Cod On Top
  |  First Published: April 2006

As a freshwater fishing junkie the biggest adrenalin rush I get on the water is catching a Murray cod on a surface lure. There’s nothing like getting slammed only a few metres from your rod tip, water splashing as they engulf your offering. I’ve been cod fishing for over 15 years and they still manage to scare me every time they strike up on top.


Weather, particularly wind, is a huge factor in determining how productive a surface luring session will be. Aim to be on the water when the wind is minimal.

Your destination will have a big bearing on how wind affects your session. If you’re fishing a river system then there is often protection by way of a high bank or vegetation. However, if you’re fishing an open body of water, such as Lake Mulwala, then protection from the wind can be much harder to find.

The easiest way to avoid high winds is to plan your surface luring trip in the middle of a high pressure system when the isobars are wide apart. This is when your chances of low wind are best.

I’ve found that the night prior to a significant drop in the barometer is most productive, however, two nights before can also yield good numbers of fish too.

During the middle of a high pressure system we normally have minimal cloud cover. Clear skies and bright days might be nice to fish in but Murray cod are light sensitive, and less likely to actively feed in these conditions, particularly in shallow water. We can use this behavioural trait to our advantage, especially by surface luring. Why? Because if the cod aren’t feeding actively during the day, chances are they will be out hunting during the night!

the MOON

Moon phases also play a part in determining your chances of landing a cod on a surface lure. My thoughts tend to differ from many other anglers because I prefer to target cod during minimal light, with little or no moon.

Many anglers believe that surface luring is most productive on a full moon. They theorise that, under a full moon, the lure casts a silhouette, which is more easily seen and tracked by fish beneath.

It’s About The Fish, Not Us!

One advantage of a full moon is for anglers. We’re able to see surrounding snags more easily and can cast closer to our target species’ preferred habitat. We can also move around the boat with more confidence and minimise our dependence on torches for tying knots and untangling over-runs.

I’ve found that strike zone areas shrink during bright nights with lots of moonlight. The cod hang in tighter to their snags and venture out less often and only small distances. In the low light conditions however, their strike zones increase and they’ll move considerable distances to strike a surface lure.

Moon Phases

My preferred moon phase is the week before and the week after the new moon. Good surface luring can also be had during the other two weeks of the month, but this can depend on two factors.

The first is cloud cover. If you’re in the period of a full moon and you get conditions with heavy cloud cover then this can be enough to reduce the light and improve the fishing.

The second factor is the time that the moon rises and sets. For example, we may be in a full moon phase but the moon is dropping beyond the horizon at 4am. We’ve experienced this when we’ve been fishing under a full moon for several hours with no action. The moon then drops down beyond the horizon, everything darkens, and instantly the fish come on and start ‘boofing’ the surface.

Moon phases are listed in each monthly issue of VFM on the Tides page.


Another handy tactic when fishing surface lures on brighter nights is to target areas of shade. This will depend on the direction of the moonlight and will change through the night as the moon moves across the sky.

The moon rises in the east so fish any eastern banks early. It sets in the west so fish these edges as the moon goes down.

If the moon is directly above then fish areas where your lures can be cast under overhanging trees.


Like any other forms of lure fishing, there are a number of key ingredients that make some locations better than others.


The majority of success is usually in shallow water, between 1 and 2m, however cod can be caught in greater depths if structure is present because it allows them to suspend higher in the water column.

Surface lures are most effective when presented close to resident fish. If they have to travel more than a metre or two then the chances of producing a strike are reduced. You’ll still catch fish on a good night, but not as many when you calculate the averages.


Fish areas that have lots of fallen timber. Ideally, that timber will have a number of crossed up sections that provide sanctuary and a launching pad to ambush bait.

A large tree that runs parallel with the riverbank and has a depth of around 1m has proved to be productive over the years.

Soft vegetation such as cumbungi banks and weed beds are terrific areas too because they usually house shrimps and baitfish.

Overhanging vegetation can also be good. Look for large gum trees and willows that reach out across the water. They support a smorgasbord of insects such as ants, grubs and moths, that occasionally fall off their perch and become dinner for fish.


Fish the outside of river bends because the majority of current flow is pushed into these areas, carrying helpless bait to waiting predators.

Occasionally, you’ll find a fallen tree that is at 90 degrees to the river and on the surface. The tree acts as a trap and will stop prey items floating down the river at speed. Cod sit beneath these food traps and take items from the surface at will. These locations can be readily seen during daylight. Look for floating scum on the surface and slow moving floating objects that are doing circles or travelling along the bank in the opposite direction to the current.


The best time of the year to target cod on surface lures is during the warmest months of the year. December can be very good because fish aren’t used to this type of presentation following the closed season. They’re often ready to smash the first thing that comes their way.

December water temperatures can still be low and good numbers of natives will take up residence in the shallows where water temperatures will be higher, albeit only slightly.

We typically see an increase in our catch rates as water temperatures continue to rise. February and March are best.

During April we see a reduction in our catch rates, though it depends on how long the summer weather lasts. If you’re lucky enough to be in the right spot at the right time you will still catch fish, but not like in mid-summer when 10 or more strikes in a session is not uncommon.

Our first significant rains in autumn often produce a large hatch of ghost moths. If a storm goes through and drops 25mm of rain, and then the wind drops out, make the effort to get out on the water. The action can be breathtaking!


Paddlers are a surface lure with a large bib that runs across the front of the lure. They’re my favourite and are most effective on very flat water, worked at a slow retrieval speed.

My favourite brand is the Taylor Made Surface Breakers although other productive and widely used models include Jitterbugs in both the jointed and solid bodies. Jointed models occasionally tail wrap the line and foul the lure.

Halco also produce a model called a Night Crawler. They’re good but their action isn’t as pronounced as the big wide faced paddlers.

Walkers are another good option, particularly when cod are not really switched on. They don’t have a bib at all and are retrieved by flicking the rod tip from side to side, slowing winding up the slack line between flicks. They also fish well when paused or bobbed. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of a paused lure, especially close to snags.

Buzz baits are also popular although they’re more commonly found in a bass angler’s tackle box. The one downside of using Buzz baits is that a faster retrieve is required to produce the desired surface noise. They’re good when the fish are switched on but changing to slower presentations might be necessary if the fish are in a subdued mood.

If spinning blades take your fancy then Fizzers are another option to Buzz baits. My favourite are the Woodchoppers, which run two metal blades at either end of the lure. These lures float when paused and so can be fished as slowly as you like.

Poppers are very productive on cod too because slow retrieves are easy and they’re very loud. They’re my preferred presentation if you lose flat water mid-session due to increased wind. If the wind gets too strong even for poppers then put the surface lures away, go back to bed and get some rest for a daytime session with more traditional lures.


Rod work is important when fishing surface lures. I like to use a softly tipped rod, such as a 6’6” Team Daiwa Battler Nighthawk matched with a small baitcaster, like a Daiwa Alphus or Fuego.

When retrieving, keep the rod tip very high at about two o’clock. This is effective for two reasons. Firstly, it allows a belly in the line, which provides the fish with some slack so it can inhale the lure properly. The second reason is that the higher line angle increases the volume of noise made by the lure.

It’s very important not to try and set a hook. Striking will only pull the lure out of the their mouth. Just let the fish hook themselves. Wait for the weight!

Another handy tip is to add split rings to the trailing hook. This drops the hook further back into the water and dramatically improves hook up rates.

If you get a strike and it doesn’t hook up then continue with your retrieve anyway. On a number of occasions we’ve had cod strike a lure up to nine times on the one retrieve before finally hooking up.

Getting prepared

Although it’s late in the season, there’s still time to get out and have a crack at surface cod before the weather gets too cold.

If all this talk of surface cod has got your interest, but you can’t manage to get out on the water on a hot Easter day, then just keep an eye out when you next visit your favourite inland water. Look for good cod habitat and build a mental map so you can return in the dark come December and have a go at ‘cod on top’.

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