Fishing one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets
  |  First Published: July 2017

‘Melbourne’s hidden fishing gem’?

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Sometimes overlooked, the Yarra River is one of Melbourne’s best freshwater fishing places to visit. Simple techniques such as drowning a worm by the bank can give surprising results. While other ‘secret’ techniques can mean that you may just have one of the best days you’ll ever experience fishing, all just an hour east of Melbourne’s CBD.

This may be surprising to some, but the section of the Yarra between Heidelberg and Chirnside Park is home to a diverse range of fish species all accessible to anglers.

In my own experience fishing this section of the river I have managed to catch carp, roach, goldfish, eels, redfin, Macquarie perch and Murray cod. Yes, I said it, Murray cod!

The Yarra cod is something that has been in discussion for a long time now, however some may not believe that Murray cod exist in the Yarra. I’m telling from experience, they do! These fish were introduced along with Macquarie perch in 1857 and are a thriving, yet delicate population. I will go into more detail of how to catch these elusive fish later.

For now, I will discuss some of the other species and how to go about fishing for them.

European Carp

Unfortunately, these fish are fairly abundant in these waters and are most common around the Warrandyte to Wonga Park section of the river. They are a huge pest, as they suck the muddy bottom and destroy the habitats of native fish. However, they make for great sport and are quite easy to catch with simple techniques.

If I want to target carp within the Yarra I look for deep holes and slow moving water. They are sometimes found feeding in the shallows, but they are a lot harder to catch and spook very easily. By fishing deeper holes the fish have a lower chance of seeing you. In terms of tackle and rigs I use either a 1-3kg or 2-4kg rod at a length of 6’6ft to 7ft matched with a 1000-2500 size spin reel spooled with 6-10lb braid with an 8lb fluorocarbon leader attached to the main line.

I often use a about a size 1 light running sinker straight to the hook. If the current is flowing hard I will use a size 2. For hook size I use a size 6 baitholder and a very simple and accessible bait – corn kernels. After the corn is placed on the hook I cast it out into the deepest, slowest section of where I’m fishing, rest the rod on a forked stick and just sit back and wait.

If you do get a bite you may see the rod bounce; this is the carp sucking the bait. Wait until you see the rod start to bend over and then strike for the best hook-up rates. You may also see the rod just completely bend over, then you don’t even need to strike, just hold on!

The common European carp is quite an overlooked and underrated sportfish in my opinion and the Yarra River is a great place to fish for them close to Melbourne all year round. Make sure you dispose of these fish humanely, as they are not to be placed back in the water.

English Perch or Redfin

Redfin aren’t overly common in the Yarra, but they are in there! These fish are also an introduced fish from Europe. Even though they are not as damaging as carp, they are still classified as a noxious species. I don’t often target redfin in the Yarra, because they aren’t a reliable fish that you know you can catch on most sessions in this waterway. The best techniques for these beautiful fish are with the same rig and gear as for carp, using worms or tiger worms for bait.

I also like to fish for them on warm days during spring and summer, as this is when they are most actively feeding. Casting your worm into slow flowing deep pools, much the same as for carp, gives you the best chance for a redfin. If it is one of these fish, you’ll know pretty quickly, as they pick at the bait. This means they can be hard to hook. If you wait until you see weight on the rod and then strike, you will hook more than you lose.

These stunning fish are also quite underrated in my opinion, as larger models fight hard and they taste great (although I haven’t been game enough to eat a reddy out of the Yarra just yet).

Macquarie Perch

This may also come as a surprise to many: Macquarie perch are a fairly common species within the Yarra and this population is considered to be one of the strongest in Australia. They are quite rare anywhere else and are only found in small pockets throughout Victoria and New South Wales. As explained earlier, they were introduced into the Yarra in 1857 and have thrived ever since.

In terms of angling, they are a simple fish to target. I like to use the same rigs and gear as I would for carp and redfin with a slightly lighter 6lb fluorocarbon leader. They are a very tentative fish that spook easily, so I use the lightest leader I am able to get away with. Furthermore, medium to large scrubworms are the only bait I use, hooked with the tail of the worm dangling to make it look more appealing to the fish.

Deep pools within the Wonga Park/Warrandyte area just after rapids are by far the best areas to target these secretive fish, as this is where they wait in ambush for any food to come past. Cast just below the rapids so the bait drifts into the deep hole, place your rod in a holder and wait.

‘Maccas’ love to play around with the bait and suck it in and out for a long time; this is why a slightly slack line should be used so the fish can’t feel resistance in the line. If this occurs, they may spit it out and not come back for another inquiry. I like to make sure I know when the fish has the bait in its mouth before I strike. This is usually indicated by the line tightening and moving out or the line coming back towards me. In terms of the time of year, warm and muggy summer evenings are the best times to target these fish, as this is when they begin to feed and are most active.

These native fish are a delicate resource and should be released back into the water unharmed. We are very lucky to have such a rare species so close to home and they shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Murray cod

Yes, Murray cod are in the Yarra and are a lot more common than some may think! They aren’t native to this system, but they have sustained a healthy population here for 160 years and have adapted well to the system. This shows in reports of anglers catching Murray cod for many years.

If you use the right techniques in the right places, you will have a very high chance of landing one of these majestic fish.

To catch the iconic Murray cod, first of all find the deep, slow moving holes. Cod are a lazy fish and don’t like to work against current, so they will almost always live in the places with less current. I use a 4-7kg baitcaster for lures, spooled with 20lb braid and 30lb fluorocarbon leader. The lure choices are quite vast for Murray cod: spinnerbaits, deep divers and soft plastics are all options. A size 2 StumpJumper (in any colour, as Murray cod aren’t too fussy in terms of colours) cast as close as possible to the opposite side of the bank and slow rolled all the way to your feet gives you a great chance of landing a Murray cod on a lure in the Yarra.

If you are more of a lazy fisher like myself, bait fishing is probably the best and most accessible way to fish for Murray cod. As explained before, slow moving, deep holes are the best habitat for these fish. Soaking a bait in these areas is a must. Once again, medium spin gear of around a 4-7kg rating and 4000 size spin reels are perfect for bait fishing for Murray cod spooled with 15-20lb braid and 30lb fluorocarbon leader. A size 2 running sinker is also essential for holding your bait on the bottom straight to an octopus style size 3/0 hook.

I’ll let you in on a bit of a secret; raw chicken strips are by far the best bait and have resulted in some good fish up to 80cm within the Yarra for me. Cheese cubes also work, but the cod seem to love chicken more than any other bait in this system.

Once you cast your bait, sit it in a secure rod holder, and I mean secure! Big fish can easily take your rod into the water if it is only sitting on a stick.

Smaller fish will play with the bait, so wait until the rod starts to bend over before striking. Big fish will often just inhale the bait in one big bang, so there is no need to strike then!

If you do catch cod in the Yarra, I implore you, release them. They are a delicate resource and are important for the whole ecosystem.

People are within their rights to take home a feed within the size limit, however if mostly catch and release takes place then this fish will be around for many future generations to come.

Diverse fishing options

If you’re looking for a great freshwater fishing option close to Melbourne, the Yarra is the place to visit. Although access may be challenging in some areas to find the best spots, it is all worth it when you do; these areas hold awesome fish and aren’t all that hard to catch if you do the right things.

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