Cool Water Barramundi

Chasing cool water barramundi with Jarrod Day and Darwin's Barra Base in the Mary River and Corroboree Billabong

cool water barra
A sudden drop in water temperature can shut tropical fish down like nothing else.

Jarrod Day found a way around the problem on a recent trip chasing the mighty barramundi.

Whenever you venture to any northern state you automatically expect hot conditions where every breath is filled with moisture so thick you can almost chew it. Even so, where there's warm air, there's warm water, and where there's warm water, there are plenty of hungry fish.

On a recent Top End trip this was not meant to be. Rather, it was the opposite, with two of Darwin's coldest days on record deciding to blow in along with a bone-chilling wind. Although I'd just flown half way round the country, it felt like I'd hopped off the plane where I got on in Melbourne. The only people not wearing jeans and jumpers were my fellow passengers!

In the north where the average mercury level hovers around the 30C mark,a sudden cold snap will make the fish go into a state of hibernation. Even so, working hard for quality fish is something I always look forward to. You just can't have it easy all the time, can you?

We finally recieved a break in the weather and were on our way in search of the iconic barramundi. The early morning greeted us with a fine display pinks, oranges,blues and yellows rising up from the horizon as we cut our way through the maze of plants that engulf the Cooroboree Billabong.

barramundi with lure

The annual wet-season rainfall had almost finished draining into the ocean and the fish had to find a safe and warm place to call home.. By now the water's surface temperature ranged between 20C and 22C and most fish were either in the deepest sections of the river, high in the shallows or next to warm rockbars. This gave us a direction to concentrate our efforts.

We'd been trolling for some time with a few small fish landed but none to write home about.

green lure

A rethink of the lure spread had a few of us switch to smaller lures.
Allan pulled out his old faithful, a bright green Little Lucifer that had been torn apart from the multitude of barra that had eaten it over past seasons. I'd never seen so many scratches on one lure before.

With that in mind, I tied on one of my favourite lures, a green Yo-Zuri Tobimaru. When the fish are suffering from lockjaw, a smaller lure can often entice a strike , so this was our new plan.

We trolled the edge of the weed line where the water could only be described as coffee coloured. A dirty water line met with the clean water just in front of a small creek entrance. I free spooled the reel and dropped the lure about 35m from the boat and began to work it in an erratic motion. A solid whack resulted and a sizeable barra burst from the water twisting and turning as if the water had just been electrified.

What was to be my first ever barra put on a typically showy display, until disaster struck and like a rocket the little lure was hurled from the barra's mouth, almost taking my eye's out. Disappointing, but that's barra fishing.

The search Continues

Cooler temperatures mean barra go in search of warmer water, but in large river systems the warmer area's can be difficult for anglers to locate. Under these circumstances, it is most useful to have a good depth sounder with a water temperature gauge on board. This allows you to find temperature changes in the water column, as well as see the solid arches in the water where the fish are holding.

On other occasins you may notice plenty of splashes and bow waves from fish that are holding close into the bank. The water is often warmer in these shallow locations, but fish are easily spooked when you come too close. 

fishing from Darwin Barra Base Boat

The water's surface temperature ranged between 20 and 220C. and most fish were either in the deepest sections of the river, high in the shallows or hiding next to warm rockbars.

I have found that one of the most productive techniques in this situation is to repeatedly cast and retrieve lures into the shallows well ahead of the boat. Experienced anglers would already be in the know about this 'stalking' type procedure and it usually pays dividends in this situation.

Alternative methods of finding quivering barra are usually centred on underwater rockbars. When the water warms these underwater rockbars trap heat and the surrounding water is kept warm by the heated rock, a little like a sauna. Searching for your prized catch within these types of locations is mandatory if you want success.

Picking Your Lures

Deciding on which lure to use is no easy task. At different times of the year, fish feed on different prey. It pays to have a wide selection of styles and colours, but you can't really go wrong with a few reliable colours of green, pink, purple and of course the old reliable, gold.

Lure size and depth are extremely important factors given the location fished. Sure, barra have a big mouth, but in circumstances where the water is cold, the fish have less energy to expend, and getting a strike from them when using a 120mm lure may be difficult. Smaller lures ranging from around 70mm to 90mm certainly came in handy in this instance and are good additions to any barrs anglers tackle tray.

Lures ranging in diving depth from 1- 2.5 metre are ideal when fishing rivers and billabongs. Deeper-diving lures are usually left for when fishing strong currents created by heavy rainfall run-off.

Lures also need to be loud. When trolling, the hum from the boat's engine can mask the sound of a rattling lure. In this case it is more desireable to troll lures containing ball bearings. Lures containing ball bearings rattle loudly under the water. Fish hunt by detecting sound through their lateral line. A lure with a loud rattle will imitate a passing fish, attracting a strike. In cool water they can actually help annoy a shut down fish into striking.

Lures that can be worked very slowly also show good results in cool water. Slow action bibbed lures or soft plastics can be slowly worked to keep the lure in the strike zone for as long as possible.
Barramundi can be teased into striking by repeatedly working a lure past their faces, so if you know the fish are holding in one particular area, try tying on one of these lures and just keep casting until the fish cannot resist any longer.

Setting the Hooks

Cooler water temperatures almost send the barra into hibernation mode, whereby they try to conserve as much energy as they can. Metabolic rates slow down and the fish become quite lazy and don't go in search of food. Rather, they wait until prey swims right past their nose. Anglers need to adapt to this change and switch techniques to enable the lures to pass within the strike zone.

Trolling the edge of weed beds in the billabongs is often met with a build-up of weed and plant stems on the hooks. If you notice any changes in the action of the rod tip or lure, a few quick flicks will usually seperate the weed from the lure.

When you recieve a bump from a barra, it is not always the lightnig strike to which most anglers are accustomed. Quite often you'll feel a bump through the rod before the lure continues to rattle along as if nothing happened. this "bump" is either one of two things, it could have just gone through a section of weed, which you'll notice from the rod tip not pulsating away, or it was in fact a barra sucking in the lure and spitting it out again. At any bump felt, you should strike immediately to set the hook, regardless if it is weed or not.

On one occassion, I was fishing Corroboree Billabong with a bunch of tourists. One angler felt a light bump and thought nothing of it. After a few minutes he noticed the lure wasn't working in the same manner as before. Apon retrieving the lure, he discovered one of the largest scales I have seen stuck in one of the trebles.

A closer look revealed that the hook was slightly bentand the fishing guide happily stated "That fish would have been over a metre". Lesson learned. Every bump for the rest of the day was hit hard and most of the anglers increased their hook-ups and landed more fish than in the morning session.


With our cool-water tactics already paying off, we turned around and once again trolled the edge of the weed line we had previously worked. The results were fantastic- more barra took a liking to the lures each time we passed a snag. The water was warm here and there were plenty of arches on the sounder.

cool water barra.jpg
The challenge of the coolwater conditions made it all the more satisfying, and I know that, hot water or cold water, I'll be back to chase these fish again.

Read Jarrods recent Barramundi Fishing report here

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