MURRAY cod have been stocked in many streams and some Queensland impoundments for long enough to make flyfishing for them a worthwhile business. When they’re in the mood, cod will take the fly with a wallop and, like most freshwater fish, if they’re shut down nothing will change their frame of mind!
The key to cod on fly is the weather. The hotter the better, and with summer coming on, the higher altitude streams should now start to fire. The best chance of scoring some of these fish this month will be in the streams feeding off the New England plateau, so start looking for cod in virtually every stream from Stanthorpe (the Sundown National Park is a great spot to camp and fish) through to Glen Innes. The idea is to buy a couple of topographic maps and plan a trip based on major streams shown on the maps.
Never mind about fishing the rivers where they cross the highway – too many other anglers have fished these spots. The idea of using the topographic maps is to branch further afield to where the sweetwater lies. Put in some time, talk to land owners and the next thing you know you’ll be directed to a campsite with a cod pool right behind. Who could ask for more?
You can get started by sussing out the water of the Severn River at Ballandean and continue through to Beardy Waters at Glen Innes. Most streams have now been well flushed with rain, and after I made a couple of recent forays to the New England area I found that the bad drought of 2002 didn’t effect the cod fishing the way many anglers feared it would.
So why the emphasis on the granite belt and New England streams? There are tonnes of cod found in lowland waters west of the main range – the Macintyre and Dumeresq contain some real horses – but your chances of scoring with the fly in the rocky, faster flowing, higher altitude streams are much better due to the increased clarity.
And this is important because unlike a lure, which usually has rattles, a bib and about as much colour as the local ladies hair salon of a Saturday morning, a fly relies on whatever material the tier has put into it – plus the action imparted by the angler while fishing. Put simply, flies will pass un-noticed in discoloured water.
My view is that if there isn’t 25cm of visibility in the water when you’re fishing with fly, you’re going to have a tough time.
Like most flyfishing pursuits we can probably double up with gear used for taking another species, but we need to consider a couple of factors before throwing together the flathead rod with some flies tied on 4/0 and 6/0 hooks.
In larger rivers cod can grow to 6kg or more and the problem is that you can never tell what size fish is going to take your fly. And while cod might not fight for very long, unless you hook an exceptional fish, they sure do hit the fly with a savage tug. And of course, if a snag is handy the fish will give its all to get into it, so I advocate nothing less than a strong 8wt or 9wt rod for cod.
Obviously, we’re going to use large wet flies for cod most of the time so a full sink line (intermediate sink rate) or a sink tip is a good line choice. That said, the floating line is very useful at first light or in the twilight to tempt a cod with a surface popper style of fly, which they take very well when the light is low.
Cod accept a wide variety of flies. Take a look at a Pink Thing that the barra love so much, improvise on different colours while maintaining the same shape and you’ll have a decent cod fly. Likewise, streamer-style flies not that far removed from Lefty's famous Deceiver will also fill the bill. I've also taken cod on very large (tied on 4/0 hooks) Clouser Deep Minnow style flies. Basically, if your fly is large enough to attract the attention of a fish and has some sort of pulsating or wriggling action, with a contrasting collar of sparkle or flash material, it should take a cod. The best flies are usually those that exhibit good contrast. For example, red (collar) and black (tail) is useful when the water is bit dirty. In clearer water try a chartreuse (collar) and white (tail) style of fly. Cod flies should be tied on 4/0 or 6/0 hooks to maintain the required size.
There’s no one best fly or ‘secret’ fly that’s guaranteed to work. The idea is to try several flies and persevere by casting to areas of shade, drop-off banks, or around obvious cover such as logs, overhanging branches or boulders or (at daylight and dusk) right in the heads of pools in the current line or adjacent to it. Work the fly back in strips or small jerks to give it an erratic, stop-start retrieve. Don’t be too fast; cod are attracted to a fly that’s moving slowly and erratically.
Cod are opportunistic feeders and don't usually let a chance of an easy feed go by. They are also very territorial and will whack at a fly simply because it keeps coming into their bit of territory and annoying them. Either way, the angler wins.
Working cover is the clue, but sometimes it pays to work a chosen spot from a couple of different directions before deciding that the area isn’t going yield a fish. Remember that when flyfishing for cod it pays to be a bit careful and to keep out of sight. Cod are just as wary as other freshwater fish are of large or noisy things looming around their chosen habitat. A discreet, careful approach will pay dividends, especially when you’re fishing the shallows at the top of a pool with a surface fly.
Cod will take a fly with a whack but will usually only fight hard for a short time. Provided you keep calm the fish will usually tire fairly quickly and then come into the net without much fuss at all. Some do lie doggo, however, after the initial run and will come in OK to suddenly take off again right at your feet. It pays to treat the whole exercise carefully and not rush things.
Cod have large mouths with an abrasive set of choppers so use a sufficiently strong leader tippet to prevent the line being chafed through. An 8kg line is usually ample unless the water being fished is known to have whoppers stashed away in its depths. If that’s the case, 10kg tippet is good insurance.
Cod waters in the high country are outstanding places of peace and tranquillity. Being alone on a beautiful cool Granite Belt or New England stream at daylight in summer, with ripples spreading across the water caused by a curious platypus, just has to be one of the best things about fly casting for cod. The fish are a bonus; being privileged to enjoy such beautiful surroundings is every bit as important to my way of thinking.
1) An assortment of cod flies. Colour contrast and diversity is important.
2) The author hangs onto a fish in a Granite Belt stream.Reads: 3896