For years I looked at photos of people catching Murray cod from the banks of rivers on lures and often wondered how they did it.
Every time I went out to give it a go I would come home with my head held low. No fish and a few less lures was usually the result. After a while I realised that most of the photos were taken in the far lower reaches of the waterways where the streamside vegetation is made up of open clay banks, a few red gums and not much else.
Down in the arid regions of southwest NSW and northwest Victoria, riparian vegetation is usually quite thin allowing for easy access to the water in most places. However, up here in northeast Victoria the riparian vegetation is usually very dense with native shrubs, blackberry bushes, red gum trees, willow trees and all other kinds of bushes that seem to conspire against us to make it almost impossible to access the water's edge in most locations.
A few years ago I started figuring it out, and now during the Murray cod season I catch fish off the bank on most outings, and lose minimal amounts of lures. Let me explain how.
Walking the bank is not always what it seems. Usually the best option is to find an access point and get into the water and wade upstream, in a similar fashion that you would if you were fishing for trout.
The rivers in northeast Victoria all have some very deep holes, which are often the best places to find Murray cod, and most of these holes are broken up by sections of shallow water running between them. A lot of the deep holes, particularly in the upland rivers, are only deep on one side and can be waded through on the shallow side. Often I find myself in water well over my waist as I try to make my way through the shallow side of the deep holes. In some instances I need to get completely out and walk around if it is too deep. I try to avoid doing this as it means I need to walk past good water.
In the lower reaches of the waterways where it is deeper and the water murkier, it can be much harder to cross. So walking the banks simply means taking advantage of any opportunity you get to access the water and fish it really heavily, crossing the river wherever possible, if possible. In these lower reaches, it is usually possible to fish every second bend in the river as you can often access it from the inside of the bend, which is usually a sand bar, or gravel bar depending on which river you are fishing. Casting from the shallow sand/gravel bar across to the deeper outside of the bend is a dynamite way to catch a Murray cod while flicking from the bank.
So to sum it up, walking the banks does not always mean walking the banks, it usually includes getting in and wading for a lot of the time. If you are not willing to get wet, then you are quite simply wasting your time flicking lures from the bank in a northeast Victorian stream.
Snakes have a terrible stigma in this area. Absolutely everybody is petrified of them, possibly because there are so many and we see them on so many occasions. If you are really scared of snakes, then hang up your fishing rod and grab your golf sticks! Having said that, black snakes are a common occurrence on our local golf course too.
Seriously, when we head out fishing, we are entering the snake’s back yard. We are voluntarily entering their domain and need to treat them with respect. Most people who are bitten by snakes are usually trying to either catch or kill the snake.
If people would just walk past them there would be far fewer snake bites each year. I have been walking the banks of these Victorian waterways for over 30 years, and have seen thousands of black, brown, tiger and copperhead snakes, and have never once had one try to bite me. I have had brown snakes lunge towards me, and appear to be trying to bite me. This is called a false strike and brown snakes are notorious for it. They do it for a reason, and that is to scare you, and it works so well! The false strike is the first and final warning, if you don't move on, the brown snake will bite you.
Snakes don't try and bite people, they either bite or they don't. Their reflexes are much faster than ours and we could never dodge a striking snake. Snakes are reluctant to strike, one of the reasons being that they risk breaking a fang, and if they do that it can take some time for it to grow back, and they need that fang to inject venom into their prey.
If you see a snake, just walk around it and you will not have a problem. If you step on a snake (more common with tiger snakes) it won't matter what I say because you will jump - very high! Chances are the snake will jump equally as high but in the opposite direction.
Gumboots, gumboots and gumboots. Seriously, a good quality set of gumboots is the perfect footwear for this type of fishing. They offer the best protection from the snakes, which is their most important role. Gumboots keep the grass seeds out of your socks and very importantly they do not shrink as they dry and cause blistering next time you wear them like leather work boots or runners will. I swear by Blundstone gumboots. They are great quality, nice and thick, last for years and usually around $70. All I do when I get home is sit them in the sun, and the next day they are right to wear again time and time over.
Just be careful in deep water with your gumboots on as they can get a bit heavy once full of water.
I use all three main types of lures when bank fishing for Murray cod: spinnerbaits, hardbody lures and surface poppers.
Spinnerbaits tend to run through the snags without hooking up, as the hook faces upwards, meaning the back of the hook runs over the snag. This is not always the case though, and occasionally they will snag up. Usually when a spinnerbait snags, it snags properly and can be difficult to get off. Depending on where the spinnerbait is on the retrieve, you may even be able to wade out and get it off, or if it is a hot day you may want to swim for your lure.
Swimming for lures is something that I have done a lot of, although I recommend you only do this when it is safe to do so, such as when you have a mate with you and there is not too much current.
Hardbody lures can be very successfully fished from the bank. The trick is to use floating hardbody lures, and fish them very slowly through the snags. When the line runs over a snag you can usually feel it, and know that the lure is about to hit the snag. When this happens, slow your retrieve right down and allow the lure to float back up a bit. Start retrieving again and if you can still feel the line running over the snag, pause again and allow it to float a bit more. This is called walking your lure through the snags. This is not possible with spinnerbaits as they sink.
When using hardbody lures, choose your lure carefully. When bank fishing, losing lures to snags is a real possibility so try and use your most expendable lures. I often use lures, which I have found that are faded and dirty. Another option is to use lures that are the cheapest to replace, such as StumpJumpers, which can be picked up quite cheaply these days and are a tried and proven Murray cod lure.
Surface poppers are just plain awesome! There is no other word that best describes them. You can cast into the snaggiest looking holes, and bring your lure directly over the top of all of the snags. The ‘boof’ you get when a Murray cod hits your surface lure is quite spectacular. Losing surface lures is quite uncommon. Occasionally they will hook up on a snag that is sitting 2-3mm under the surface, however it is usually the opposite bank, or an over-hanging tree that sees the end of most of my surface lures. I usually do not tie on a surface lure until sunset. Murray cod will hit a surface lure during the day, but nowhere near as often as they will hit one on dark.
That pretty much sums up fishing for Murray cod from the bank in northeast Victoria. There are plenty of waterways to choose from up here with the Broken, Ovens, King and Kiewa rivers being the most popular with the lower reaches of the Mitta Mitta River also starting to rise in popularity following several years of Murray cod stocking.
It’s a great way to experience nature, slow down and catch some amazing fish at times. Give it a go and have some great fun.Reads: 1933