Barra fishing with Merv HughesJames Dainton
Twice a year I make the drive from Shepparton Victoria up to Cairns to do a sales run to our Queensland barra store. I’ve always got plenty of fishing tied in with the trip, this time I had organized a couple of days fishing with Merv Hughes and Lindsay Dobe on Peter Faust dam.
I’ve known Merv for a few years I first met him at the Melbourne 4×4 and Fishing Show when his son noticed a flashing lure I had on display in a tank of water. His son said ‘Dad, dad come over and have a look at this’. Merv came over and had a good look at the lures, he picked out 2 to buy, however Merv and his son couldn’t agree on which colours to get. Merv picked out the colours he wanted and purchased those. His son looked really disappointed, I gave his son the colour that he wanted free of charge. I ended up touching base with Merv a few months later when I moved to Melbourne and we ended up catching up regularly after that.
Anyway on the Sunday afternoon I picked up Merv from the airport we went and did some shopping and arrived to a caravan park around Proserpine, where we would be fishing with local guide Lindsay Dobe on Peter Faust Dam for a day and a half.
We arrived to the dam the next morning at 5am to jump on board for the day. The plan was to fish up the river for the morning and then make our way out onto a school of big fish Lindsay had sounded up the previous week. Upon arriving up the river there were already multiple boats up in the spot so Lindsay had to resort to plan B. I hooked onto a big barra on the main Balista barra lure called the Firestorm 120 Shallow, after fighting the fish out of structure it ended up jumping me off. I wasn’t too worried about it as it was the start of the day and we still had plenty of time left. As luck would have it the fishing was really tough, Lindsay wasn’t able to locate that school of fish that we could have easily caught a few fish off with lipless crankbaits. We had a 3 hour break during the day as Lindsay had a few jobs to do and big Merv wasn’t complaining about having a rest for a couple of hours. We got back to the cabin and Merv the snore machine was firing on all cylinders after less than a minute of hitting the pillow. We were back out on the water late afternoon to give it a crack on the surface. After an hour or so Merv decided to sit off the edge of the boat with his feet in the water to work his surface popper. I could see he was in robot mode, still fishing well but going through the motions. A massive barra smashed his S-pop within a metre of where his feet were in the water, he jumped and squealed like a girl when this fish belted him. Unfortunately the fish didn’t connect, it left the rest of us rolling around laughing with how much it scared him. He decided to stand up and fish properly after that little episode. Shortly after he got boofed again, and again didn’t get a hook up on that one, surface fishing for barra can be so hit and miss, I was hoping that the big fella would be able to have some luck and get onto a fish as well still had an hour or so that evening and all the next morning. Just as got it dark we cracked out a colour I’ve designed specifically for night fishing called ‘After Dark’. At night our standard LED can be very bright, quite often it is too bright for night time. The standard LED works brilliantly in dirty water, overcast conditions and dawn/dusk right up to the point of darkness, once its fully dark its time to switch over to the reduced LED of the After Dark. Hald an hour after dark Merv was beginning to tire he said to Lindsay ‘Linds have you got any cans of coke’, Lindsay obliged and pulled one out, Merv took the can of coke and sat down whilst Lindsay took Mervs rod to have a flick around whilst big fella had a quick rest. First cast and boof,! Of course Lindsay’s fish hooked up and it was on for young and old trying to fight the fish away from the weed bed and structure, we got the fish into the boat to finally get the monkey off the back. Merv was spewing as he had been busting his gut all day (and it’s a fairly sizeable gut at that) without landing a fish and he sits down for a few seconds only for Lindsay to land one straight away. We got a picture with Merv holding Lindsay’s barra which Merv liked to holding another man’s old fella at a urinal! Shortly after we called it a day, the conditions were looking better for the following day.
The next morning we were fairly buggered but we were at the boat ramp again at 5am. We went straight back to where we had surface action the previous evening. Lindsay was fishing with us this morning to get another line in the water and enhance our chances of getting a couple of fish for the camera. It didn’t take long and right on the edge of a weed bed Lindsay’s S-pop got hammered but the fish didn’t hook up, quick thinking by Lindsay noticed the fish rolled back in the direction of the lure so he put the rod tip down and ripped the lure with the hope that it would bury into the fish somewhere. You wouldn’t believe it but he managed to bury a treble in the top of his head and he was on, after surface popping with Lindsay last time I was up 6 months prior I changed the production hooks on the S-pop to a super sharp 3X treble, I think that super sharp treble was the difference between pinning the fish and missing it. It was a nervous fight as the fish was hanging on by just a whisker. We got him in the boat and that was a good start to the morning.
Shortly after my popper got belted, I thought bugger I missed it so I left the lure in the strike zone with the idea the fish might have another go at it. I quickly realized my popper was gone and the fish had in fact inhaled that lure but was swimming right at the boat. I reeled up the slack and thankfully had a good connection on the fish, and it was big fish too. I got him to the boat and Merv with some handy net work got the fish into the boat. After a couple of happy snaps we had the fish back in the water and it was now Mervs turn to land a big fish. After the surface bite died down we went back to casting the trees where I had lost a fish the morning before. Merv finally hooked onto a massive Barra, I was about to write you wouldn’t read about it but that would be a lie as you are about to read about it, Merv had done most of the hard work keeping the fish out of the trees, as this massive Barra jumped out of the water it hit a tree whilst fully out of the water and bounced back into the water. When the fish bounced off that tree and back into the water it dislodged the lure and got off, we were all so disappointed for Merv. It had been a hectic few seconds the fish seemed so well hooked I do wonder if it hadn’t hit that tree if we would have landed him, it was a nice fish too around 110cm. We didn’t land any more fish for the morning and unfortunately Merv didn’t get to land a big barra this time, it certainly wasn’t from a lack of effort, he fished bloody hard and bloody well but it wasn’t his trip. He had more action than any of us but just wasn’t able to land one. Between Merv, Lindsay, Jac the cameraman and myself there was plenty of banter, it had been a bloody hoot of a couple days fishing. A few beers in Mackay that night and I dropped Merv off at the airport the following morning for him to fly back to Melbourne, I would now get back into my sales on the way back down the east coast.