BARRAMUNDI
Sci: Lates calcarifer

Common Names: Most Australians use the name barramundi or the shortened title of barra' for this important species. In older fishing books and magazines this fish is sometimes referred to as the giant perch, palmer perch, palmer or "cock-up", although these names are fast fading from common usage. Some confusion still exists between the name of this fish and the two species of saratoga (Scleropages leichardti and S. jardini), found in our tropical fresh waters. These saratoga were once known in certain circles as spotted barramundi or, in the case of S. leichardti, as the Dawson River barramundi, although these titles are rarely encountered today.

Description: The barramundi is a handsome fish with big scales, a large mouth, humped shoulders, a deeply-scooped or concave forehead profile and characteristic, close-set eyes, which shine ruby-red in artificial light or at certain angles in sunlight. The colouration of individual barramundi varies considerably, depending on the environment. Freshwater-dwelling barra - particularly those from seasonally land-locked billabongs and water-holes - are usually dark bronze or gold to chocolate brown on the back, with brassy or golden flanks and very dark fins and tails. At the opposite extreme, saltwater barra from reasonably clean tidal waters appear to wear suits of chrome-plated armour. Each scale is a metallic mirror, and there is very little pigmentation, apart from a mauve or purple sheen along the top of the back. The fins of these fish are very lightly coloured and the tail is often distinctly tinged with yellow.

Size: Exceptionally large barramundi in excess of 100 kg have reportedly been taken in nets in the Bay of Bengal, near the Indian coast. It is also likely that Australian waters once held a few monster barramundi of 60 kg and more, but today there would be little chance of a fish evading capture long enough to grow to such phenomenal dimensions. Commercial netters in the Northern Territory continue to take an occasional specimen of 30 kg or more, and it is possible that exceptional 35 to 40 kg barramundi still exist in very small numbers. Anglers mostly encounter specimens in the 1 to 12 kg range, although several fish in the 20 to 25 kg class are captured on rod and reel every year.

Distribution: Barramundi are found as far afield as the Bay of Bengal, Thailand and parts of Indonesia. They are reasonably prolific along the southern coast of Irian Jaya and Papua New Guinea, although not on the northern side of that nation. In Australia, barramundi range from the Mary River system in southern central Queensland to the Ashburton River, near Onslow, in Western Australia, although they are not commonly found at either extremity of this range. Barramundi numbers are greatest on the north eastern and western sides of Cape York Peninsula, through the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Northern Territory and the Kimberley. They occupy a wide range of aquatic environments; from the inshore waters around rocky headlands and shore-fringing reefs or islands, up through tidal estuaries and into freshwater creeks and rivers, billabongs and water-holes. Barramundi frequently inhabit bodies of water cut off from main river systems or estuaries for a year or more at a time.

Fishing Techniques: One of the most exciting and popular ways of fishing for barramundi is by casting and retrieving artificial lures or flies around snags, mangrove roots, rock bars, fallen trees and other cover, as well as creek and gutter inflows. This method accounts for a good percentage of the fish taken each year. However, at certain times, slow trolling with lures behind a moving boat produces more and larger fish than casting. The best lures for both casting and trolling tend are swimming minnows with timber or plastic bodies. Rubber-tailed jigs, surface lures and even metal spoons and jigs all attract barra, too. Bait fishing is also highly productive. Best baits for barra include small live mullet, live prawns or live macrobrachium (giant freshwater shrimp). These may be cast or drifted on un-weighted or lightly weighted lines, rigged with a small running sinker, or suspended beneath a cork or float, depending on the terrain, water depth and strength of the current. Some excellent barra are occasionally taken on dead baits, too.

Eating Qualities: The barramundi has a reputation as one of our finest eating fish - and a market price to match. Many would argue that this reputation is over-rated, but there is certainly no denying the appeal of a properly-cooked fillet of saltwater or tidal river barramundi. Their meat is white, firm, fine-grained and delicious. Barra which have spent weeks, months or even years in turbid, muddy billabongs are another story, and the flesh of these freshwater barra can range from tasty to almost inedible. Today, many sport anglers choose to release the majority of the barra they land.

By Steve Starling

Saltwater Species:

Albacore Barracouta
Barracuda Barramundi
Blue Groper Boniti
Bream Coral Trout
Drummer Flathead
Garfish John Dory
Kingfish Leatherjacket
Luderick Mako Shark
Mangrove Lack Marlin
Mullet Mulloway
Queenfish Sailfish
Salmon Shark
Skipjack Tuna Snapper
Snook Tailor
Tuna