The vibe in the group was starting to wane. Under a fading sun and with the faint waft of a nearby fire quietly passing, the past 48 hours on the water had resulted in little more than a solitary ego-saving barra.
The mercury had just dipped below 30 degrees and we were painstakingly working a shallow weedy area of Peter Faust Dam in North Queensland. Known as a big barra mecca, Faust was deserving of anything but a moniker of such grandeur.
After rattling off a few expletives, fishing mate Harry ‘Hank’ Watson, from Jackall Australia, dived into his seemingly bottomless box of shiny lures. You would think a bloke who imports a certain lure brand would carry bloodstock only from his own breed, but not Hank.
Like a young fisherman’s wet dream, he has a smorgasbord of imported and local lures in an array of different models, shapes, sizes, colours, scents and brands. He subscribes to the theory of using the best lure for the situation rather than forcing a bite on his own brand.
In this instance, though, he snipped off his now-rare and collectable wooden Richo diver, from legendary lure-maker Ken Richardson, and clipped on a Jackall Doozer lipless crankbait.
I stuck strong with my paddle tail soft plastic as the Minn Kota kicked and purred into action as we circled the tip of the shallow weed point. Adding to our frustration was the fact we knew there were fish there, with the sounder routinely lighting up like it was New Year’s Eve.
Cast, sink, retrieve and repeat. Cast, sink, retrieve and repeat. As I was monotonously falling back into my casting pattern, Hank was at the front of the boat ripping and zipping his lipless crankbait like his life depended on it.
Slightly bemused, I managed a wry smile as some slightly over-zealous rod ripping nearly saw his prized G.Loomis NRX and Shimano Chronarch ci4+ combo end up in the drink. After some warranted ribbing he took stock and continued about his business.
Crack! On, I’m on.
I quickly swivelled my neck to the front deck as a metre of chrome came surging out of the water and gave its best Michael Flatley impersonation as it tail-danced on the water’s surface.
The fish’s efforts would have earned it a part in Riverdance, but I managed to take my eyes off the performance and dive for the net. Fumbling to click the handle into place, I swiftly joined Hank on the deck as he was doing his own impromptu dance routine to keep the fish from jumping.
As the bruising bullet of chrome was nearing the net we both noticed the lure was well and truly down its gob. This meant if the fight went on for much longer its raspy teeth could eventually wear through the FC Rock 60lb leader.
With no more motivation needed I impulsively scooped under its hulking frame and came up triumphant, with what would eventually stretch the tape to 123cm.
Under a tirade of gloating I let Hank unpin the beast himself as I searched through his treasure trove of lures for my own barra vibe.
When you think of barramundi lures you generally think of diving hard-bodies such as the Gold Bomber or a soft plastic such as a 130mm Squidgy Slick Rig. These two lure types have arguably accounted for more trophy barra than all other types combined.
Whether it’s the tight shimmy and flicker of a slender gold hard-body as it’s trolled 40m behind the boat, or the long probing cast of a soft plastic as it massages the outer perimeter of a shallow weed bed, this potent pair are as effective for the tournament angler as they are for ole Merv and Dave looking to hit the water for the first time.
However, there are myriad other lure types quietly challenging these two staples, and none more so than the hard vibe, or lipless crankbait – a natural fish-shaped lure with internal weights or rattles to make it sink.
To the uninitiated, these lures can look half-finished, as they have neither a blade nor bib to make them swim. Instead, they use their pointed or shovel nose to cruise the water at a 45-degree tilt with a tight shimmy and vibe.
To make them swim, they come with a tow point on the front top of their head, which means – unlike diving hard-bodies – they can be worked ultra-slow and at warp speeds without distorting the fish-pulling action. As an additional calling card to barra, most brands will come with either internal rattles or as a silent, more stealthy option.
While some hard-nosed anglers will argue that rattles simply won’t work on barra, you only have to pull up the highly decorated resume of the rattling Classic 120 Barra to debunk that theory. Yes, barra have a soft spot for silent, almost finesse presentations, but in certain scenarios, like a shut-down bite, a rattle can be just the tonic to get a barra to bite.
Feeling the vibe
While I am confident lipless cranbaits are a fantastic lure to turn to on a shut-down bite, that shouldn’t be the only catalyst to thrust them into the spotlight. I am a big fan of running a spread of lures, depending on conditions, at the start of every session.
Using history as a guide you will always have a sure-fire shortlist of lures to start every trip. For instance, I would never start a Murray cod mission without a spinnerbait on one rod or a flathead session without a soft plastic grub on my 8lb leader.
For the rest of our trip, after our encounter with the 120cm+ fridge with fins, we incorporated a hard vibe into the starting spread for each session. With no exaggeration needed, the hard vibe boated the first fish on four of the five remaining sessions – upstaged only once, by the omnipresent Drop Bear-coloured 130mm Squidgy Slick Rig.
What this chance encounter had done, for me anyway, was shine a bright light on the pulling power of these slender shad-like lipless lures on Australia’s premier trophy sport fish.
Location, location, location
The beauty of hard vibes are their ability to be seamlessly fished in all the popular impoundment barramundi haunts. They really are a tremendous one-size-fits-all lure that can be fished straight out of the packet in almost every situation.
As they are a sinking presentation it’s up to the angler’s aptitude to monitor their sink rate and fish them in either shallow or deep terrain. If you want to run them over weed beds or contour a shallow weedy point, simply start your retrieve as soon as the lure hits the water and work them, like a plastic, just above the weedy tentacles.
We also found them extremely deadly when using the ‘burn and kill’ retrieve technique through the sporadic weed reefs that litter the front of most impoundment weed edges. The buzzing vibe, as it pulsates to life during the burn phase, can stir barra into inquisitive frenzy, before they aggressively slurp in the flailing lure as the angler ‘kills’ the retrieve.
Contrary to popular belief, they are a great lure to weave through the strands of standing timber that clutter most northern barra dams. As they don’t have a timber-deflecting bib or a weedless hook recessed into their back, many punters think they are God’s gift to a snag.
While I won’t say they are snag-proof, if you keep the retrieve at a constant cadence you will be able to nurse them over most underwater timber encountered. As they swim on a 45-degree tilt, the front of the lure will act as the bib and ensure they creep over snags without the hooks digging in.
However, if you immediately stop the lure at the touch of timber it will inevitably fall on its side, exposing its hooks and presenting a better chance of snagging that underwater obstacle.
As barra are energetic and aerobic fighters they have a tendency to throw lures mid-fight. To help combat this on a lipless crankbait I like to add a secondary split ring, such as an Owner Hyper Wire, to the front tow point.
This allows the lure to twist more freely in a big barra’s mouth and doesn’t let it get the leverage it would if it twisted and craned its neck with only one split ring. A wily barra can put unmitigated stress on the coiling of a split ring against a tow point, but will be greeted with far less leverage if there is another connection, or swivel point, added to the equation.
That’s why a lot of big Japanese baits, such as the Jackall Gigantarel, have twisting front tow points, so the fish has less leverage to yank out the main hook or pull your terminal tackle to pieces.
Barramundi are as iconic up north as the monster Murray cod is down south, sharing bragging rights for which should be crowned king of our freshwater fishing scene.
Like cod, there are countless lures to fool a barra into biting, but one such type, the lipless crankbait, is fast accelerating up the preference list. So next time you plan a trip up north to tangle with a monster barra make sure you rummage through your bass, cod and yellowbelly boxes and take a few lipless crankbaits – you won’t be disappointed.
TOP TIP I
Barra Hard Vibes
Ranging from 60mm to 180mm, with both rattling and silent options, there are a number of seasoned and emerging hard vibes on the Aussie market ready to get into a scrap with a mega ’mundi. From a colour standpoint all the traditional barra colours, such as gold, silver and white, work well.
Some of the popular brands, makes and models to get any angler started include:
• Jackall Doozer
• Jackall TN70 Silent
• Team Daiwa Vibration Woofer
• Berkley Frenzy
• H20 Tackle Barbarian
• Megabass Vibration-X
• Cotton Cordell Rattle Trap
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Hard vibe retrieve tips
I admit there is no rocket science behind these three vibe retrieve techniques. In fact, you will find each of them being employed in almost every bass and yellowbelly dam right across eastern Australia.
However, it would be remiss of me not to spell them out, as they are the foundation for most retrieves and by far the three most potent ways of fooling a monster barra on a hard vibe. Using these three as a guide, gun Queensland tournament anglers will then toy and tinker with pause length, burn speed and casting location to add their own signature to each style.
This technique is your bread and butter for any lipless lure. After casting as close to structure as your ability will allow, simply let the lure waft to the bottom before commencing a slow, walking pace, crank of the reel.
Always watch your lure as it comes into view for a trailing barra, as they can materialise from nowhere and detonate on your lure. Keeping calm and stopping your retrieve before the lure breaks the surface can turn a looker into a taker.
Hop and drop
Again, after a probing cast let the vibe reach the dam floor before subtly raising the rod tip and ‘hopping’ the lure off the bottom, before winding up the slack and letting the lure ‘drop’.
Being too consistent with your hopping and dropping can take away from the natural presentation of the lure. Don’t be too predictable with your hopping style; rather, mix up a batch of long, medium and short hops.
Burn and kill
After piffing yet another long cast and letting your vibe sink, this time don’t let it hit the bottom. Rather, give your reel a couple of violent cranks of the handle – the ‘burn’ phase.
Once you stop the burn phase monitor and catch any slack line as your lure is ‘killed’ and wafts back to the bottom. After you’ve caught all your slack line repeat the burn phase, which will see your vibe furiously rip and vibrate back up the water column.
A good tip is to subtly vary your ‘burn’ speed and amount of cranks throughout a session. On some days the barra prefer to really hunt down a fast-moving bullet ‘burn’, while at other times a casual, almost pedestrian roll is more successful.
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If you are looking to get the most out of your hard vibes it’s a good idea to connect your leader via a loop knot. By attaching your lipless lure with a loop knot it allows the lure to slide and ‘swim’ around the loop.
This added freedom ensures your lure is imparting its maximum swimming action in the water. When you are dealing in subtle underwater flutters and flaps, these small additions to a lure’s action can make all the difference.
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Take me to your leader
As hard vibes are generally on the ‘swallowable’ side of the lure scale, it always pays to up the ante of your leader. Ever since that first metre-beating beast swallowed the Jackall Doozer down to its intestine and rasped its way through three-quarters of the 60lb leader, I have opted for 80lb test.
The leader material of choice we have been running is the ultra-strong FC Rock. Unlike its supple mono brethren, the fluorocarbon in the FC Rock is bullet-proof and a great adversary for the grinding teeth of a big barra.