“Murray cod” are the words on everybody's lips as December approaches. Every day I drive across the Ovens River here in Wangaratta and it has been looking magnificent lately. I hope it stays that way heading December.
So what can we expect the fishing to be like in the Ovens and King river catchments for the rest of the year?
Sadly the trout fishing is going to be tough this summer. The trout season has been tough so far during spring, and it will only get tougher as the water warms up.
I blame the terrible heat we experienced last summer which, to me, is part of a natural cycle. Two years ago we saw amazing trout fishing, and it just happened to be the wettest summer for many years. Coincidence?
Unlikely. My friend Stephan Frazer once remarked that dry summers lend themselves to good native fishing, whereas wet summers contribute to improved trout fishing. I think he’s right on the money.
So this summer, if you’re targeting trout I suggest you head high into the hills in search of the coolest flowing streams you can find with good, reliable flows. Usually the far upper Ovens River would be the place I recommend, but after last year's bushfire I’m not confident in that waterway.
The far upper reaches of the King River above Pineapple Flat will be worth a try, as well as the small tributaries that run into it. So too will the far upper reaches of the Buckland and Buffalo Rivers.
As usual there is not a lot to report here in the Wangaratta area, as the authorities seem to think we don’t need yellowbelly in our neck of the woods.
There are a few yellowbelly in localised waterholes, but I will get knifed in the back if I reveal exactly which ones. The main Ovens and King rivers have only a very small population of yellowbelly, of which most are found in the far lower reaches of the Ovens River closer to Bundalong. Lake Buffalo also has a small population which are rarely caught in great numbers.
The Ovens River has a very healthy population of trout cod which we are not allowed to catch, so on that basis the authorities think it doesn’t need yellowbelly. While the trout cod are a welcome sight and have re-established themselves quite well, the lack of yellowbelly in the lower Ovens River is very sad and disappointing. It’s a blow to the hundreds, if not thousands of anglers in the Wangaratta area that pay full price for their fishing licences only to watch distant waterways reap the benefits.
December should see an overall increase in redfin activity as the water warms right up. Lake Buffalo and Lake William Hovell are the two main places to visit, with Lake William Hovell having the bigger redfin population.
Lake William Hovell has redfin, trout and, unfortunately, very large carp. I would try bobbing small soft plastics off the bottom in around 20ft of water to target the redfin. Most of the fish are small but there are some larger redfin in there, and a trout is a real possibility as a by-catch during December.
Lake Buffalo does not have as many redfin, however there are still quite a few there. A bigger fish over 30cm is a real possibility, too. I have not seen any monster redfin in Lake Buffalo for many years now.
December is all about Murray cod in this region. The Ovens and King rivers both have very healthy populations of Murray cod, however they are usually not big; the average size is well undersize. There are some bigger fish amongst them, but not in big numbers.
I did a hell of a lot of cod fishing in both rivers last season, and had an absolute ball. The number of 60cm-plus cod I caught I could count on one hand though, with the biggest being 68cm.
It is no secret that the bigger cod in the Ovens and King rivers are way downstream in the lower reaches of the Ovens River, closer to Bundalong. There are not as many cod in this area, but there are a small number of very large 100cm + Murray cod there for anglers willing to put in the hours. Still, the Ovens and King rivers are really more about sportfishing and enjoying the environment rather than catching trophy-sized fish.
This area is also quite heavily patrolled by Fisheries. Last year I stumbled across them in two different parts of the Ovens River on opening weekend, so don't be tempted to hit an undersized Murray cod on the head, because chances are you will get caught.
The best bait to catch cod in the Ovens River is the humble bardi grub. Bardi grubs seem to catch the bigger fish as well. Scrub worms or garden worms catch the most fish, however most of the cod caught on worms are quite small.
If you’re lure fishing, try using 1/2oz spinnerbaits, or medium to large hardbody lures like StumpJumpers. Surface lures are great fun in this area too, with the Koolabung Codwalker being my favourite.
Soft plastic surface fishing is rewarding as well. The Z-Man 4" Pop Frog is my favourite soft plastic surface lure. Casting it is a bit more difficult than casting a popper, because soft plastics are lighter than hardbodies. You also need to impart more action into the plastic than you would a popper. Still, I said earlier, the Ovens and King rivers are all about sportfishing when targeting Murray cod, so throw yourself a new challenge!Reads: 2016