It was late April and I was keen to chase a few native fish before falling winter temperatures really slowed things up. It had been four months since I had last cast lures for cod and yellowbelly. That was a weeklong trip just before Christmas at Bundalong, upstream of Lake Mulwala, which had been very enjoyable but not as productive as I would have liked.
I was on the road north out of Melbourne with Andy Cannon and Tony Hiam, two relatively new fishing mates who’d I met at the Flinders Lane Compleat Angler on those rainy Saturday’s when tackle shops become cafes without the coffee.
The plan was to drive to Bendigo early Saturday morning where we’d meet up with Roger Miles from Cod Hunter Fishing Tours. The weekend wasn’t a guiding job for Roger but a chance to get away at the tail end of a busy season and have a fish himself. It was also an opportunity to explore some new water together – something we’d done in the past when we both had a few days to spare.
Our destination was the Murrumbidgee River at Maude in southern New South Wales. Despite what you might think, it is a fishing spot that Victorians ought to add to their list of native fishing waters. It’s a fair bit further than the Murray though and in retrospect, probably best visited for 3 days or more rather than a standard two-day weekend.
The Murrumbidgee begins life in the Snowy Mountains. At these high altitudes it holds good trout. For us though, it was the lower reaches of the river, between Hay and Balranald, which was the drawcard.
All up from Melbourne it was about a six-hour drive, broken for us by a cuppa at Roger’s place in Bendigo.
The drive from Roger’s place took us through some very dry country north of the border. At the end of a long and hot summer it looked like something out of a Mexican western movie.
Roger and I had fished the Murrumbidgee at Balranald a few years before but never at Maude. He’d done some homework about the stretch of river we were heading for, speaking to some of the Bendigo boys who head up there regularly during the warmer summer months.
We arrived at Maude just after midday and stopped in at a small shop for some local advice about camping spots along the river and boat launching spots. We’d towed up Roger’s 4.7m Savage Jabiru and Tony’s 445 Hornet Trophy, both equipped with bow mounted Minn Kota electric motors, which are really a necessity for keen lure casters.
Thirty minutes later we’d let Tony’s dog Lauren out of her travel cage, emptied the vehicles, launched the boats and were busy preparing our gear.
I had three casting outfits along for the ride. One I rigged with a Bassman spinnerbait, another with a TD Vibration (a lipless crankbait lure similar to a Jackall) and the third with a Prawn Star, a lure that’s proved very effective on fishing trips in the salt up north. I was confident about the spinnerbait and dead keen to fish a lipless crankbait for cod and yellas for the first time. Roger assured me that he and his clients had enjoyed a very productive season with lipless crankbaits. That was good enough for me!
Our two boats slowly made their way up the river, stopping at good looking snags along the way. Part of the reason we’d travelled so far was the hope of a big late season cod. Although the bulk of these big fish are taken trolling we were praying that, by focussing our casts on good structure, we’d entice one of these goliaths out for a look.
Tony hadn’t caught a cod before although he had racked up large numbers of yellas in a ‘secret’ water close to home. Andy had accompanied me to Bundalong before Christmas so knew the drill and Roger, needless to say, had probably seen more cod caught over summer than anyone.
It wasn’t long before we had a few bumps on the spinnerbaits and in only a few hours we’d all landed a fish, but nothing to write home about.
I managed my first cod on a lipless crankbait, as did Tony on a spinnerbait. Roger explained how he often uses the lipless crankbaits as a follow-up presentation after getting a bump from a fish. It certainly worked well for me with several expressions of interest from fish that hadn’t come back for a look on repeated spinnerbait casts.
I was also struck by how well the lipless crankbaits performed in the snags. I’d been concerned that, with two trebles on a sinking lure, they’d snag up on timber often. That wasn’t the case though. Roger believes, and I’d have to agree, that they snag up about as much as a spinnerbait. Not bad for something that’s got five more hooks on it!
We ended the day with about half a dozen fish between us. That’s not spectacular, but for a new spot and only half a day’s effort, we were happy that tomorrow would bring more success and the chance at a bigger fish.
Andy, Tony and I awoke with sore heads after a late night of story telling, a few bottles of red and a bottle of port I don’t remember seeing. A few Panadols, plenty of water, a cup of tea and a bowl of cereal soon had us back in the running. Andy and Tony indulged a bit more with bacon and eggs and brewed coffee.
Before we departed Roger talked Andy and Tony through his lure boxes, highlighting what had worked well for us the day before and what hadn’t. Three or four lures exchanged hands and Roger and I left them on the bank finishing their meal while we explored downstream. We soon found the end of the weir pool and the ‘no boating’ section and turned around, heckling the boys as we passed them still at camp, still preparing for the day and looking for more Panadol.
Roger and I left the boys to cast at some of the timber we’d found the day before and headed some 25km upstream in search of new water. We passed a few other campsites on private land as we motored up, admiring the bush skills of people that spend as much time by the river as we’d all like to.
We found some great looking casting water and in between some quiet patches, finished day two with four fish. They were a mixture of cod within 10cm either side of legal, and small yellas, which apart from one better fish, were probably from the same year class. We had a few other chances but hadn’t had any big whacks that left us with our hearts in our mouths.
The snags in the Murrumbidgee are a caster’s dream. There are plenty of them and they range in size from small, fine branches to large trees that are fully submerged.
Take a Tackle-Back or a lure retrieval pole because you’re almost guaranteed of snagging up occasionally. And if you’re throwing around pricey lipless crankbaits, you’ll want to minimise losses!
Roger, Tony, Andy and I all agreed that we’d be back to the Murrumbidgee for another look next season. Maude has some pleasant bush camping, a local store not far away for top-up supplies and plenty of river upstream to explore. Although we didn’t catch lots of fish, nor that giant cod we were really chasing, I’m sure there’s a few big ones in there somewhere, growing bigger every year.
Roger and I enjoyed most success on half ounce, single bladed spinnerbaits. We used lures from Bassman but Tony and Andy enjoyed success with Harts. Dark colours seemed to be most effective.
Lipless crankbaits also caught fish and, like the spinnerbaits, allowed us to fish deep and slow. I’ll certainly be adding these lures to my native fishing arsenal. Dark colours worked best. I enjoyed most success with a black TD Vibration with a purple underbelly. I lost it on day two though so I’ll have to buy one to replace the lost one and another as a spare.
Surprisingly, hard-bodied lures didn’t yield a single hit on either of the days, despite several hours of combined effort throwing around both small and quite large lures in various colours, including metallics, which Roger likes late in the season.
Camping, Facilities and Boat Launching
On the outskirts of town are several tracks that follow the river to good bankside campsites, some with wooden picnic tables.
We launched our boats straight off the bank with four-wheel drives. Small tinnies wouldn’t be a problem with a two-wheel drive vehicle – just pick your spot carefully.
Our visit was only a few weeks after Easter so firewood was pretty scarce but could be ferried back from other, more distant banks. Just don’t go hauling out snags to burn – leave them in the water for cod habitat!