ALTHOUGH rarely targeted by anglers, the estuary cod is a welcome catch. Their fighting ability can vary dramatically, depending on the circumstances and situation in which you find them. Anglers regularly blame mangrove jacks for busting them up when trolling in the estuary, and it would probably be a surprise to these folk to discover that the culprit is often an estuary cod.
These fish inhabit a wide range of fishing environments, are great on the palate and best of all are a lot of fun to land. Let me tell you a little more about them that will help you to catch a few more.
The name ‘estuary cod’ is used to describe two separate species, commonly referred to as gold-spot cod and black-spot cod (also referred to as ‘greasy cod’, especially in North Queensland). Both inhabit the same areas and eat the same food, and anglers catching either fish usually just say that they’ve caught an estuary cod. I have even seen one of each species hooked on each treble of a single lure!
The gold-spot cod has small gold to brown coloured spots or blotches, and the other has much smaller black spots. Both species have light and dark brown bands around their body which are slightly different on every individual. The spots almost seem to have been added on top of these bands, and it’s easy to see why there is an Aboriginal legend about the cod once being painted by a dreamtime artist.
These fish are most commonly found in estuaries, but also inhabit a diverse array of other locations with good structure. Cod are sometimes found around inshore reef areas or other submerged structure such as wrecks. Occasionally they may even be found further offshore – especially the larger specimens, which can reach lengths of over 1.4m. Inshore, cod can be located around most forms of structure such as mangroves, rock bars, submerged logs and rock walls.
In Southern Queensland, estuary cod are often caught along rock walls in areas such as the Nerang River, the Gold Coast Seaway and any of our many man-made canals. Harbour walls are also desirable places for the estuary cod because the rock walls hold a lot of the cod’s favourite food, including baitfish and crabs. These fish would rather eat crabs than any other food, and any rock wall that has crabs will surely have an estuary cod or two hanging around it.
The two main methods to entice estuary cod are baitfishing and luring. While estuary cod can often be caught on fly, few flyfishers specifically target them.
Baits can vary from dead offerings such as squid and fillet baits to live offerings such as mullet, herring, prawns and crabs. Although a cod will eat a dead bait, he is much more likely to find a kicking live bait in the murky water. Live baits out-produce dead baits every time, and you need to be alert when fishing them; estuary cod have quite large mouths and can scoff a bait and be back in their hole before you know it.
Live crabs, such as the small 50 cent piece sized ones you see around the rock walls at low tide, are the best for fishing around canals and harbour walls because they make up a large percentage of the cod’s natural diet. In many other estuarine situations you may find that a live baitfish will do the best job, as this is what the cod are eating in that area.
Try fishing your baits on the downcurrent side of structure, prominent points and corners (especially where there are eddies) and in deeper holes. The estuary cod’s bucket mouth can easily engulf a large mullet or crab, and I once caught a 72cm cod on a lure in the Nerang River that had a barely alive mud crab still in its mouth. The lure was wedged across the cod’s mouth, preventing the crab from falling out. The cod must have grabbed the muddie just seconds before being greedy enough to try to eat the lure as well. The buck was legal at 16cm across the carapace, so I kept it and released the cod. True story!
Lures work well on cod. Trolling them is a great way to cover a large area, especially if you’re fishing in a large river system, such as the Nerang, or in a canal or harbour.
These fish hold in similar locations to those favoured by mangrove jack and trevally. Cod like to hunt by ambush, so they find a good piece of cover close to fast flowing water where the tide brings food to them. Rock bars, jetty pylons and prominent points are good places to start looking, especially when there is a bit of run.
When trolling lures it’s best to have them tracking very close to the bottom, preferably banging and rattling across the rocks. Lures that can be trolled slowly and still reach the strike zone are a good option because it gives the cod plenty of time to hone in on the sound – as they would when a crab crawls across the rocks – and then to attack. Freshwater cod lures (with beefed up trebles and split rings) can be a good option as they have a very wide action which enables them to be trolled slowly and still get down very deep. Trolling lures like these is especially productive during the slower stages of the tide when the cod have left their ambush spots and are scavenging around the rocks that make up the wall or harbour.
During the faster stages of the tide it pays to get your lures as close as possible to the bottom or prominent structure as the cod won’t rush too far from their hiding spot to nail it. Trolling lures against the current can often pay dividends as it allows a very slow troll speed.
Estuary cod lures can vary greatly in size and colour. Those that have worked well for me in a variety of cod habitats are the larger wide-action lures in reds, oranges and browns. When fishing from the bank in canals and harbours, cast your lures upcurrent and parallel to the wall and retrieve them past prominent structure and points. Soft plastics can also work well in this situation.
Estuary cod fights can vary dramatically, ranging from explosive strikes that have you busted off in the blink of an eye to almost a dead weight on the end of the line. Cod have a large mouth and often open it wide to try to dislodge the offending lure. On the line this can make them feel like you’re fighting a bucket.
Braided line is a big advantage for this type of fishing because it allows you to feel the lure tracking across the structure and also helps you to get a cod out once it strikes. Heavy monofilament leaders are required because a cod’s teeth, although relatively small, are very sharp and can quickly damage light leaders of less than 20kg.
Once hooked, the cod will try and get back into its cavern or hole. If it does, you have two options: wait a while to see whether it comes out (which rarely happens) or follow the line down to the hole (if the water is shallow enough or you want a swim) and try to pull the cod out by the leader. Dropping a lure retriever down the line can also frighten the fish out of its hole. It may even grab hold of the lure, which will give you a little more purchase to pull the cod out.
Estuary cod can be a lot of fun to catch and are more common around Southern Queensland than most anglers think. You can encounter these fish whenever you’re fishing the estuary, break walls, harbour walls or canal estates, but specifically targeting them will increase your strike rate and catch rate. Mangrove jack, trevally and large flathead will be a welcome bycatch.
1) Releasing a 3kg gold-spot estuary cod caught on 2kg line.
2) This good sized black-spot cod was difficult to extract from a Nerang Rover rock bar.
3) This small gold-spot cod ate a lure that was half his own size.
4) The cod’s habitat and sharp teeth mean that mono leaders are essential.Reads: 1060