series took place on the mighty Daly River. A river full of obstacles (like other boats and propellers traps), but also full of promises. A place where the damage can be as big as the rewards… On the Daly everybody dreams of catching a metery. So let’s get this out of the way, this year no one did catch one during the competition hours… but congratulations to Daniel Hulbert, who joins the metre club, landing a 1.02 meter barramundi on Friday night. Well done on the incredible feat, albeit a fraction premature…

It was a round full of surprises and interesting anecdotes… here are a few:

Kai Argent for example, began his weekend with a flat battery, a faulty sounder and shortly after setting off two broken fishing rods. Nonetheless, he still managed to find the fish and finish in a respectable seventh position. Top ten in these condition, in anyone’s book, is an achievement.

 

On Saturday, the weather was hot, and the rain nearly absent, but the night was fresh enough to permit a good night’s sleep even to those aboard their boats. Simon Bochow on the other hand, who thinks sleep is over-rated, cleaned up from the banks of Bamboo. Amidst the sounds crocodiles, buffaloes and dingos, he could clearly make out a much more heart-warming sound… The sound of two burnt out competitors, who’d fallen into a deep slumber, missed the bite window and were loudly snoring throughout all the chaos that unfolded for the dedicated. A feat that deservingly acquired Simon third place.

An incredible tale, worthy of a mention was a 77cm barramundi that apparently took a lure that was not even in the water. Peter Cooper, who was about to cast at the mouth of Elizabeth, received an incredible shock when apparently this fish launched itself from the water and snatched his lure which was suspended mid-air above the water’s edge.

Evan Dixon got his biggest barramundi for the round also with an interesting technique… While enjoying a sanger sandwich with one hand, he was static fizzing against the current with the other when an 82cm fish exploded in the darkness. The technique coined ‘stizzing’ apparently isn’t the only one mastered by this angler, apparently he has caught the odd fish ‘whizz-fizzing’ but we will leave that story for another day.

On the topic of lures, barra throughout round two were caught on many different lures, from the traditional Classics, Bombers and B52 in various sizes through to traditional soft plastic and vibes. I personally found some success with a double tailed minnow imported from the motherland (France) and gave over 25 different lures a swim. Other competitors like Mark Grosser stayed faithful to their favourites and caught all their point scoring fish on the one lure, which in his case was a silver Classic +3.

It is said that the world belongs to those that rise early, but those who stayed up late seemed to do all the partying over the weekend. So for this very round we have in second place: Simon Bochow with a bag of 71, 74, 76, 78 and 81cm Barramundi; and first was Peter Cooper with 71, 79, 77 (night Jumper), 75 and 85. Now with Peter already taking second place in round 1… all I can say to the other competitors in the 2018 Top End Barra Series is… it’s time to wake up!

The Corroboree Billabong round is often a difficult one in the Top End Barra Series. Yet it still is one of my favourites. The scenery is second to none, the water usually calm, and it is reasonably close from Darwin. This year it was all of that, and oh boy, it was also a cold one!

From the arrival early on Saturday, we could feel the fresh and crisp morning as a warning of the weekend that was going to be. Dwight Shepherd reported that the temperature at the boat ramp was then of 10 degrees Celsius. About every second TEBS participants that we saw in the morning’s first light, was wearing a beanie. A beanie, and yet we live in the tropics not in the desert! I even heard of a few anglers who had arrived at Shady fresh on Friday evening, but found the weather so cold that they decided to wait until Saturday to launch.

 

But there we were, to catch some fish, and we would try to do just that. All competitors had varying degrees of success, I might add. For us it was just a few hits here and there. But mostly only half-baked bites on the lure, by usually small fish who didn’t stay connected for longer than one or two seconds. Mark Grosser and I got a small window of opportunity at around 11:00am, with one fish each in two consecutive troll run, both fish caught in a ten meters radius. And that was it for the day in regards to point scorers. We later on found a pandanus that seemed to have a lots of fish hiding between its roots but they were nearly all very small barramundi, with a few tarpon, and a nice sleepy cod in the mix. We did see a biggish fish with would have been in the 70s cm but it just followed the lure, gave it a kiss and turned away. No real love there.

During the rest of the day, we moved all over the main billabong and came across many of the TEBS competitors. Some of them fishing hard, and some busier perfecting the art of the ‘raft up’. Which after all is a big part of what makes the TEBS what it is, a very friendly competition, full of laughs and good camaraderie.

With the evening approaching, we made the plan to have dinner, and use the cover of darkness to catch some unsuspecting fish who by then should have been looking for their own dinner… Well the first part, our dinner, was an absolute success. The second part of the plan? The one about catching fish at night? Well, it wasn’t exactly a success, it was more like a no show from the piscatorial adversary. Nothing, nada, zip… So time to sleep it was, with as much protection from the cold as possible. No need for air-conditioning.


As the first light of the day arrived, life seemed to make a comeback on the banks of the billabong. In the chilled morning, hopes of big and numerous fish was alive again. Even if some fisho started to troll, from the warm comfort of their sleeping bag. But for many it was a kind of Groundhog Day. Fresh in the morning and windy in the afternoon, without any expected fish fighting at the end of the line. So, the people who did catch some fish, how did they do it?

Mostly, it was a question of persistence, persistence and persistence… Kel Shipp who ended up third for the round, got his bag of five fish, as did the first two. But one of Kel’s barramundi was a tagged fish which should provide valuable information to Fisheries.

Ben Judd said that he had to do the kilometres and the hours to get his full bag. His efforts brought him the biggest barramundi for the round, at 86cm. He caught his biggest scorers at night and persisted through the cold until around 3am. A great effort that placed him second for the round.

From the little tidbits of information that I got, it seems that the largest proportion of the fish were caught on small soft plastics and vibes, then trolling hard body lures. The S- Bends seemed to be a stand out location. For some anglers apparently this section of the billabong came to life in the middle of the night for those that could fight the urge to sleep and hide from the tropical blizzard.


Now, will I be back on the billabong one day? You bet I will! And I might even pack a beanie, you know, just in case…

Regis Martin

Later.

Later.