Murray cod have always been one of the most sought after species of fish in Australian freshwater.
Back in the early days they were netted and harvested by old style commercial fishers. Once angling became popular they were targeted with bait. For many years there was a combination of commercial fishers and keen anglers using rods loaded with all different types of baits ranging from garden worms to small birds and everything in between.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s lure fishing started to heat up in the cod fishing scene with large bladed spinners known as Aeroplane Spinners accounting for many of the cod caught, followed by the popular Floppy and Mudbug lures.
Over the years, Murray cod became less and less popular as a commercial fish species and more popular as a sport fish until eventually the commercial fishers all had their commercial fishing licenses revoked.
By the late 1990s fish stockings, improved fishing ethics and a tightening of the regulations in Victoria and NSW led to improved Murray cod sport fishing, which then led to a boom in lure manufacturing, improved fishing tackle technologies and an overall greater respect for this iconic Australian native fish.
In recent years, sport fishing for Murray cod has been taken to a whole new level with the growth in popularity of surface fishing.
Over the years, anglers have caught cod off the surface with some of the older design smaller surface lures that were usually made for the American bass fishing scene, but it is only in the last few years that surface fishing for Murray cod has really taken off. Not only has it taken off, but I believe it is the fastest growing craze in the freshwater fishing scene here in Victoria.
Why has surface fishing for Murray cod become so popular in recent years?
There are a few answers to this question, but by far the number one attraction to the sport of surface lure fishing for Murray cod is the BOOF that is made when a cod hits a surface lure.
Even a modest sized cod of around 40-50cm in length will make a loud sharp splashing sound as they boof your surface lure, usually causing the angler to jump! The closer to your feet the fish hits the lure, the more of a fright you will get.
The sharp splashing type sound is usually made by the cod’s tail when it slaps the water at break neck speed as the it turns super quickly to head back down into the depths.
Hook-up rates can be quite poor when using surface lures, however more and more anglers still enjoy the sport of surface fishing. As many of us say “It’s all about the boof”. One of the reasons hook-up rates are poor is because anglers automatically tend to lift the rod tip and strike to set the hooks. Quite often, this pulls the lure out of the cod’s mouth and sends it flying through the air. The best thing to do when you get a boof is to just leave your rod tip down low and wait to see whether your line pulls tight or the lure keeps floating. If the fish doesn’t not hook up, quite often it will return to the lure for another boof. Sometimes, the cod will hit the lure several times in the one cast! If the line pulls tight and you know the cod has the lure in its mouth, that’s when you lift your rod tip to put tension on the line.
One of the other reasons surface fishing for Murray cod has really taken off is because it is a bit more cost effective with regards to losing lures to snags. When walking the banks casting diving lures or spinnerbaits, losing expensive lures is a part of the experience. With surface lures, anglers can see where the snags are and cast beside them. Avoiding snags is so much easier when surface lure fishing, allowing anglers to access snag infested sections of creeks and rivers that would otherwise be overlooked.
In saying this, we still lose a few lures. Overhanging vegetation and casting too far, resulting in hooking up on the opposite bank are two great ways to ensure your surface lures don’t join you for the trip home!
Another attraction to surface fishing is that it really is simple! You don't have to be an expert to read the water. You don’t have to visualize where your lure will sink with the current. You don’t have to search for drop offs and ledges with a depth sounder, you just cast your lure out and retrieve it. The cod will sense the lure swimming across the surface, and seek it out. A slow to moderate retrieve speed it best.
Surface fishing for Murray cod is best at night time, or during the low light periods of the day. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Many anglers, myself included, have caught cod on surface lures during the day, even in full sunshine, however it really is during the low light periods and under the cover of darkness when the action really starts to heat up.
Choosing a surface lure really is a personal thing. It comes down to personal choice. They all do the same job. Some have different sounds, some are jointed, leaving the tail end sitting lower in the water, which helps with your hook up rate, some have flashing lights in them, some have glow in the dark bibs, there really is a surface lure out there to suit any situation.
My personal favourite is the medium sized Koolabung Codwalker, as I find it has the best hook-up rate for my style of fishing. It also has a plopping sound that I really like. My mate Brett Corker has a preference for the Sweetwater surface lure, as he likes the action of it. My best mate Sandy Hector (A.K.A. the camo man) has a preference for the Kingfisher Mantis. It really is a personal choice thing.
There are plenty of surface lures on the market for you to choose from. Some of them are incredibly lifelike to look at. I like the really lifelike surface lures in the really clear water of the upland reaches of our river systems, where the cod can get a good look at the lure. In the lower reaches, where the water is usually murky, I just look for the lure that will displace the most water.
Murray cod do not study encyclopaedias, look up at something on the surface and think to themselves “Mmmm, that’s a maniacal cackle tree frog… I better eat it!”. They just see something swimming across the water that will fit in their mouth and smash it. It could be a small young bird, a wounded bird, a possum, a rabbit swimming or even a small duck. Murray cod do not discriminate and have even been known to swallow baby snakes as they swim across the river.
One thing I have found when surface fishing for Murray cod is that when the cicadas are active in the trees above the river, this tends to lend itself to better surface fishing.
Another trick that many anglers find useful is to take the rear hook off the surface lure, and put a split ring or two between the hook and the lure. This will make the rear hook sit lower in the water and may help with improving hook-up rates. I do not do this personally, because I am too lazy and simple, but my fishing mates do this and swear by it.
If you want to see first hand what all the fuss is about with surface lure fishing, have a look at my YouTube channel ‘robbiefishing’ and you will see a few short clips that I have shared over the last couple of seasons of Murray cod being caught on surface lures.
For the ultimate Murray cod surface fishing footage, have a look at Rod Mackenzie’s latest DVD titled ‘Almighty cod’. This honestly has some mind-blowing Murray cod surface fishing footage.Reads: 795