Blood, Boabs and Barra – A great day in the Kimberley
I could see my heartbeat reflected in each squirt of arterial blood that was gushing from my leg. At the time I pondered the fact that today wasn’t really supposed to be a fishing trip – more a cultural excursion – and then my thoughts went to the problem at hand. I had a treble buried through my shorts and deep into my thigh. The other treble was attached to around 15kg of barra that would later stretch out to 105cm long – another metery – not for me, but Mitch. The whole situation was a little unfair but more on how we got to this point later.
Our real mission was to find some rock art that is hidden half way between Wyndham and Kununurra in the East Kimberly. Bouncing through the bush on a track that hadn’t seen traffic for months we watched Brolgas dance in the grassy woodlands before pulling up in the shade of a fat boab. A short walk followed and then we were taking in ancient artworks framed by a blizzard of butterflies. The Kimberley was putting on a show! My favourite artwork depicted a chunky barra and maybe we should have seen this as an omen for the fishing that was to take place later in the day.
Before leaving the rock art we collected some boab nuts and snuck in some tree love. It’s funny because I have since heard that hugging a boab is like giving a little bit of love back to the Kimberley. It’s sloppy I know, but maybe I will hug boabs before every fishing trip from now on…
The landscape up here is contradictory. Hot rocky escarpments somehow flank huge rivers that pump incredible volumes of clean freshwater. The Ord River is one of these raging torrents and after the record 2010/11 wet season it still remains at levels that even the old locals can’t remember. Pulling up to this awesome river we couldn’t wait to get the rods out and it wasn’t long before lures were flying in every direction.
This was some of the fishiest water I’d seen in the Ord so we were confident that we’d be able to tempt a bazza or two. So what do I mean about ‘fishy’ water? Well in keeping with the informative spirit of Fishing in South East Australia I’ve had a play with the photo below to give you an idea of the sort of structure that I’m talking about here.
The important thing to remember is that in a fast flowing river like the Ord, barra will avoid holding in fast flowing water because this would only sap their energy. Also, barra are ambush predators so it makes sense that they tend to hang out in spots where potential prey is funnelled past with the current. It is for these reasons that we generally search out back eddies because they provide barra with the perfect mixture of shelter and access to prey.
Back eddies form wherever the current is broken by structure, be it an offshore bombie, a boulder in a trout stream or a rocky outcrop in the Ord. The food + shelter principle applies to all these scenarios and my thoughts on barra here can also be applied the majority of predatory species that are targeted in Australia.
So the picture below shows how a small island breaking the flow of the Ord has created a very fishy back eddy (in red) and it’s hard to imagine but this spot was holding some very big fish.
Concentrating on the eddy, I flicked, tweaked and eventually snagged a few soft plastics with no love at all. It was time to switch to a trusted hardbody lure so I went for a faded oId barra classic with beefed up hooks. Fish must hate this lure because they always seem to get violent with it and a few casts later and I was on to a big chrome baz that leapt high enough from the water for me to gasp ‘metery!’ The adrenelaine rush was short lived though because the hooks pulled as soon as I put some decent pressure on the fish. Just after I’d finished yelling at the sky, Mitch ran over and said ‘that looked like a metery from where I was standing’. Yep, that made me feel much better – thanks mate!
I noticed that, like most of the lures I use regularly, the hooks on my classic had crushed barbs which is something I do to minimise damage to fish and fishers. The major negative of going barbless is the increased likelihood of fish shaking free if you don’t keep steady pressure on the line. Loosing small fish to barbless hooks is fine, but dropping a metery isn’t. Needless to say, I changed my lure in the hope that there would be more monster fish lurking in this eddy. Optimism is a fisherman’s friend and my new lure was soon engulfed on the surface by a barra of rock art proportions. I’m still a southerner at heart and my first thought was that a seal had just taken my lure. I didn’t even get a chance at a second thought because my line parted almost instantly. It’s hard to say, but I think I’d just lost the biggest bazza that I’d ever been connected to.
So the saying is third time lucky but that’s only half the story of what happens next. Mitch jumped onto my spot and before I had a chance to tie on a new lure he was hooked up to a really solid fish. The third time luck paid off here and I was soon lifting Mitch’s metery out of the water. Great result, Mitch’s fifth metery (yep not fair) but only his first on a lure.
So this is where things went pear shaped and it’s amazing how quickly the scene got messy. While I was struggling to land the fish on the slippery rocks the big girl shook her head and lodged the barbs of Mitch’s lure deep into my leg. I was then in the precarious position of cradling this fish with both arms and having no say in what the huge head anchored to my leg would do next. I was cringing and waiting for the next head shake and it was just fortunate that Mitch was using one of my barbless lures because it meant that a quick jerk was all it took to part my quickly swelling leg from the lure.
With the lure out, the blood was free to flow and I passed the fish to Mitch as the arterial spurt got going. Arterial blood is high in oxygen and I was impressed by the vividness of the red mess that was running down my leg. A bit of pressure with my less than sterile fishy fingers and I had the bleeding under control enough to pose for a few snaps. So apparently I hooked the genicular artery which forks off the femoral artery – all pretty heavy stuff! Maybe it was the boab love or the barra spirits but I was seriously lucky that Mitch just happened to tie on a lure with crushed barbs. If barbs were involved then I could have torn the artery and the drive to the hospital would have been in rally mode. As it happens I was able to fish on (unsuccessfully) and the only lasting injuries were a solid bruise and shattered confidence.
So while I missed out on landing a monster, I did get some valuable insights into the importance of structure and the benefits of barbless hooks. I was also reminded that it’s not always about the fishing (blasphemy I know) because there is a huge country out there just waiting to be explored and appreciated.
Finally, it’s great to know that the traditional owners, through their artwork, shared a passion for big barra!