For many anglers, catching Australia’s legendary Murray cod is passion second to none. They live, breathe and dream about cod. Some of us west of the Great Dividing Range are lucky enough to encounter these iconic fish on a regular basis, but it’s those in the big cities or those new to the country who have the dream to catch these awe-inspiring natives, and why wouldn’t they?
Murray cod feed from the top to the bottom, and can be caught on a variety of techniques. And that savage first strike makes even the most seasoned angler’s hands tremble.
If you are unfamiliar with areas that hold populations of Murray cod, Google can be a blessing. A quick search under ‘Murray cod fishing’ will bring up a few places around NSW that you can gain access to for a reasonable fee.
Monster Murray cod out of Emmaville is one such place where comfort and sportfishing go hand in hand. TV personalities like Paul Worsteling and Andrew Ettingshausen have already had great success there, and it could be a wonderful opportunity to provide the family with a picturesque holiday with the chance of catching that fish of a lifetime. The 1900 hectare private property provides clients with five impoundments to choose from that are exclusive to you for the duration of your stay.
If you’d like to try your luck in the rivers, here are some places to try.
For those with that little extra sense of adventure or willingness to find a spot along a river, it is essential to do some research before you go. Most big rivers will at some point have a bridge or a river crossing, and it’s these areas that can help you find some accessible water.
The Peel and Namoi rivers in northwest NSW are two such rivers and can be accessed at many spots. A quick look at a map will reveal bridges in the area. There are also many travelling stock routes and public reserves made available for the general public located between Chaffey Dam and the Peel and Namoi rivers. Google can aid you in finding these stock routes and access points, and walking the banks up and down stream of these areas can see you connected some beautiful Murray cod or the local golden perch population.
Located approximately 30km southwest of Inverell is Copeton Dam, a picturesque dam that is a renowned for being home to some truly giant Murray cod.
Above the dam itself is some beautiful gorge country. Its sheer cliffs and boulder-lined banks are more suited to goats than humans, but if you’re feeling fit and are willing to go the extra mile, the effort can be well worth it. The river has a good population of Murray cod, with an average size of around 40-60cm bracket, and there’s a good sporting chance of hooking the odd larger fish. Shallow diving lures and surface lures are the most exciting options for targeting these feisty natives; that initial ‘boof’ of an angry cod smashing a surface lure it is something you will never forget.
If it’s a trophy fish you’re after though, the dam itself is a mecca, with the deep rock bars and boulders being a known local favourite. Trolling deep diving lures is the main technique, and lures such as the Balista Dyno 90 (which gets down to 8m) are a great starting point.
Other NSW rivers that have good populations of cod include (but are not limited to) the Macquarie, Murrumbidgee, Murray, Gwydir and Seven Rivers. Many of these have public access points but often a kayak is necessary to explore more remote locations.
Much of the land around the rivers is private property so you’ll need to ask the land owners for permission to fish there. If you are well mannered and courteous you may be in luck, while at other times they may not grant you access but might steer you in the right direction. If you are fortunate enough to be invited onto private land, be respectful and remember that they are trusting you to do the right thing by them.
After an owner has granted you access, make sure to call before each trip. Property owners like to know if you are on their property, and failing to do so might not see you get a return invite.
If you open any gates on the way through the property, be sure to close them. If there are cattle on the property, give them a wide birth if possible.
Be aware of your surroundings, too, as you may be liable for any accidents that could occur, and check to make sure there’s no rubbish left around your camp or down by the river. Your access to a private property is a privilege, not a right, and should be treated as such.
Also keep an eye out for boundary lines and fences. Don’t cross them onto neighbouring properties unless you have permission to do so, or you could end up facing an angry landholder or even legal proceedings.
But most of all have fun, and enjoy the sights, sounds and ambience of being out it the bush. Fishing this kind of country is as good as it gets.
Techniques in relation to Murray cod fishing vary greatly but they all share similar characteristics. Murray cod are structure-orientated, opportunistic predators so structure is the key to success. Fallen trees, boulders and undercut banks are likely hangouts, as are overhanging willows and eddies at the end of a set of rapids (but even then your casts must be accurate and within a few inches of the target as the fish won’t often move far from their underwater lair).
One of the most popular ways to target our native green fish is with the humble spinnerbait. The flashing blades and pulsating skirts have been the undoing of many Murray cod across Australia. They’re easy to use and can be fished high or low in the water column and deep into snags, covering more water than a traditional hardbody lure.
Blade choice is one of the main factors with spinnerbaits; double Colorado blades are a personal favourite due to their strong action at slow speeds. This makes them well suited to the territorial nature of our native fish, giving the cod ample time to launch an attack. There are many brands on the market but I have found LureStrike do a great range well suited to this type of fishing.
Spinnerbaits come in many sizes but the most commonly used ones are 1/8-5/8oz, depending on water depth. Having a few in different sizes can pay dividends.
Skirt colour is a personal choice. However, I have found in dirty or muddy water darker colours such as purple, black and blue work well, and in clearer waters white, chartreuse and olive are productive. Don’t be afraid to mix it up though, as any colour combination can work on its day.
Hardbody lures are another great option for Murray cod. It can be as easy as casting the lure close to a likely looking location and slowly winding it back, as the lure’s bib makes it wobble like an injured fish. These diving lures are also great for trolling if you want to cover more ground in search of new water. Don’t be afraid to use big lures, because often Murray cod will strike as a territorial response. Lures of 100mm or more are often used, and once you catch your first cod you will understand why.
Surface lures including poppers, paddlers and fizzers are also great lures for targeting cod. Dawn, dusk and even well into the early hours of the morning are the prime time to use these lures. There is nothing like watching or hearing your lure make its way across the water, hoping there’s a silent predator following in close pursuit. All is peaceful and quiet until that initial explosion – that heart-stopping moment when the water parts and you lure disappears in a spray of white water as the cod tries to take his quarry back to his lair.
A 6’6” fast action baitcast outfit of around 3-6kg loaded with 20lb braid is a good starting point. Leader size can vary, though most anglers use 20-50lb monofilament to provide good abrasion resistance from both the structure and the raspy teeth of the cod.
A good camera is a great asset. Not only will you want to capture the fishy memories of your trip, you’ll also enjoy shooting the spectacular surroundings and wildlife.
A small medical kit is also essential, as is a snake bite kit.
At the end of the day it’s all about preparation, pacing yourself sensibly, enjoying the great outdoors and having a great time targeting Australia’s premier freshwater sportfish.
Rules and regulations
The NSW size limit for Murray cod is 60cm in length and an angler is permitted to keep 2 fish a day (only one over 100cm).
Murray cod have a closed season each year (rivers and dams) from September 1 until December 1, and must not be targeted at this time.
Only two rigged lines are permitted in NSW. Spare lines should not be capable of taking fish, i.e. should not be rigged with hooks or lures attached, and should be properly stowed. Any attended lines must be within 50m of the angler and within his/her line of sight.