Kayaking upland Murray cod
  |  First Published: April 2012

You’ve no doubt heard the term ‘upland’ Murray cod, but what does it mean? Well to me it means Murray cod that are living in the headwaters of rivers, where the water is fast and clear, and cooler than in the lower sections of the rivers.


There are plenty of areas to target upland Murray cod here in north east Victoria such as the Murray River upstream of Lake Hume, Cudgewa Creek, The Mitta Mitta River upstream of Lake Hume, the Kiewa River, Ovens River upstream of Wangaratta, Buffalo River upstream of Myrtleford and the King River upstream of Moyhu.

These areas all offer clear, fast flowing water with deep holes, abundant snags and some nice upland Murray cod that are usually quite darkly coloured due to the very clear water.

What type of kayaks?

We have found the best types of kayaks for this type of environment are the sit on top type kayaks. These areas are often very much like trout streams; in fact some of them are trout streams during the spring and autumn when the water is cooler. There are often large areas of shallow water, often too shallow for the kayak to float in.

It is for this reason that sit on top kayaks are suited best for upland kayak fishing. Sometimes you may need to climb in and out 40-50 times in a single trip, which can be quite taxing if you need to climb right down into the hull of a sit in kayak. Sit on top kayaks are much easier to get on and off easier, and when you are doing it so often you really appreciate that.

Sometimes you need to get on, or in the kayak just to float 4-5m past a deep hole before you continue walking downstream. Each time you climb out of your kayak and stand in the water, as you get back in you drag a bit of water in with your wet shoes, or pants. Before you know it you have a lot of water accumulated in the bottom of your kayak. Sit on top style kayaks have drain holes, known as scuppers where this excess water can drain away, whereas sit in type kayaks don’t and after a while everything starts to get wet.

So if you are about to purchase a kayak for this type of fishing, I highly recommend a sit on top style. In saying that though, if you have a sit in type kayak, or want to buy a sit in type kayak they will certainly do the job. The fitter you are the easier it will be, but you need to be prepared for a lot of hard work climbing in and out all the time.

Fishing techniques

As the water is often very clear, and sometimes very fast, you need to do things a bit differently than what you would normally do in the lower reaches of rivers, such as the lower Ovens or the Murray river downstream from Albury.

Low light periods of the day, often referred to in cod fishing as ‘the magic hour’ are easily the best times of day to catch clear water, upland Murray cod. Murray cod do not like to be seen, they do not like to venture too far from their snag. Even in murky water they don’t venture too far from snags or rocks until nightfall, so in crystal clear water they are even more reluctant. During the low light times of the day, early morning and late evening the cod will move around more freely in search of food and will be much more likely to hit your lure.

During the day, casting accuracy is critical. You really need to make sure your casts are getting as close to the bank, and the snags as possible. Many of these waterways have holes that are very shallow for 2/3 of the river width and drop away to a deep dark corner near the outside bank.

It is important to land your lure as close as possible to that opposite bank where the cod are most likely to be sitting. If you land you lure even 30-40cm from the fish it will most likely refuse to move out and strike it during the day, so very tight casting with pinpoint accuracy is very important and something that I just cannot emphasize enough.

Unlike trout fishing, where you walk upstream all day, when kayaking upland waterways for Murray cod the best thing to do is drift downstream. We like to take two cars so that we can leave one at one spot and then drift down to the car at the other spot. So we set out expecting to both wade and float our way downstream from point A to point B.

So walking/floating downstream, starting in the dark hours of the morning and casting with precision accuracy should see you heading in the right direction to catch some upland Murray cod.


As with all cod fishing, lure choice is dominated by either hardbodied lures or spinnerbaits. In these clear upland streams, don’t hesitate to use a surface popper or buzz bait in the very low light times of the day.

When it is still dark in the morning and you can’t see where you are casting properly, tie on a surface popper and begin making small casts. As the light increases to around 30-40% make your cast longer and more well placed. By the time the light is up to around 80-90% you’re better off taking the popper off and swapping to a subsurface lure such as a spinnerbait or hardbodied lure.

I wouldn’t recommend using surface lures during the day in such clear water. You may pick up a fish if you are lucky, but your chances will be greatly increased by fishing down deep tight up against the snags or rocks.

Once the sun is up you need to choose a spinnerbait or a hardbodied lure. I love using hardbodied lures, but in these really clear waterways I usually only tie them on where the water is really deep and dark and I cannot see the bottom, or have a nice long bank to run my lure along.

In these often smaller waterways many of the snag piles, and deeper little holes are quite small, and can be worked better with a spinnerbait, or even a lipless crank bait which can both be allowed to sink to the bottom right where you want the lure.

I often tie on a spinnerbait, then walk or float downstream casting to the smaller deep areas and snag piles and when I reach a lovely long deep hole I will tie on a hardbodied lure and work the hole with that as I drift though. Often I will use both. I will firstly drift through the hole casting a hardbodied lure and then drift through again casting a spinnerbait or vice versa to make sure the hole gets a good working over.

Lure colour is always a contentious issue in any waterway. I believe that natural colours work best in clear water and bright colours work best in cloudy water. This is not always true, however I find it is a very good starting point.


Always kayak within your means. This applies no matter where you are fishing; in a lake or a small river. Never take risks, especially in remote areas where help is not easily available. If you are not sure if you can handle a set of rapids, find another way around. When you are fatigued you are more likely to take risks and attempt to float down rapids that you wouldn’t usually float down. Try and avoid this temptation or your great day could quickly turn into disaster. Try and avoid becoming fatigued by taking breaks and packing enough food and drink.

Take a rope with you, even if it is only 3m long. This rope can be tied to the back carry handle of your kayak allowing you to let the kayak float downstream while you walk behind it. Your kayak will sit a lot lower in the water without you in it, (especially if you are a big fella like me) so when it gets too shallow you can climb out, or off your kayak, grab your rope and allow the kayak to float down through the shallow water.

Also, make sure you take ropes to tie the kayaks onto the roof of the waiting car. We have made this mistake in the past. We untied the canoe of the roof of my car, threw the ropes in the car and then floated downstream for a day only to realize we didn’t have any ropes to tie the canoe onto the roof of my mate Sandy’s car when we were finished.

Waterproof containers are an absolute necessity. Most kayaks have waterproof hatches and compartments. I never rely anything being completely waterproof. Even though my hatches have not let any water in, I still like to use a waterproof container as a backup.

I put my digital SLR camera into a waterproof back, then fold the top over and do up the clip to seal it, and then sit it in a Plano waterproof container. I recently killed a $2000 Digital SLR in a kayaking capsize incident, so everyone make sure you learn from my mistake!

Wear adequate footwear. Most of these upland waterways have either gravel or boulders which are nothing short of painful to walk on in bare feet. By wearing something decent on your feet you will enjoy your day much more. I just purchased a $16 pair of cheap runners specifically for this purpose and they are working perfectly.


Fishing for upland Murray cod is very exciting and rewarding, and great exercise. You will not enjoy it as much if you are not properly prepared though. Hopefully this will help you prepare for your next upland Murray cod fishing adventure.

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