East Kimberley fishing gems shone bright silver recently, with a record-breaking number of Apex Kununurra Barra Bash competitors experiencing ‘barradise’ first-hand.
Now in its 24th year, the 2022 Apex Kununurra Barra Bash, running from September 23-25, is the ultimate celebration of barra fishing in the Kimberley, all within the backdrop of postcard-esque scenery and safe, accessible fantastic fishing spots.
With just $50 entries for adults and juniors fishing for free, the potential returns of catching monster barra and taking home sensational prizes across the three-day competition saw more than 720 anglers across all ages try their luck in beautiful East Kimberley waterways, with 168 barra, 181 catfish and 70 sooty grunter landed in total.
“Seeing the attendance record get smashed clearly highlights that family-friendly fishing events such as the Apex Kununurra Barra Bash are part of the social fabric of regional communities like this,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland. “Well done to all involved in running the Kimberley’s premier freshwater fishing event once again.”
“Lake Kununurra is an increasingly important part of the competition. There’s a growing number of annual fishers heading to Kununurra to fish the lake without the worry of big tidal movements or saltwater crocodiles hindering their fishing experiences. The stocking program run in partnership with the Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group (LKBSG), North Regional TAFE and DPIRD has seen more than 1.3 million barra stocked into the lake since 2013. With metre-plus barra catches now a regular occurrence – Lake Kununurra has established itself as a world-class sport fishery.”
More than $50,000 worth of cash and prizes was on offer for the Bash, including $3,000 for the biggest barra caught and any competitor who landed a barra over 55cm going into the draw for a $12,000 three-night stay at the Kimberley Coastal Camp!
For all competitors who managed to land the highly respectable ‘metrey’ barra, they went home with a new Shimano Speed Master 12 fishing reel, along with two $500 gift voucher prizes sponsored by Recfishwest for the best snap taken on Lake Kununurra and a random draw prize for any one taking a photo on the lake and posting it on the LKBSG Facebook page.
Attendees didn’t even have to wet a line to be in the running for the biggest ‘lucky door’ prize, with an $18,000 tinnie up for grabs, made possible by a host of sponsors including Recfishwest.
This great prizing is made possible through our East Kimberley Barra Promotion project, supported by the State Government’s Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund (RFIF).
With the huge range of extravagant prizes on offer, fishers eagerly patrolled their favourite barra spots during the competition in search for the revered northern sportfish, which frequently cross the one-metre mark all along the 55km length of Lake Kununurra, located around 40km west of the Western Australian and Northern Territory border.
Lake Kununurra has since become a world-class hotspot for anglers chasing one-metre giants. According to a 2020 report conducted on the restocking program, the economic value of barramundi fishing to the region is already $7.6 million per year, showcasing its importance to the local community.
Next year’s competition will be the 25th edition, which is likely to be celebrated by putting an even bigger boat up for grabs for all attendees. Make sure you pay this beautiful region a visit!
It’s a fish journey that gives Finding Nemo a run for its money.
Rewind to 2013 in the East Kimberley Ord River in Kununurra, where 12 barramundi were caught, placed in a specially adapted trailer and transported over 1,000km north-east to North Regional TAFE’s Aquaculture Centre in Broome.
Over the past nine years, they grew from around 50cm in length to about one metre, changed from male to female and spawned almost a quarter of a million baby barra between them.
Last Friday, those original 12 barramundi made the 1,000 km ‘return-journey’ and were released into Lake Kununurra, where they will see out the rest of their years.
“It was so good seeing these animals go full circle and return to where they’re from,” said Milton Williams, North Regional TAFE Senior Aquaculture Technician, who has worked at the centre for the last 15 years and oversaw the release operation of these magical fish.
“Having seen them grow and do their bit spawning, it was so rewarding watching them swim off into their wild habitat.”
It is a testament to the stocking program run by the North Regional TAFE in Broome and the local Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group, which has seen more than one million barramundi released into its waterways since 2013.
Lake Kununurra has since become a world-class hotspot for anglers chasing one-metre giants in ‘barra-dise’. According to a 2020 report conducted on the restocking program, the economic value of barramundi fishing to the region is already $7.6 million per year.
To ensure the fish are healthy in the centre and contribute to the growing species abundance, their diet includes fresh “human-grade” seafood including mullet, whiting, prawns, squid and pilchards.
As barramundi are protandrous hermaphrodites, they also change sex from male to female once reaching five to six-years-of-age at around the 90cm mark.
Milton said the female fish have produced eggs consistently well over the last few years, whereas the males might have been suffering from a little ‘performance anxiety.’
“The females have spawned consistently well, it’s the males we have trouble with,” said Milton. “They don’t always fire and we rarely have them all in spawning condition at once – usually it’s about half of them. Between these fish they have successfully contributed 214,000 barra fingerlings that have been transported and released in the lake.”
For their 12–14-hour journey back to Lake Kununurra, the fish were purged so none of their waste impacted on the pH of the water, which can be lethal to the fish. The ratio of fish to water in the oxygenated transportation tanks was 80kg of fish to 800L of water.
Once at the lakeside, water was slowly pumped through the tank to allow the fish to acclimatise and “osmoregulate” from the saline water in which they were kept in at the hatchery and in the transportation tanks to the freshwater environment of the lake, as well as adapting to temperature changes.
A special fishery being delivered by a strong partnership
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland commented, “It’s great to see these fish being treated with the respect they deserve being released back into their natural habitat after contributing to this great program.
“Thanks to fish like this and the fantastic efforts of North Regional TAFE, the local Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group and the support of the State Government, the lake has flourished into a special fishery in a beautiful part of the world. Where else do you get the chance to catch metre-long barra in such a safe and accessible setting?”
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.