Barramundi mania took hold in Kununurra this past weekend with 1,125 anglers entering the East Kimberley town’s 25th annual Apex Barra Bash making it the biggest fishing tournament in WA history.
It is the first weekend fishing event in WA to crack the 1,000-entrant mark, with Marmion Marine Angling Club’s Bluewater Classic being the closest reaching just over 990 in previous years.
The Barra Bash, taking place from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon, saw 379 barramundi entered using the Track My Fish app allowing competitors to upload their snaps of captured fish on a “brag mat” and release it to fight another day.
The biggest fish was a whopping 1.2 metre “donkey” barra caught by Karl Manning with four “metreys” and more than 10 barra over 90cm caught over the course of the weekend.
Competitors could fish anywhere, but many fish were caught close to town – 1.4 million fish have been stocked into Lake Kununurra over the last decade through a stocking program run in partnership between Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group, North Regional TAFE, Recfishwest and the State Government.
These fish appear to be well spread throughout the Ord River system, making great barra fishing accessible both on the lake and in the lower river both on boats and from the banks.
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “Huge credit must go to the Apex team for running WA’s biggest annual fishing competition. The fishing in the Ord River system is as good as it has ever been as this weekend’s comp has demonstrated.
“The annual Barra Bash reflects how important this fishery and fishing is for regional communities like Kununurra.”
Apex Kununurra President Aaron Macnamara said the attendance for this year’s competition had surpassed all expectations, with many participants travelling from all over WA and even interstate to take part in the event.
“We were rushed off our feet registering people for the comp all morning on Friday,” he said. “It was way beyond what we could have hoped for and we had run out of brag mats by Friday afternoon! We all put our hearts and soul into running it and it is a pretty cool that a small country town in the Kimberley can lay claim to running the biggest ever fishing comp in WA!”
“It’s a great celebration of fishing for our community and we are really grateful to all the local organisations and businesses, Recfishwest and Horizon Power for helping make it such a great event.”
Kununurra’s Rick Bolten had travelled back from Queensland where he is studying veterinary science to fish in the competition and was awarded with a 1.03m barra of a lifetime, caught from a spot on the Lower Ord.
“The fight was insane – the fish ran up and downstream and finally we got it to the side and my mate Fraser got the lip grips on it and got her in. We got a few quick snaps and released her to fight another day,” said Rick.
“Stocking the lake has changed the game – the lake was a pretty good fishery anyway with the catfish and sooty grunter, but getting those barra in has been the missing piece of the puzzle. The fishing has been next level in recent years and a lot of those fish when they’re bigger get pushed down into the Lower Ord – so the whole system has benefitted. Having this quality of fishing in and around town is pretty special.”
The event raised close to $30,000 for local community projects and drew in more than $70,000 in prize sponsorship including a Sea Jay 468 Avenger aluminum boat star door prize valued at $40,000 with a 60hp Suzuki engine donated by Ord Mechanical Services.
Check out some of the great snaps from the 2023 Apex Kununurra Barra bash below!
Neither biblical floods, nor their trailer rear wheel axle falling off, could stop Broome’s North Regional TAFE aquaculture team making an epic 1,000km/20 hour-long journey to release 42,000 barramundi all around 62 days-old into their new home, Lake Kununurra!
North Regional TAFE Acting Hatchery Manager Milton Williams and his team had been tasked with delivering the latest batch of 100,000 barra they had reared as part of the ongoing Lake Kununurra stocking program that has seen more than 1.3 million fish stocked into the fishery since 2013.
With the cyclonic floods taking out Fitzroy Bridge and with no other river crossing options available initially, the transport delays between Broome and Kununurra meant the fish were fast maxing out at the size they could be viably kept at the hatchery.
“It costs $1,500 a week in oxygen alone to support that many fish at the centre,” said Milton, “it was nearing the point where we just couldn’t afford to keep them anymore – it was not looking good.”
All kinds of options were considered, including chartering a plane and airlifting the fish to Kununurra, but were ruled out for costs and logistical reasons – it was beginning to look a bit like a fish stocking mission impossible.
Happily, a commercial aquaculture venture took 58,000 of the fish off their hands and then the low-level crossing finally opened across the Fitzroy, courtesy of 10,000 tonnes of rock and steel donated by BHP to allow the team to transport the fish up to Kununurra.
Milton and hatchery technician Darcy Dunstan finally set out from the hatchery with the fish in tow in oxygen-fed tanks on the back of their specially adapted trailer and all was going well until the wheels came off…literally.
A spring gave out at the back of the trailer resulting in the rear wheel axle falling off 30km outside of Fitzroy Crossing.
“There’s never a dull moment working in aquaculture. It’s not a career – it’s an adventure!” said Milton.
With just one bar’s coverage on his mobile phone, Milton was able to get hold of Brian from Fitzroy Crossing Automotive Salvage and Towing who came to the stricken trailer’s aid with his tilt truck.
Brian then really, really went the extra distance to drive the tanks of fish the remaining 700km up to Kununurra on his tilt truck tray with Milton and Darcy following in their 4WD behind.
Forced to drive at only 90kmh meant the crew finally landed at Falls Crossing in Kununurra at 9pm, some 19 hours after having set out from Broome. The boat DBCA usually provide to help stock some of the fish in the lake was stood down due to the late hour, leaving all the fish to be released at Falls Crossing.
There was then an anxious two-hour wait as the fish acclimatised before being finally released into their new home.
“There was a mixture of relief, excitement and exhaustion seeing them go in after all the challenges. Being that much older and bigger than usual has actually worked in their favour, making them that bit more robust and less susceptible to predators,” said Milton.
With the fish successfully delivered, Milton and Darcy could finally sit back and enjoy a very well-earned beer.
“It was the best tasting beer I’ve ever had!” laughed Milton, “We were pretty exhausted with the whole experience being a bit of a rollercoaster. But we got there in the end, and it feels great to have delivered another 42,000 barra to the Lake, many of which will grow into metre-plus fish enjoyed by local fishers and visitors the lake alike.”
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “Huge credit to Milton, Darcy and the North Regional TAFE aquaculture centre crew. They’ve gone above and beyond to make sure these valuable fish got delivered to the lake.
“Well-managed fishing stocking programs like this create fantastic fishing opportunities for regional communities and all the social, economic and tourism benefits that go with it.
“The fishing is always better when the fish are biting – and having the chance to fish for the iconic barramundi in a safe, accessible setting that Lake Kununurra provides – is of huge value to the local community and visitors to the Kimberley.”
Redclaw might look and taste similar to their delicious southern freshwater cousins, but unlike marron they are not native to Western Australia and are classified as a pest species.
Not only are they invasive, but they are also exceptionally adaptable to tough environments with the ability to survive out of the water for up to 48 hours. It means they can move freely and modify river environments including physical habitats, food-web structures and water quality, while displacing native species through predation and competition.
It is why Recfishwest is targeting increased recreational fishing opportunities for redclaw to manage and monitor the spread of this crayfish, providing recfishers with better education on the species and improved measures on catching them, so they can do their part to help the environment with the added incentive of taking home a delicious feed!
“Recfishwest believes a more coordinated approach is needed in WA to help stem the distribution and impact of redclaw. The two key components of a new approach are better community education and allowing more fishers to target redclaw while reducing the chances of by-catch of other native species,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland.
“We are making the case to DPIRD to legalise effective, wildlife-friendly fishing gear for redclaw for more northern regions of WA which which avoids the entrapment of fish, turtles or other native animals throughout the Gascoyne, Pilbara and Kimberley regions.”
“This would be a win-win scenario as recreational fishers can target a delicious species while directly reducing the ecological impacts of redclaw through these northern freshwater ecosystems.”
Recfishwest will continue to keep the recreational fishing community updated of any changes in regulations for redclaw crayfish fishing throughout our Gascoyne, Pilbara and Kimberley regions. If you catch redclaw, send pictures to DPIRD and make note of when and where you caught it, including GPS coordinates if possible.
Please dispatch all the redclaw you catch and do not return any to the water or move them around to other locations. If you catch redclaw, the FishWatch number to report them is 1800 815 507, or people can email email@example.com.
Growing up to 25 centimetres in length with a mottled blue-green colouration, they are tolerant of a wide variety of habitats, from fast flowing rivers to still billabongs. The females are also able to spawn up to 1,000 eggs multiple times per year, meaning the population can multiply rapidly and become self-sustaining.
They eat a wide variety of prey including small aquatic invertebrates, molluscs and aquatic plants. This diverse diet means native north-western aquatic animals such as fish and turtles are competing with redclaw for food.
As a result, it is recommended redclaw crayfish are not to be released if caught.
They are widely considered a freshwater delicacy with the texture and flavour of their flesh compared favourably with other marine crustaceans, with their sweet-flavoured meat containing low levels of fat, cholesterol, and salt.
Over the past two decades, redclaw crayfish have rapidly spread west from their natural habitat of north-east Queensland and the Northern Territory. They are now distributed throughout a number of sites in the Pilbara region, including the Karijini and Millstream National Parks, the Fortescue River, Newman and Lake Kununurra. They have also been detected in the Harding Dam near Karratha.
It is overseen by the Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group (LKBSG), Recfishwest, North Regional TAFE and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPRID).
“Lake Kununurra’s barramundi stocking program shows how true fish abundance not only promotes great fishing experiences, but also benefits regional WA communities,” Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said.
“Fish abundance ensures great fishing experiences can be enjoyed and stocking programs like this one can help create world-class fisheries in regional towns, such as Kununurra.
“Lake Kununurra is not only an asset to locals, but also attracts visitors to the East Kimberley who want to try their luck and chase a magic metre barra in a safe and accessible setting.”
All of the fish released as part of the program have been bred at North Regional TAFE’s aquaculture facility in Broome.
The TAFE’s aquaculture experts transport the fish across from Broome to Kununurra in special oxygenated transportation tanks.
I cast a paddletail plastic, with a weedless hook and flasher, at a rock bar along the banks of the Lower Ord, writes Recfishwest Communications Officer Zach Relph.
One crank of the reel, then let the paddletail slowly flutter down… and bingo! The rod bends, line peels and an East Kimberley barra is acrobatically leaping out of the water.
The fight is over relatively quickly and while it isn’t a trophy fish, it’s an important capture that’ll play a role in ensuring the ongoing stocking of barra into a fishing gem, where monster specimens are caught on a regular basis – Lake Kununurra.
Now local and visiting fishers are reaping the rewards with the chance to wet a line in a world-class sportfishery.
Brimming with barra, safe and accessible with no saltwater crocs, as well as being free of big tidal movements typical of Kimberley rivers, it’s easy to see why Lake Kununurra is a must-visit fishing location for anglers.
All million fish released into the lake have been hatched and reared at North Regional TAFE’s (NRT) Broome Aquaculture Centre, with its aquaculture experts influential in the program’s success.
The stocking program exists because barra are unable to successfully reproduce in the freshwater lake – they require saltwater to complete the breeding process.
WATCH: See the action from the broodstock collection
NRT oversee the well-managed stocking program along with Recfishwest, the Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.
That’s why straight after the latest release of juvenile barra into the lake on 18 July, attended by 150 locals and holidaymakers, the NRT team was already casting its eye to the future – catching more fish for breeding purposes – or broodstock, as they are called.
“We need to collect male barra for our maturation tanks at the Broome Aquaculture Centre so we can keep stocking fish into Lake Kununurra,” NRT’s Milton Williams explained.
“Barra are born as males, but transition into females at about 80cm. At the moment, we’re running out of males so we need to collect more while we’re here in Kununurra.”
This will ensure the fishing enjoyed on the lake by East Kimberley locals and travelling anglers will continue to go from strength-to-strength.
The stocking effort is dependent on maintaining the genetic background of the barra found near Kununurra to maintain the genetic purity.
“Some of the fish will want to eventually follow their natural breeding migration, meaning they’ll want to swim downstream to the saltwater to spawn,” Milton told Recfishwest.
“The fish that do this will make their way through the diversion dam and into the Lower Ord.”
Bagging the broodstock
With NRT on the search for more broodstock, Recfishwest joined Milton and TAFE acting regional manager Anthony Aris in pursuit of breedable barra late last month with the best method to catch them just happening to be rod and line!
Fishing with rod and reel – and barbless hooks to help minimise potential injury – is an effective broodstock collection method, reducing handling stress.
This ensures the fish are in optimal condition for transporting back to the Broome Aquaculture Centre.
Milton and Anthony, who both have long associations with this stocking program, were aiming to catch fish preferably 60cm or bigger – a more suitable size for captivity and breeding purposes.
Milton has been involved in the Lake Kununurra stocking program since its infancy and was part of initial broodstock collection a decade ago.
Having watched each of the fish stocked through the program grow from a hatchling, he has a close affinity with the barramundi in Lake Kununurra.
“From collecting broodstock 10 years ago to now playing a part in stocking one million barra is fantastic,” Milton said.
“As an avid fisherman, to see the program go full-cycle and visit Lake Kununurra myself to catch the fish and have guys regularly ring us to say they’ve caught 1m barra is very rewarding.”
A female barra in the wild can produce 30 million eggs across a spawning period.
However, barra eggs and larvae require saltwater for successful fertilisation and Lake Kununurra is freshwater, meaning the barra stocked cannot complete the breeding cycle in the 55km lake.
Multiple spawning events take place at the NRT hatchery throughout the year, with one female barramundi producing up to 10 million eggs in the hatchery.
After eggs are fertilised, the TAFE team separate the fertilised eggs from the non-fertilised eggs – the fertilised eggs float, whereas the non-fertilised sink, making it easy to differentiate.
“We separate the eggs and place the fertilised eggs into a hatching tank where they hatch,” Milton said.
“Once we feed the fish with zooplankton enriched with algae for a few weeks until they are big enough to eat artificial food.
“The time between hatching to releasing generally takes about 50 days and they’re measuring about 50mm by this stage.”
Fishing for the future
Outside of their day-to-day duties at Broome’s Aquaculture Centre, Milton and Anthony are hooked on the allure of chasing barra across the Kimberley’s vast array of rivers and creeks.
The two mad-keen recfishers hadn’t fished the Lower Ord in late July previously, but quickly homed in on a daily bite-time – roughly between 3pm and 5pm – at the areas in which we were fishing.
Downstream of Buttons Crossing – over Ivanhoe Crossing – proved fruitful during the broodstock collection, especially in the late afternoon.
Around this time the barra weren’t overly fussy or shy when a lure such as a Samaki Vibelicious 70mm, Daiwa Double Clutch 90mm or a Zerek Flat Shad were flicked in their proximity.
While I initially thought the Lower Ord barra would be more inclined to take natural-coloured lures resembling the bait fish they predate, the sportfish still engulfed bright orange, pink and green lures.
Frustratingly, some of the smaller sized barra – in the 25cm to 40cm bracket – would inquisitively follow a lure to the boat without taking a swipe.
However, when they did hook-up – every treble or single hook used had crushed barbs – you knew about it, especially because I was relatively under-gunned fishing with a 20lb outfit.
Even small barra prove why the species’ power is revered by many fishers.
Stocking up on magnificent fishing experiences
Following the collection efforts, Milton and Anthony returned to Broome with 13 barramundi which would become broodstock for the ongoing stocking program at Lake Kununurra.
The fish were safely driven back to Broome in two tanks – the same tanks which initially transported the latest batch of 50-day-old fingerlings from the Broome Aquaculture Centre to Kununurra.
With the State Government funding set to see 400,000 barra stocked into the lake annually for the next three years, the hatchery team is already readying fish for the next batch of stocking.
So, if you’re looking for a new fishing experience in a magnificent, be sure to visit Lake Kununurra.
Chasing a sportfish iconic to northern Australia at a location abundant with barra, while surrounded by the picturesque setting is a sight to behold and an experience to relish.
With this trailblazing program entering another exciting chapter, Recfishwest is excited to see future catches of magnificent trophy barramundi from Lake Kununurra for many more years to come.
As many East Kimberley fishers know, there’s nothing quite like battling a metre-plus barramundi in Lake Kununurra – one of WA’s premier fishing destinations.
That’s why Recfishwest is on the lookout for a part-time Project Officer, based in Kununurra, to help show WA and beyond while Lake Kununurra is rapidly establishing itself as a world-class impoundment fishery.
The role will also involve assisting stocking and community events supporting the fishery.
The new Project Officer is set to start by early March.
Responsibilities will include, but are not limited to:
Coordinating fishing info and photo content creation, including managing contractors and liaison with Recfishwest’s Communications team to support promotion of the fishery;
Coordinating community involvement in local fish stocking events;
Liaising with the Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group to organise citizen-science fish monitoring activities and reporting; and,
Supporting the development of new promotion initiatives.
If you’re a Kununurra local, have first-hand experience fishing Lake Kununurra and simply love fishing the East Kimberley – Recfishwest wants to hear from you for the one-day per week role.
“The Project Officer role will help us promote Lake Kununurra’s evolving barramundi fishery as a must-visit trophy-fish destination for travelling anglers,” Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said.
“We’re looking for a passionate fisher who can support local stewardship of barramundi as a truly iconic sportfish, while promoting Lake Kununurra’s successful barramundi stocking program.
“With close to one million barramundi stocked in Lake Kununurra over the past eight years, the Project Officer will demonstrate the barramundi stocking program’s value to the broader WA community and beyond.”
If you’re keen to promote Lake Kununurra’s amazing sportfishing and the benefits of the ongoing barramundi stocking program, apply now!
Please send a resumé and cover letter outlining your passion to help promote Lake Kununurra’s iconic barramundi fishery and your skills to deliver the position’s responsibilities to firstname.lastname@example.org.