Chasing the mighty marron with a freshwater fishing expert

For Recfishwest Operations Officer Sam Russell, the month-long marron fishing season is the best time of the year!

The self-confessed “marron madman” is one of the State’s 10,000 marron licence holders who loves chasing the iconic freshwater species endemic to our South West from noon on 8 January to ​noon on 5 February, inclusive, each year.

There’s still time to catch a feed of marron this season, so Sam has shared his helpful tips!

Recfishwest’s Sam Russell is a self-confessed “marron madman” and has an affinity for the iconic South West freshwater crustacean.

Recfishwest: What got you into marron fishing, Sam?

SR: I’m a Collie boy at heart, having grown up there, and marroning is definitely a popular pastime for a large part of the community. One of my first fishing experiences was catching marron in a neighbor’s dam when I was younger, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

RFW: What do you enjoy most about the South West’s freshwater marron fishery?

SR: For me, the scenery plays a big part in why I love it. Chasing marron in the South West’s pristine bushlands is an incredibly enjoyable fishing experience. The challenge of catching a marron with a snare also adds to the theatre. And, not to mention, that they taste pretty great as well!

RFW: What are your favorite spots to go for marron?

SR: I like to fish a wide variety of locations for marron. Most of the South West rivers and dams will hold marron, so it really does pay off to do a bit of exploring and try out different spots. If you’re new to marron fishing, dams are a really great place to start.

Locations like Harvey Dam, Waroona Dam and Logue Brook offer safe, accessible marron fishing opportunities for fishers of all skill levels.

In 2019, Premier Mark McGowan and Recfishwest launched a three-year stocking program in 2019 which will have seen 300,000 marron released into Peel and South West freshwater waterways by the end of this year, which is very exciting for the fishery!

RFW: For fishers new to marroning, what gear do they need?

SR: A snare, or a “bushman’s pole” depending on who you’re talking to, is the most enjoyable way to catch a feed of marron.

All you need is your snare, a quality head torch, a hessian bag to keep your catch in and some chook pellets.

Head to your target location, preferably at night because this is when marron are generally most active, and place a couple of handfuls of chook pellets close to the bank about 10m to 15m apart.

Wait half an hour and then check your baits for marron. If you see a marron on your bait, carefully loop the snare under the tail of the marron from behind, then pull up quickly when your snare reaches about where the carapace meets the tail. It is hard and does take some practice!

Try to only shine your torch as far ahead of you as you can reach with your snare. Also, remain as stealth as you can because marron are fast and will quickly slip back underneath the cloak of darkness if you’re not quiet.

You can also fish for marron with scoops and drop nets, although there are quite a few rules regarding where you can use each capture method as well as specified gear dimensions. I recommend heading to the Department of Industries and Regional Development’s fisheries website and familiarising yourself with the rules before heading out.

Attempting to snare a marron or two at places such as Harvey Dam is great fun.

RFW: How’d you like cooking your marron?

SR: I love to cook marron on the barbecue. Simply cut the marron in half from the head to the tail, wash away the guts in the head and place the marron shell side down on medium heat. Scoop some butter, garlic and salt into the empty head cavity then baste this over the tail while it cooks. Cook until the meat goes white and firm then enjoy!

RFW: What fishing advice do you have for people chasing marron for the first time this season?

SR: Just get out there, have a crack, catching marron really isn’t that hard and is a fantastic way to spend an evening with family and friends. There are countless rivers and impoundments in the South West and Peel regions that hold marron. If you do your research, are willing to learn and explore some different spots, you’ll have a feed of marron in no time.

Tim Grose, of Recfishwest, with a cracking South West marron!

Bagging ‘broodstock’ breeders to keep the barra flowing into Lake Kununurra

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.

Article author Zach Relph joined the North Regional TAFE crew to catch barra broodstock on the Lower Ord.

A lake brimming with barra

The ongoing Lake Kununurra barramundi stocking program has just seen the one millionth barra fingerling stocked into the waterway since the program started in 2013.

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.”

The State Government has committed funds to the program over the next three years through the COVID-19 recreational fishing recovery package.

This will ensure the fishing enjoyed on the lake by East Kimberley locals and travelling anglers will continue to go from strength-to-strength.

Anthony Aris, of North Regional TAFE, slowly retrieving a hardbody lure during the collection effort. Pictures: Zach Relph / Recfishwest

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.

This barra from the Lower Ord, caught by Milton Williams, will breed more barra for the Lake Kununurra barra stocking program.

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.”

Spawning success

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.

Anthony watchfully monitors the oxygen tank on the research vessel to ensure the barra caught were fighting fit.

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.

Full steam ahead! Anthony and Milton heading towards a rock bar on the Lower Ord which holds a lot of barra.

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

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland caught this 70cm barra on the Lower Ord during the broodstock collection.

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.

From little things, big things grow! This 105cm barra that Luke Kotys caught on Lake Kununurra shows the success of the stocking program.

The start of a stocking program that could take marron fishing to the next level

Great-tasting and awesome to catch — it’s safe to say marron are a South West icon and favourite species among many WA fishers.

That’s why Recfishwest was pleased to be involved in kicking-off an important stocking program at the weekend, which will see 300,000 marron released into South West freshwater waterways over the next three years.

Recfishwest joined Jordan Parker and Scott Bell from Solair Group to release 2,300 marron into Logue Brook Dam, near Harvey.

“That felt like a lot of marron, but it’s less than one per cent of what’s going to be stocked in the next three years,” Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said.

WATCH: How’s this fantastic footage from the weekend’s marron release!?

Backed by the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund (RFIF) and announced by Premier Mark McGowan, Dr Rowland said it was great to get the pointy end of this marron stocking project underway with the first of the one-year-old marron going in the water.

“These marron have been bred at Solair Group’s Capel-based hatchery and were nurtured through the vulnerable stages of their life to maximise post-release survival,” he said.

“So, when will you be able to catch these marron? They will be legal size by next marron season.”

Two of the 2,300 stocked marron getting acquainted with their new Logue Brook home.

Safeguarding against changing environment 

An important part of this three-year program will involve scientific monitoring to determine its effectiveness with the objective of future-proofing this fishery from environmental change.

Marron are endemic to WA’s South West and provide terrific fishing experiences for the 10,000 fishers who hold marron fishing licences.

However, Dr Rowland said declining annual rainfall and reduced stream flows are placing marron populations under pressure.

“South West dams such as Harvey, Glen Mervyn, Waroona and Logue Brook will play an increasingly important role in supporting good marron catches,” he said.

“While we can’t change the weather, we can support healthy population abundances through programs like this, in turn making fishing better.”

Making fishing better

Most importantly, Dr Rowland said the stocking program was designed to enhance the fishery and was exactly the sort of initiative Recfishwest want to see fishing licence money spent on.

“We want to ensure fishers will continue to be able to explore the South West and continue to catch marron for many, many more years to come,” he said.

“The weekend’s marron release was a great start and a major step towards Recfishwest’s vision of expanding the current month-long season towards year-round marron fishing.”

This marron stocking project will help protect marron stocks from environmental pressures.