Finessing the heavyweights
  |  First Published: November 2016

The concept of finesse fishing doesn’t only apply to the lighter end of the fishing spectrum. It can also pay big dividends when dealing with our true heavyweights!

“Finesse fishing” has become my personal mantra over the past few decades – I’m always banging on about it. In a nutshell, I firmly believe you’ll hook more fish in every scenario by fishing lighter, finer, longer, stealthy and smart. Naturally, this quest for finesse needs to be balanced with a common sense approach to landing fish. There’s no point in hooking lots if they all get away. Most of us can afford to err a little more on the finesse side when we wet a line.

You might think that throwing massive wake and swimbaits intended to tempt mega Murray cod would be about the last area of our sport that could possibly benefit from the application of finesse, but you’d be wrong! The booming fishery for XOS Murray cod using bulky topwater offerings such as surface walkers, chuggers and jointed wake baits is definitely the latest big thing to grip the Australian freshwater scene. Oversized sub-surface swimbaits are the next major trend following hot-on-the-heels of the wake bait boom.

Much of this development is being spearheaded by savvy anglers targeting lunker cod on Copeton Dam, near Inverell, in the New England region of NSW, but the effectiveness of these lure types isn’t limited to that fishery alone. Similar opportunities exist in cod impoundments all the way from Glenlyon to Blowering, Burrinjuck to Wyangala and Mulwala to Eildon, not to mention in the major rivers of the Murray/Darling basin, as well as some of their smaller feeders and anabranches – just about anywhere big cod live.

How do you apply the concept of finesse to a fishery that’s based on bruising, metre-something kegs of fish exploding all over 20cm+ lures that typically weigh 70-250g and are most often cast off serious, double-handed baitcasters or saltwater strength spinning gear? It’s easy – finesse doesn’t necessarily mean soft or lightweight. Instead, the term refers to cunning, subterfuge, balance and power. In fact, finesse could well be regarded as the martial arts of fishing.

Like most other anglers serious about catching big cod on these lures, I started out using 50-70lb braid and 60lb (30kg) mono leaders of either nylon or fluorocarbon. Cod might not be the hardest fighters in our waters on a kilo-for-kilo basis, but a big one hooked close to cover can brick you as fast as any snag-loving fish. I still use the gear I’ve described in the sticks. However, I’ve come to realise that a great deal of the best wake and swimbaiting for cod, especially at dawn, dusk and through the night, tends to take place in relatively open water adjacent to bare banks and weed beds. You don’t need to load for bear in these scenarios.

I’ve taken to running 20lb braid and relatively short 30-50lb (15-25kg) leaders in these open waters, enjoying longer casts and better lure action as a result. That’s practical finesse at work. The application of finesse in this way can transform a blank session into one that produces a strike, or turn a half-hearted boil and rejection into a full-blooded take. This is just the beginning. I’ve been playing around with the hardware on my lures, but that’s a story for a future column! Truth is, there are always facets of our fishing we can fine tune and improve, with direct benefits in terms of our overall catch rates. That’s the true meaning of finesse.

Remember, the closed season on Murray cod remains in force on most waters until December 1, but there’s no closed season in Lakes Copeton or Eildon.


It seems counter-intuitive to use the word “finesse” when referring to beasts like this monster Copeton cod that Jo Starling tamed, but the concept still has relevance at this end of the scale. Lure is a JJ’s Plague Mouseful wakebait.


The author with a solid topwater cod taken on a tweaked Jackall Mikey Snr and relatively light gear. Note that a set of hooks was discarded when upgrading this wakebait’s hardware, to maintain balance and buoyancy.


Cod don’t generally demand barra-strength lure fittings. There’s a fine balance between power and finesse.


Achieving the right action can make a huge difference on the day. Lighter gear helps.

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