Metre plus barramundi caught on a twitch bait

Twitch bait lures for impoundment barramundi

Those familiar with our fishing blog will know that Ryan pretty much exclusively fishes for saltwater barramundi.

So we commissioned one of our Barra Basics students and ardent freshwater barra angler Nick Philippa to write a few words about the success he’s had with twitch baits on impoundment barra.

Incidentally, soon after Nick went to work on this very article, Ryan was invited to Prosperpine Dam to commentate for the AFC (Australian Fishing Championship) and while waiting for the teams to return, borrowed a rod and in two casts caught a metery from the boat ramp. He is so arsey!

This was the first time he has fished freshwater for barra in 20 years and he was so inspired we will be doing some freshwater stuff into the future.

He uses to be a very successful freshwater angler and judging by recent events, nothing has changed haha.

But for now we will hand the reins to Nick Philippa as he’s been having a ton of success on big girls in lakes/dams and happy to share some of the insights he has gained along the way. Enjoy Karen R-M

Twitch bait lures are getting runs on the board for big impoundment/dam barramundi in Lake Tinaroo


Catching big barramundi using twitch bait lures in freshwater dams

The writer with a 1.11m barra caught at Tinaroo Dam


Earlier this year I was fishing with a mate Richard Stewart in the inaugural Cairns and FNQ Facebook page fishing comp. A catch and release competition targeting barramundi and some by catch species such as sooty grunter on beautiful Lake Tinaroo.

We decided to have a good pre-fish the day before to find the fish before the event started. Richard had been doing well on previous trips with a twitch bait style lure made by Mackay based fishing writer Andrew Susani. The lure is hilariously named a ‘Cloney’ as it’s a copy of the now no longer produced barra magnet, the Stiffy Boney Bream lure. Andrew makes these works of art out of wood, and then places a laser jet image of a fish onto the lure so it’s an incredibly life-like looking lure.

Catching big freshwater barramundi with twitch bait lures

'Cloney' a handmade twitch bait by hobby lure maker Andrew Susani

Richard started casting a Cloney near a rocky point with a medium-fast twitch retrieve, similar to Jason Wilhelm’s infamous method but slower. For those that aren’t aware of Jason’s method, it is an aggressive twitch retrieve, imparting action on the lure through short sharp rod twitches down towards the water while taking up slack line by slowly retrieving line.

Basically the lure twitches in short sharp movements, flicking towards each side and slowly travelling back towards the boat.

If your line is whipping the water surface near the rod tip you are doing this retrieve correctly. Leave only a short amount of slack line between your rod tip and the water surface and twitch down, the rod tip takes up the slack line and forces the lure to twitch to either side. Impoundment barramundi love this retrieve as the lure is doing plenty of action but is sitting right in their face. Think of your favourite kebab being waved in front of your face from side to side, eventually you will be tempted to take a bite, even if you’re not hungry!

Not long into the session and Richard pulled tight on a solid barramundi from just off the rocky point, after about six good jumps the fish landed on the brag mat a 1.09cm; a great start!

Fishing for freshwater barramundi using twitch bait lures

1.09m of Tinaroo barramundi caught on a Cloney twitch bait lure

Fishing competition techniques - a change up to soft plastics

The pre-fish had ended, the comp started and we were fishing another rocky area, Richard started landing the fish on the Cloney and I was looking in frustration in my tackle box for anything similar to a twitch bait. I didn’t have one so I started trying other lures but just couldn’t get the bites.

At night we moved to a more open fairly shallow area where we could see fish travelling through on the sounder. We decided then to change to soft plastic lures and use a slow roll retrieve, this is just a slow constant retrieve. By watching your sounder, particularly if you have a side imager you cast to where you see the fish, if they are travelling past the left hand side of the boat then work as a team peppering this area. The slow roll works well as the lure has a constant tail action and slowly swims back to the boat, giving barra ample opportunity to see the slowly moving lure and inhale it.

Know how fast your soft plastics sink to avoid hooking structure

You should know how fast your lures sink so that you avoid foul hooking any rocks or submerged tree branches you have seen on your sounder (it’s important to sound the area quickly before casting, use your electric motor if you have one for a stealthy scan of the area, or even better scan during a pre-fish the day before). Now it probably sounds funny that you could foul hook a rock but lures and leader end up getting stuck in the small gaps between rocks and they can sometimes get really stuck. Tinaroo has quite a few rocky walls and points that can hold fish. Time away from fishing to retrieve lures is wasted time in a comp and you could spook the fish, so knowing your lure sink rate is important.

To work out your lures sinking rate, drop them into the water and count down how long it takes them to sink down roughly one foot, then use that calculation based on the depth you are fishing to make sure your lure doesn’t hit the bottom. Generally at night though you want your lure just under the surface, the light from the moon will help silhouette your lure. The barra will be patrolling shallow areas of 3-12’ at night while looking up for prey.

Changing to plastics at night gets results

Fortunately I finally got some runs on the board, landing two fish on a Big Hammer SledgeHammer swimbait, a large 9” plastic ended up working really well as it has a great action at very slow speeds. My reasoning for tying on such a big plastic is that the barra were hitting lures hard so I figured they were hungry and bigger barra would possibly prefer a big soft plastic. This proved true with our biggest fish of the comp at 1.10m falling pretty to the big swimbait.

Richard landed another barra or two on the old faithful Squidy Slick Rig 130mm (in drop bear colour) during the night using a really common method for this type of lure, a slow roll, which is a slow constant retrieve. This retrieve gets the lure tail waggling all the way to the boat and gives barra ample time to look at the lure and inhale it at night.

The twitch bait was a standout for the Lake Tinaroo fishing competition

The standout lure for the comp was definitely the Cloney with the twitch retrieve. Richard finished second in the comp with almost 4.5m of fish in 24 hours, of which we really spent about 14 hours on the water. Richard came second by a mere 6cm, but the big news was that if he’d been a bit luckier on a couple of fish that won their freedom then he easily would have passed the 6 metre mark, now that’s some pretty good Lake Tinaroo fishing!

Dam barramundi caught on 'Cloney' twitch bait lure

Dam barramundi caught on 'Cloney' twitch bait lure

Some different retrieve options

Different anglers use different amounts of twitches but usually have a favourite to start with, so importantly they start with a proven favourite retrieve and then mix it up. I was interested to hear from a couple of anglers, so I asked both Andrew Susani and ABT winner Karim De Ridder what their favourite retrieves are for twitch bait style lures.

Andrew said: “I vary my retrieve during the retrieve with between 1-3 twitches then a pause, constantly changing it up until I find a presentation that gets a bite. Most fish grab it on the pause and really inhale the lure. Getting the neutral buoyancy thing right can make a big difference too. I fished Kinchant Dam one morning with a slow sinking version and couldn’t buy a hit until I took off the tail treble and turned it into a neutrally buoyant lure. Within 20 mins I had hooked 3 big fish and lost all of the mongrels after they went ballistic with jumps and dives into the thick weed and lilies. One of them was over 120cm and the biggest barra I had ever hooked - it pushed a bunch of lilies out of the way before inhaling the lure.”

Karim said: “I like to mix it up; I usually start with between 4-8 twitches then have a brief pause. Mixing it up helps to find out what the barra like that day, they can be fussy”.

So it looks like the key to a twitch bait retrieve is to change it up, try a faster more aggressive retrieve and then try a slower retrieve with more pauses until you can get those fussy big barra to bite!

Twitch bait retrieves and hard body lures

On a more recent trip to the lake I was fishing a pretty cold Tinaroo with fishing writer Dan Bowater. We were both trying a number of lures; Dan in particular was swapping lures frequently trying to get the bite and must have tried over 15 lures for the arvo session at least. One interesting point I noticed is that for impoundment fishing Dan likes a super aggressive twitch retrieve with both hard body lures and twitch baits. One very good reason for using a constant twitch bait retrieve without a lot of pauses is that you can use a hard body lure that doesn’t suspend well. By removing the pauses the lure doesn’t have a chance to float rapidly towards the surface and out of the strike zone.

If you have time you should make an effort to modify some of your hard body lures to suspend in freshwater, or very slowly rise towards the surface. You can stick on lead golfing style weights or lead strips, or another common method is to add extra split rings to the lure, so instead of having one split ring attaching the hook to the lure you can have a double split ring instead. Upgrading hooks to a larger size can also help a lure suspend. Basically grab a bucket of water or find a mate with a swimming pool and play with your lures until they suspend. There’s plenty of info on YouTube and the web about lures that suspend very well and lures that have been modified to suspend well.

Dan’s style of aggressive twitch retrieve definitely works and I’ve added it to my bag of tricks. Importantly Dan does change it up too with suspending lures, trying a more moderate retrieve with pauses when the fish aren’t reacting to the more aggressive retrieve.

Your sounder is your best tool!

We had sounded up some good barra on my new Garmin 95SV side imager, the best part is we could see which side of the boat good fish were on and how far out they were, so we were casting in the right areas. We were seeing heaps of bait which is also a great sign and things looked promising despite the water being fairly cool, just under 20 degrees celsius. Generally you want to find the warmer water in areas like shallow bays or on the windward side of the lake where warmer water is pushed across onto fish holding structure like rocky or sandy points or isolated trees. Warmer water usually holds more fish, spend time looking at your sounder and the water temperature and work out why the fish are holding in an area, it will save you time searching for future trips as you start to work out where the fish are and why.

We had sounded up some good barra on my Garmin 95sv side imager, the best part is we could see which side of the boat good fish were on and how far out they were, so we were casting in the right areas. We were seeing heaps of bait which is a great sign and things looked promising despite the cooler water.

A change to twitch bait gets results

A selection of Lethal Lures 'Subwoofers'. A premium twitch bait

A selection of Lethal Lures 'Subwoofers'. A premium twitch bait

After other lures weren’t getting bites from fish we could see passing through on my Garmin, we both tied on twitch bait lures. The sun was starting to set and we knew the fish would come into shallower water at night looking up for a feed. My Garmin showed this with fish travelling past the boat in deeper water during the day but as the sun slowly faded the fish started coming in on the other side of the boat in shallower water of only a couple of metres. Again we fished what the sounder was showing and peppered the shallow water where the fish were showing. This brand of twitch bait offers floating, suspending or sinking models. Personally I like the floating and suspending models but in deeper water during the day a sinking model would be ideal. Once again work out the sink rate of the lure to avoid structure like rocks and trees.

During the session Dan and I both commented on how much we like the action and finish of these lures. Some of this range of lures have a shiny fleck that is commonly used on show cars and when painting flashy speed boats and it really reflects any available light. See the attached photo of a Subwoofer at night; the photo doesn’t really do this lure justice, it has such an amazing amount of reflected light which is a very good thing. I think it looks a lot like the reflection off baitfish scales. You can find out more about this Australian made lure at their Lethal Lures Facebook site. I will review these lures further in another article.

Lethal Lures SubWoofer 'Snoop Dog' colour - catching barramundi in dams

Lethal Lures SubWoofer 'Snoop Dog' colour - check out that reflection!

Part way through the session and Dan pulled up firm on a big barra that really inhaled the lure. A hit from a big barra while a lure is a foot or so under the surface is a cool thing to see! The fish came up and inhaled the lure with its big bucket mouth, then turned to the side, powering down away from the surface. The surface boil this makes and the view of that big slab of silver and scales is a something to remember.

After a good fight with a few good jumps (who says impoundment fish don’t fight well?) the fish hit the brag mat at 1.10m, a nice solid fish.

Catching barramundi in Tinaroo Dam on fishing lures

Dan Bowater with a 1.10m barra caught on a SubWoofer

The morale of the story, particularly when impoundment fish can be heavily fed and fussy is to know the depth your lure works and fish the depth the fish are at, or slightly higher so they can see the lures pass just over them. Also change your retrieve to work out what is working on the day. Search YoutTube for some examples of twitch retrieves and don’t be afraid to add a very aggressive twitch retrieve to your arsenal. Remember that the aggressive retrieve makes the lure dart from side to side aggressively but the lure still takes a long time to travel back to the boat. This is important for impoundment barramundi on some days. Other days you can use a stock standard slow, medium or fast retrieve on a hard body and the barra will respond to that on the day. You can also hop soft plastics along the bottom if it’s relatively snag free, similar to a retrieve for flathead. So use your sounder, fish where you see the fish and try different lures and retrieves. Twitch bait lures should definitely be in your impoundment tackle box.

Remember that impoundment barra aren’t a great eating fish, so be sure to let them go for another day and let someone else have the chance of hooking up to a big impoundment metrey!

How to release big barra to fight another day.

Dan releasing a big impoundment barra to catch another day!

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About The Author

Nick Philippa

Nick Philippa is a fishing writer from North Queensland. Nick has chased a variety of species from fly fishing for trout in Tasmania, to pelagics in the Torres Strait. Nick enjoys reef fishing for various species such as saddletail snapper (large-mouth nannygai), coral trout and spanish mackerel and has a passion for finding new ground on his Garmin sidevu 95sv, including uncharted wrecks, pinnacles, reef bommies and wonky holes. Nick is an experienced lure fisherman and also enjoys fishing freshwater impoundments for barramundi. Nick writes for various Australian fishing magazines covering a range of topics from gear reviews, interviews and knot strength testing. He has recently commenced writing articles for Ryan Moody Fishing and has completed and highly recommends the suite of Ryan Moody's online training courses, Barra Basics, Wonky Holes and Thready Tactics.

Facebook comments


  • Nick Philippa

    Reply Reply February 26, 2017

    Thanks Michael,

    Glad you liked it.


  • Michael Marshall

    Reply Reply February 26, 2017

    Great article Nic.

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