Swimbaiting Murray cod
  |  First Published: December 2016

With Murray cod season open for another year after the annual breeding cycle, the yella gear will make its way to the back of the tacklebox as the XL swimbaits come out again to tangle with some big iconic Aussie greenbacks. Seasons have shown that when it comes to Murray cod fishing, you don’t have to be an expert to go out and catch a cod. You just tie on a lure, cast and wind a few times and eventually get a fish, right?

If only it were that easy. A lot goes into catching cod, but the most important thing is appearance. Murray cod aren’t the kind of fish you can go out and catch everyday. Sometimes it can be up to four days straight, even a week before you find one on the end of your line. Along with spending a lot of time on the water, lure choice also plays a big part.

One of the biggest things I’ve learnt over the years when fishing for Australian natives is the way they bite. There are two types of bite – a reaction bite and a finesse bite. On any good day, you could get lucky and end up with 30 or so cod on a reaction bite, as they actively look to hunt at that time. On really slow days when you aren’t finding fish, you’ll have to try a more finesse style of fishing to get that bite.

Fish smarter not harder – 100 slow casts can make all the difference in finding the bite, compared to 1000 quick casts. This is where I turn to my confidence lure, the Westin Swim Swimbait. This lure comes in a range of sizes from 65mm, 100mm and my favourite the 120mm, all with different weight and depth preferences to cover most styles of fishing.

Swimbaits have recently become very popular for many reasons – they’re easy to work during the retrieve and are successful on most retrieve techniques, they’re more versatile than most other lure types making them easier to fish in a wider variety of conditions, and they’re more life-like than most other lures with more natural swimming movements. They also come in multiple sizes, weights, suspending and intermediate models that can keep them in the strike-zone longer.

This gets me up to one of my most frequently asked questions, “What is the best depth to be fishing when throwing swimbaits for cod?” For me, there’s no favourable depth when throwing swimbaits around the rivers, as they’ve proven to work on fish over the magic metre mark in less than 3ft of water before, plus several other big cod in similar depth levels.

When fishing the dams, I’ve never owned a fishfinder, so I never really know what depths I’m casting into. The 120mm swimbait will work anywhere in the depth range of 1-3m, so if I’m in anywhere around 5m or less, then I’ll be in with a good chance of catching one.

Cod will be willing to move for food if it looks good enough, so appearance is key. If I feel like I am in a place too deep for that type of lure, I’ll let it suspend or sink in the zone longer to entice the bite. This can count for snagged lures sometimes, but there have been many times where my swimbaits have been fully engulfed while suspending and there aren’t many better ways of feeling the explosive hit from a big Murray cod. It’ll stop you in your tracks thinking you’ve wedged your lure into a solid snag just before that first big powerful run.

Matching the hatch plays a big part in cod fishing, so learn the area and find what baitfish are around. This will help out a lot and increase your chances in the end. When fishing the rivers where redfin or carp are abundant, I like to choose a colour that’s similar to those. With the dams, I tend to pick a colour with more silver on it to replicate a perch or bony bream.

Murray cod can be pretty lazy at times and don’t often like wasting their energy on food. This is where choosing the right gear comes into place. Any cheap combo could do the trick, but I recommend a decent rod and reel combo that can handle throwing big lures all day, as it can be pretty tiring on the shoulders after a while. After all, it’s Murray cod we’re talking about – the fish of 1000+ casts.

Any reel with a gear ratio like a 6:6:1 or 7:1:1 are perfect for swimbaits. They can withstand big casts and the slower retrieve helps keep the lure in the strike zone for longer, giving the cod a better chance to hone in and attack it. Spooled with 40-50lb braid and similar sized leader matched on a strong rod, that should be plenty enough to land that fish of a lifetime.

Now that the gear is sorted, it’s all about presentation. Huge cod don’t grow so old and get so big for being stupid, so it comes down to how you present your lure – the more natural you can make your lure look, the better your chances will be.

Another question I tend to get asked a lot is, “What are the best retrieve techniques with swimbaits?” This can be a hard question to answer sometimes, as there’s no proper answer to give. I never do the same retrieve style two times in a row, as every cast I do is different. One cast I could pause and twitch rapidly, to mimick a wounded baitfish. The next cast could be a slow roll the whole way back with no pauses at all. I like to play around between casts and this is where I find most of my success. The slower the retrieve, the better the chances.

Another tip for success is thinking like a big cod, and thinking like a baitfish as well. Baitfish don’t want to be out in the open, vulnerable to predators. They like to hide, which is why cod love structure. Weed beds, rocky points and even standing or fallen timber are the best places to be looking when searching for an XL cod, as these will most likely be their hiding spot waiting to ambush on any easy meal.

Swimbaiting for Murray cod was almost unheard of a few years ago, but as time has gone by, the cod have been getting smarter. Bigger and stronger lures are brought into the market every year. Big deep diving hardbodies, spinnerbaits and surface walkers will always have their place in the right conditions.

Most of my success in past seasons has been on big swimbaits, including baits up to 400mm long. That might seem pretty crazy throwing lures that size for cod, but there have been plenty of videos getting around the internet of big cod up over a metre long that eat other native fish straight off the hook, sometimes fish half their size. Anglers that chase Murray cod on a regular basis will know they pretty much eat anything, so it never hurts to go big.

Now is the best time of the year to be fishing, as the days are getting hotter and making the water warmer. Most fish species become more active at the same time, so grab some big baits and head out to give them a try. You may just surprise yourself with results. Until next time, best of luck for the opening of cod season and fish hard with tight lines.


A cracking white cod caught in the early morning on a 120mm swimbait.


This Murray cod has bucket mouth.


The author’s lure was inhaled again.


A 99cm cod caught on a Westin swimbait in early morning. The author let it sink beside a tree and it was engulfed on the suspend.


Michael Geary with a cod on a Mike the Pike swimbait, during a Copeton Dam trip.


A whopper cod being released to be caught again later.


This massive cod was caught on a Tommy the Trout swimbait.


A 90cm cod on Tommy the Trout.

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