December 1 spells the start of Murray cod madness for another season – how I love chasing cod.
Sitting in the back of my mate Sandy Hectors canoe, casting lures into the snags, listening to the birds singing in the trees, my eyes scanning the river banks for wildlife, my mind could be anywhere and usually is.
Then totally out of nowhere “ON ON ON” are Sandy’s cries from the front of the canoe as a large green river dwelling log-hog smashes his lure from the depths of the river with enough speed and aggression to almost dislocate his shoulder.
This is what cod fishing is all about for many people, the excitement of the strike, the anticipation that is felt with every cast, and the complete uncertainty that each bend in the river brings.
After the disasters of last year, many of cod anglers are even more excited than normal about the 2011/2012 season.
Unfortunately many areas along the lower Murray River have been gutted by black water events that poisoned thousands of Murray cod. Hopefully these areas will not take too many years to recover.
Not all of the fish died in the black water, many were able to swim upstream to areas where the water was more oxygenated.
Hopefully many of these fish will have spawned this spring, and will make their way back down to the lower reaches of the Murray River below Echuca.
For the areas not affected by black water last summer, I am expecting this season to be outstanding. With limited angling pressure last season, an influx of water in many areas that have not seen water for over a decade, abundant food supplies and excellent spawning opportunities the future on Murray cod fishing is not only looking good for this season, but also for the coming seasons.
There will be a lot of displaced fish this season due to the floods last summer removing a lot of fish habitat.
Holes and logs that use to be known hotspots may no longer be present, and holes that you have fished for years without catching a fish may very well have good numbers of fish in them as displaced fish swim around looking for new places to reside.
Like most native fish, Murray cod are an ambush predator, meaning that instead of cruising the water column searching for food they prefer to sit under a log or amongst some structure and lay and wait to ambush small fish or crustacean to swim past.
The cod then rapidly darts out from its log to grab it’s prey, quickly turns around and moves back to its ambush spot. It is this rapid movement that produces the powerful strikes that cod are known for.
As night falls, once again like so many native Australian fish the cod will start to move further away from it’s ambush point and cruise around in search of food under the cover of darkness.
Quite often cod will hide amongst snags just under the surface, waiting for a small animal like a mouse, or baby bird to enter the water. Murray cod are well known for eating small animals and birds, including ducklings off the surface, and will also eat frogs.
Murray cod are a high level predator and will eat pretty much anything that it can fit in its mouth.
As Murray cod like to ambush prey, anything they can hide behind is an obvious hotspot. Whether it’s a bridge pylon, rocks, logs whatever, any structure is good structure.
Old logs that lay in the water are a favourite of mine, especially the ones that enter the river on such an angle to provide a gap under the log and room for the fish to hide.
Depth is another excellent thing to look for when chasing cod. I find cod will sit anywhere in the water column, however most of the bigger Murray cod I have caught have come from deeper sections of the rivers.
That’s not to say you don’t get them in the shallow water, because you do and Lake Mulwala is a prime example of that. But from my personal experience, in the rivers the deeper water has produced better results with regards to bigger fish.
I couldn’t write an article about Murray cod without mentioning Australia’s premiere Murray cod fishery, Lake Mulwala.
To me Lake Mulwala is proof of just how much fishing pressure our inland waterways can tolerate. There are many competitions on Lake Mulwala each year, including the Cod Classic that attracts thousands of anglers each December, and despite all the pressure, the lake still produces good catches of top quality Murray cod, year after year.
One morning last April my best mate Sandy Hector took his boat down and landed 14 Murray cod before lunchtime, 2 of which were over 70cm.
For those not familiar with Lake Mulwala, it was built not as a water storage, but to raise the water level in order for the irrigation channels to be gravity fed: it isn’t a deep lake.
It has vast areas of shallow water ranging from 30cm-4m and loaded with standing dead timber, and it also has very deep water in the submerged river course and many submerged small creeks and lagoons.
For an increased chance of catching a bigger Murray cod, I like to troll the old river course, or deeper creek and lagoon beds.
For an increased chance of just catching a Murray cod of any kind, I head out to the timbered area and troll, or cast a medium sized lure around the 2-4m depth. There are literally millions of Murray cod in Lake Mulwala.
Without a doubt the most popular bait for Murray cod is the bardi grub. A large hook of similar size to the bardi grub and a sinker heavy enough to keep the bait still in the current and away you go.
I prefer a paternoster rig to keep my bardi off the bottom, but some people like a running sinker rig.
Thread the bardi grub on the hook, starting near its tail end and coming out through it’s head, then drop it down hard up against a large submerged log, put your seatbelt on, grab the rod with both hands and hold on!!
Other good baits are yabbies, freshwater shrimp and scrubworms.
There are so many different types of lures around these days, and to the untrained eye it could be very daunting. Here are some of my favourites.
Knowing how aggressive the Murray cod can be, I love trolling the massive hardbodied lures, and using the intimidation factor to entice a cod into a strike. For this reason I love the very large 150mm JD superbugs. These lures are enormous, sway widely, and in the words of my best mate Sandy “They certainly have a lot of presence about them”. These large lures could intimidate even the most placid Murray cod into a strike.
The popular number 1 Stumpjumper is another great trolling lure for Murray cod. They’re a great all rounder, easily obtainable and a proven cod catcher.
My hands down favourite is the smaller 85mm JD Superbug. I absolutely love these lures. They have a heavy tail end and cast brilliantly, and also crash dive very well. When casting hard body lures for Murray cod you really want a lure that will dive steeply. The 85mm JD superbug is also excellent for this.
As with trolling, the number 1 Stumpjumper also makes a very good large casting lure, so to do some of the medium sized lures from the Oar-Gee range.
Surface popping for Murray cod is an increasingly popular and exciting technique as more and more anglers realize just how amazing the adrenalin rush is when a Murray cod smashes your lure off the surface.
My favourite surface popper by far is the Koolabung Codwalker. Back in April we had a mouse plague up here in north east Victoria, and many people realized just how much fun surface popping for Murray cod really is.
I don’t use spinnerbaits anywhere near as often as most Murray cod anglers. It’s just a personal choice. I prefer using hardbodied lures. There are times however where I will use a spinnerbait. Usually when I take my kayak down to the local river for a few hours, and I want to cover a small area of water, and hammer it heavily is when I am more inclined to tie on a spinnerbait.
I often use the Native Lures spinnerbaits which are made here in Wangaratta, and have had plenty of luck with the Mudguts and Bassman spinnerbaits as well which are readily available.
The beauty of spinnerbaits is that you can fish them vertically. As long as you keep in touch with your spinnerbait as it is sinking, you will hook many Murray cod as they strike it on the way down.
Chatterbaits are an American lure, however there have been a few lure companies here in Australia that have released similarly designed lures.
The Bassman Mumbler is probably the most well known, and for good reason too because they are a great lure.
Once again I have a preference for the JD Shakin shads, which make a bit of a knocking sound as they are retrieved as the metal bib knocks against the head of the lure.
I love fishing with these chatterbait style lures because they give me the best of both worlds. They sink right down beside the structure, putting the lure in the hot spot straight away, and on top of this they have a bulky body just like a hardbodied lure.
Every cod angler needs at least one chatterbait style lure in their tackle box. I have a lot of success with these whilst fishing Lake Mulwala from my kayak.
With the amazing number of Murray cod that have been stocked in recent years, just about every river or lake that should have cod in it does have cod in it.
Chasing cod is a great aspect of our sport – have fun rising to the challenge of our premier inland native sportsfish.
Victoria now has a slot size limit on Murray cod. A slot limit is a size limit with a minimum and a maximum size. In Victoria, the slot limit for Murray cod is between 60-100cm.
The minimum legal size of 60cm is fantastic. It use to be 50cm because on average a Murray cod needs to be around 50cm before it reaches sexual maturity and can breed, so by raising the size limit to 60cm all fish are assured of at least one or two breeding seasons.
The maximum size limit of 100cm is another fantastic idea and I will tell you why. Have you ever noticed that a tall mum and a tall dad almost always have tall kids? There is a reason for this and that reason is in their genetic make up. Murray cod are no different.
Not all cod have the genetics to grow to 100cm and if those cod breed, there is a chance that there offspring may inherit that gene.
If a fish has made it to 100cm, then it has proven to have good genetics, and that is why it is very important that it is released, to keep those big fish breeding.