Barramundi

The Barramundi is an appreciated fish(sport fish and food) in Thailand, very often called ‘white snapper’, or ‘sea bass’ in restaurants.

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There are numerous put & take ponds with Barramundi around Bangkok, similar to the put & take lakes with rainbows in Sweden; but without the scenery. There are some ponds with nicer surroundings, like Pilot 111, but generally they are more of a large rectangular dug-out-hole, with a depth of 1 – 2.5m, holding fish. However, with just a few days in Bangkok, some spare time and an interest to try something new this country has to offer, this is definitely an option. I use to go to these ponds myself when I only have a few hours to spare and really want to fish, which is most of the time.

The Barramundi itself is quite a strong fish. Stronger than most salmonoids, and they come to their right after reaching sizes above 3 kg. Eager to jump and with an aggressive behavior once hooked, they are much fun to take on a fly rod.

The average size depends on which pond you are fishing in, but where I normally fish, at the Bor Num pond some 40 km outside Bangkok, the fish are normally between 1 – 5 kg, with an average around 2 kg. Larger specimens of up to 10 – 12 kg exist in many ponds, but fish above 5 kg are quite rare.

In the wild, Barramundi can often be found in rivers(connected to the sea), around river mouths and mangroves. They can also be found just in the sea, but normally close to the shore. However the habitat of the Barramundi generally is close to the shore, the vegetation can often make the fishing hard or impossible without a boat or kayak.

 

Equipment

Talking about fishing in the ponds, an 8 wt one-handed saltwater fly rod with a tropical floating/intermediate line is a good all-round outfit. A 7 wt will do as well, but the larger flies are easier to cast with an 8 wt. These ponds use to have brackish water, so a reel, line and hooks that can withstand saltwater are preferable. It is also very important to thoroughly wash rod, line and flies after a day. Alas, quite different from the trout/salmon fishing in Sweden and Norway, where you don’t rinse the equipment even once during the whole trip.

The Barramundi will most often not take you into the backing, but it does happen every now and then, and even though I personally never had a Barramundi taking more than 50m of backing, at least 100 – 150m of backing on the spool is recommended.

Bringing both a floating and intermediate tropical line is preferable. If only one choice, go for the intermediate. Even though I most often fish with a floating line myself, an intermediate allows you to fish both shallow and deep. Fishing closer to the bottom is often a better alternative and I always bring an intermediate for this reason. I just tend to like fishing on or just below the surface, which allows me to see the takes. At times that also works the best.

The Barramundi has very abrasive sandpaper-like teeth and will easily wear through a too thin nylon/flourocarbon leader. Believe me, for I lost a lot of fish in the beginning due to too thin leaders. I have tested with wire, but I noticed a dramatic decrease in the number of takes, so nowadays I always use a 0.55 – 0.60mm nylon leader, as I am too stingy to use flourocarbon for this fishing. No Barramundi has yet worn through this, but have been close a few times.

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0.60mm leader after one Barramundi

For my leaders, I try to keep things simple. After all, this is not some Arctic Char fishing with a size 20 fly which needs to roll out smoothly. I therefore do one of the following:

  1. Tie a perfection loop on a 1 – 1.5 rod length 0.60mm leader using a loop-to-loop connection to my fly line. Then tie the fly with another perfection loop. For every fish, I just cut off the damaged part of the leader and retie the fly. When the leader is too short, I just replace the whole leader. No additional knots which can break or cause tangling.
  2. Tie a perfection loop onto an approx 1 rod length 0.28 – 0.30mm nylon to connect to the flyline. Using an Albright, connect the nylon to an approximate meter of a 0.60mm shock leader, to which the fly is tied with another perfection loop. Once the shock leader is too short, just replace it with a new piece using an Albright. The Albright is a good knot to connect thin to thick lines.

As with all knots, check them thoroughly before fishing. Despite the perfection loop being strong initially, I have noticed it weakens quickly if left for a few days. I therefore nowadays always retie the loop to the flyline each time I go out fishing.

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The mouth of a Barramundi

 

 

Flies

The flies I use range from size 1 to 2/0, but I tend to fish mostly on flies tied on 1/0 – 2/0 hooks to avoid the smallest Barramundis. I also do not mind catching fewer but larger. Not I really sure catch any bigger, but I do get less smaller ones.

I used to fish mostly with pink/white, chartreuse/white marabou, zonkers and feather flies, and I have caught most and my biggest ones on these flies, fished deeper with an intermediate. Recent year, however, I have more and more turned to using darker and natural colored flies in olive and brown and sometimes white, fished just below the surface. When fishing deeper, I normally tie on a deceiver in imitation of the bait fish(Nile Tilapia), or a pink thing like pattern in pink/white, chartreuse/white or black/olive.

I started wondering why they did not take the fly even though I knew they were there. Sure, they are on and off, but it still got to me. In the ponds I fish, they feed the Barramundis with living nile tilapias in the 5 – 10 cm range, once or twice a week. When they toss in a poor Nile Tilapia, there is always immediately a Barra there to grab it, so why not the fly? Well, the fly obviously doesn’t look and/or behave like a Nile Tilapia, and these Barras have seen fake baits close up many times over; and likely felt them. What I have seen is that the smaller Nile Tilapias tend to swim just below the surface, creating a small plow where they swim. I had previously tried both poppers and gurglers, and some fish were caught, but I never really have had much success with them. So I started experimenting with tying flies with slim silhouettes from below just like the bait fish, attempting to make them swim just below the surface without going on the surface. While fishing at the surface, I also don’t have to care so much about a high profile on my fly, which the Tilapias have, as the Barra just see the silhouette of the fly from below. I had good success with muddlers for this reason, but they tend to sink after a while. Finally I attached rabbit strips upside down under the hook, and glued thin foam to the strip and hook shank above the hook. This has kept the silhouette slim from below while offering a nice movement of the fly. I have had great success with these flies. The only tricky part is to attach enough foam to allow the fly to go just below the surface, without breaking it and yet not sink or go too deep.

RBS Fly

The RFB fly on a 1/0 hook. Notice the foam attaching to the rabbit strip beyond the hook bend to prevent the strip tangling the hook

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The RFB silhouette.

The darker colors I normally use, comes from the fact that the water in these ponds generally are brownish or olive/green, and not very clear. It is therefore easier to see the silhouette of a darker fly.

 

Fishing

The Barramundis are nocturnal feeders, as can be seen on their reflective eyes. However, this does not seem to prevent them from feeding during daytime as well. Like with all other fish, they are on and off during a day. Some days you catch them all day long, and sometimes you don’t get any at all. Most common is a few periods during a day of undefined specific time and length, at which the fishing is good. Calm days without any wind are usually the best. When there is wind, the leeward side tend to be the better side. Hence, quite the opposite to normal practice.

Barramundi make a very characteristic ‘smacking’ sound when feeding at the surface, and it is therefore very easy to hear them. This allows you to easily determine whether or not you definitely want to be fishing at the surface. During windier days, fishing closer to the bottom usually work better. Basically try to vary your fishing until you find something that works that day. Never be afraid to try new things, no matter how silly they may seem.

Catching Barramundi does not require long casts. Very often they stay just one step outside of the bank. Always make a few cast parallel to the bank. You will be surprised by the number of takes you will have there. For this reason, always place yourself so that you can fish the fly all the way in to the bank. This is more important than reaching far. Step lightly when moving along the bank for the same reason.

Considering Barramundi are ambush feeders, they seem to have a rather small window of attack. I have noticed that it is always worth casting in the same direction multiple times. In the ponds, the Barramundis use to perform raids into the bank, where the Nile Tilapias usually are, which can easily be seen from the panicked fish, and the sound of smacking jaws. Other times, they seem to just be hanging around, waiting for prey to enter their window of attack. Normally they hang around deeper, close to the bank, and attack from below. I have seen Barramundis shooting out of the water like a Great White with the fly in its mouth. A sight that certainly makes the day.

The general principle to fish the fly, which has worked best for me, is to retrieve it in an erratic pattern, with a couple of fast short retrieves, followed by a pause. Most of the times the Barramundi will take the fly during that pause. Sometimes, it is favorable to fish the fly with an even speed of very short quick retrieves. Again, It all comes down to varying the fishing until you find something that works well that day.

Often, you will feel a small tug in the fly when the Barramundi sucks the fly in. Don’t set the hook too early. Instead, if you can, let the fish turn and wait until you feel the weight of the fish, much in the same fashion as in Salmon fishing. The same goes for when you fish at the surface. It is very easy to raise the rod when you see the fish come up to take the fly, but generally, it is better to let the fish hook itself.

Once hooked, the Barramundi often takes off immediately, followed by jump(s). This is normally when you loose the fish. The rest of the fight comes down to give and take line with occasional jumps and sharp turns. Almost always, you will feel fast, hard and somewhat uncomfortable head shakes, similar to what the Swedish seatrout can do. As the fight nears the end and you think you are ready to land the fish, don’t forget to ease the drag, should the fish make one last run. I normally back away to pull the fish to the shore, then ease the drag before quickly moving forward to grab the fish by sticking a thumb into its mouth and clasping its lower jaw. At this point the fish is normally so tired it will need help to get water flowing over its gills and stay upright before it can be released. Too often, if not always, I see fish just being thrown back towards its death into the water after being unhooked. A proof seen by all dead or dying fish floating around in the pond. It’s just such a sad sight to behold over and over. Another too common sight, is to see the fisherman lift the fish up and laying it on the ground while unhooking it, instead of doing that with the fish in the water. Lastly, before starting to fish, clamp down any barbs on your flies or hooks to help minimize the damage to the fish. I haven’t really noticed I loose more fish doing that either.

Good luck!

 

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