Barra fishing with Karim de Ridder.
He’s been fishing since he was a kid, he knows our river systems like the back of his hand and he’s a national angling champion – Karim de Ridder talks barra fishing and the move to more sustainable fishing practices.
You want to look for somewhere with a bit of tidal movement that creates a pressure point – basically anywhere that the current hits and causes an eddy because this is where the bait will stack up.
Growing up on the Tablelands, Karim was introduced to fishing by his Dad, on the waters of the Wild River. He got a taste for barra fishing while at university in Townsville, and never looked back. With teammate Craig Griffiths, he’s won multiple ABT Team of the Year awards, two Barra Nationals and a string of competitions up and down the Queensland coast.
When he’s not on the tournament circuit you’ll find him fishing anywhere from Hinchinbrook to the Daintree.
“I don’t like fishing around crowds. For me, it’s about getting away from it all and I love it when I can’t see anything except the water. It’s pure stress relief!”
Short sharp rivers
Our Wet Tropics systems fish differently to the rest of Australia. It means we don’t have the same numbers of barra as the big flood plains, but there’s still plenty around.
“Because the Great Dividing Range is so close to the coast, our rivers have a short and sharp entry to the ocean which is unlike anywhere else in the country. Rivers elsewhere will meander for hundreds of kilometres with a lot of saltwater influence moving up them whereas ours punch out a lot of freshwater because of the high rainfall.”
Changes over the years
Over the last 20 years, Karim says anglers have become more sustainable in terms of how fish are targeted and which fish become ‘keepers’.
“There’s more awareness about how fish stocks are doing and what’s going on in our local areas – especially with the younger generation of anglers coming through. Closed seasons are generally adhered to. There is still work to do but there’s a lot more focus on, and understanding of, maintaining stocks. In my lifetime I’d love to see the barra bag limit reduced to three, and anything over one metre let go.
“Climate change impacts fisheries, so any improvement we can make locally to the systems that our fisheries and nursery grounds rely on is worth doing. Whether that be agricultural improvements like reducing sediment run-off, or fishing improvements like more sustainable takes – it’s all going to help get better fish recruitment.”
Why our net-free zone is great for big barra
A net-free zone declared in Trinity Bay in 2015 was welcomed by recreational fishers and anecdotally it has resulted in the return of larger apex predatory fish, like barramundi. This means there is more breeding and more ‘recruitment’ which, in turn, means barra surviving through to adulthood.
“Net-free zones protect brood stocks. Now that fish aren’t getting picked up in commercial nets it’s a daily occurrence for people fishing off places like Yorkeys Knob to catch nice big fish,” says Karim.
Top tip for beginners
Karim’s top tip to get you started is about selecting your fishing spots:
“You want to look for somewhere with a bit of tidal movement that creates a pressure point – basically anywhere that the current hits and causes an eddy because this is where the bait will stack up. On the beach it might be a sand bar, a jetty or a rocky headland. From a boat it might be small creek mouths or something that juts out from a big sweeping bend. The bait piles up and the barra will be waiting.”
Picking up after yourself
Plastic lures, like other plastics, break up in the environment and are ingested by fish. We don’t know much yet about what this means for fish, but there is evidence that microplastics and nanoplastics can move from a fish’s stomach to its muscle tissue, which is the part that we typically eat.
Karim says the amount of artificial bait in our waterways is astonishing.
“Whether it’s a broken lure, an empty coke bottle that’s been tossed out of a boat or a big clump of fishing line left snagged in a tree ready to tangle a bird, I wish everyone would be a bit more considerate about the environment we’re fishing in.”
The annual barramundi fishing season runs from Feb 1 to Oct 31. It’s hugely popular with both locals and visitors so the closed season is extremely important. It protects barra during their spawning period and allows the population to replenish.
Barramundi are opportunistic predators. They eat just about anything that lives in the water – from insects, spiders, prawns and smaller fish to other barramundi and baby crocodiles. They have a complex life cycle which includes a sex change. Barras get the best of both worlds by being born male and turning into females from about five years of age.