In my early 20s my friends and I would pack my old Corolla to the brim and spend the day driving to various ‘big cod’ spots like Burrinjuck Dam in search of a 100cm trophy. While I cherish these memories, I never did get the big fish I was hoping for.
It wasn’t until the start of 2013 that I started to look in my own backyard for opportunities to catch a monster. What I found was a fishery very much on the rise and, by using some unorthodox techniques, truly the best cod fishing that I have ever experienced.
Canberra has a plethora of freshwater fishing options due to the 3 large lakes (Burley Griffin, Tuggeranong and Ginnindera) as well as three rivers (Cotter, Murrumbidgee and Molongolo) and in these lakes and rivers you can catch anything from Macquarie perch to rainbow trout and everything in between.
Targeting capital cod is very different from chasing cod in Burrinjuck or Mulwala. Over the past year I have become convinced that cod follow schools of yellowbelly and redfin, and more often than not can be picked up in open water. This was a revelation to me. I had never caught much of anything in open water at other locations around NSW, but after catching my first large cod in amongst a school of redfin holding in a patch of water without any structure, and catching many more in amongst other schools of fish, I now always start by finding a large school of roving fish.
Canberra is currently experiencing a huge influx of small to medium sized golden perch which are being taken in the local lakes. This is due to stocking programs by the Canberra Fisherman’s Club. These fish move in enormous schools and catching 30-40 fish is a real possibility if they are in the mood. Likewise, the ACT has an abundance of medium to large Redfin which eat anything in sight from late August through to late May. Following these fish are the cod.
Locating a school of feeding fish is the hard part. Walk along a stretch of lake or river while casting a scrub worm and slowly retrieving. I always cut off the bottom of the scrub worm to leave a scent trail. Once you pick up a few fish whether yellas or redfin, switch it up and try for a cod. I carry a few large yabbies with me as well as some large scrub worms. I also always bring a box of lures ranging from deep divers to crank baits. Throw a yabby out into the school on a running sinker rig and let in descend while on your other rod cast and retrieve your chosen lure. I recommend using a big lure because, although a few smaller fish may have a go, on the whole you will get bigger rather than smaller fish interested and so increase your chance of a cod.
I have been trialling a type of paternoster/lure rig lately with some success. Essentially, I use the yabby almost like a sinker and at the end of my line, I attach a lure and retrieve slowly. I have caught a number of fish on the yabby and quite a few on the lure which looks like it is chasing the yabby through the water. I created this technique after reading an article about using a metal slice as a sinker (for saltwater applications) instead of the standard lead and just reversed the roles.
If you don’t get any interest from a cod on either the bait or the lure, try a yabby wrapped in a scrub worm on a running sinker rig. I have been using this method for many years and though it looks odd and is an enormous bait, it does at times deliver phenomenal results. If a green fish doesn’t come in during the first 30 minutes or so, pack up and move locations.
I use a Daiwa Tournament Master X and a Daiwa Advantage, both matched with 2500 reels. These rods are medium/light so I can feel the smallest of reddie bites but I still have power in the bottom of the rod to winch up big cod.
I bring 3 spools with me. I start with light mono (4-6lb) for flicking out the scrub worm while wandering around and once I locate the school, I switch to 10lb mono for the set bait rig and 10lb braid with 16lb leader for casting the lure/yabby combination. I started out using a Mitchell Copperhead baitcaster with a SpiderPro reel. However, I found that by going lighter I was getting the most out of the sessions, being both challenged by the larger yellas in the school and pushed to the limit by the big cod.
I use 4-5 different types of lures every session that can cover the water column, and each one brings something different to the table. I use AC Invaders in the Bumblebee pattern (my go-to lure), Jackal TN 60s, SK lures (Wild Willy and Pizz Cutter) as well as Predator lures in colour no. 3 and the Predatek Boomerang. All these lures are available from most tackle shops in the ACT.
If it is your first time visiting the ACT for purely fish related fun, I recommend sticking to Lake Burley Griffin. It is situated right in the heart of the city and is easily accessed from any number of car parks and picnic areas.
I recommend starting out at the Canberra Museum. Behind this building is a long rock wall where large schools of redfin and golden perch congregate. I have caught a number of large cod here. Be prepared to share the ledge though because when the redfin are on, everyone seems to know. This spot reminds me a lot of Tathra Wharf – lots of fish and constant action with the occasional monster cod snapping light lines.
If this area is too crowded, pop down to Blue Gum Point and wander the banks. This is very deep water and despite the lack of structure, you will find a lot of fish here. There are also plenty of cod. My PB cod of 100cm came from this area.
If you are a local, I recommend giving both the Cotter and the Murrumbidgee up from Redrock Gorge a crack.
Casuarina Sands on the Cotter River is a popular picnic spot and swimming hole and just up from this picnic spot are stretches of open water that contain good numbers of native fish. I have found that the techniques described above seem to work best here. The only issue I have with fishing this area is that the carp seem to respond well, too. This can be frustrating, especially when a large carp pops its head up when you had your heart set on a cod.
In the Murrumbidgee, there are several lengthy areas devoid of any discernable structure from Redrock Gorge up to the Tuggeranong town centre, but in these areas are schools of yellowbelly and some good sized cod. There are carp here too, but unlike at the Cotter, I find that they don’t tend to hit the baits as often. If you hook a large fish you can be almost guaranteed that it will be a cod.
March through to May is the most productive time, but I have caught good fish even at the start of June. If you are after some stud yellowbelly using these techniques, I recommend having a look in early September.
Canberra really is, in my opinion, the best cod fishery in Australia. Yes, I am biased! But if you think about it, in what other city in Australia can you go from fishing for impoundment 100cm+ cod to chasing genuine river cod all in the space of 10 minutes? There is so much variety here and I genuinely believe that you will agree with me should you decide to be a little unorthodox in your pursuit if the mighty Murray Cod in the Territory.Reads: 9069