Cod on the Fly Rod
  |  First Published: February 2010

Murray cod have a dedicated following of anglers who enjoy the pleasure of inland waterways and their accompanying surrounds.

These days cod are widely distributed too, ranging within waterways from around Stanthorpe in the Queensland granite belt right through the entire New England area and to the west where streams broaden and tend to run a bit murkier.

It's the high country rivers I fish for cod simply because they are smaller, easier to find the fish and tend to be clearer all round, which is important for the fly angler.

While most cod devotees use plastics, hardbodied lures or the ubiquitous spinnerbaits, when the conditions are right these great predators will also take flies.

Choosing the right conditions

Water clarity is the main requirement when exchanging the baitcaster or threadline gear for the long rod. It's not vital for water to be crystal clear where you can see things more than 1m away, but at least 40-50cm of visibility is ideal.

As is the same with lure fishing, clean water without excessive weed growth is also important.

While a cod will often take a spinnerbait in murky waters, when chasing cod on fly water clarity is essential as the fly has no rattle or no throbbing blades garner the attention of a fish. In murky water a fly would most likely go unnoticed.

The exception to this rule is during prime low light feeding times. This is when a surface offering, no matter how murky the water, will be noticed and often attacked. A surface hit on fly from a cod will increase the heart rate immediately; when on the job these blokes really mean business.

Tackling Up

Most streams seem to hold ample cod around the 40-50cm mark through to some real horses in excess of 70cm or even 80cm. These larger fish are pretty coy though and don't get involved with things that can cause them grief too often.

A six weight fly rod might easily handle these smaller, more willing fish, but the flies we use when chasing cod are far too large for a smaller rod to handle, so I recommend using at least an eight weight rod.

On my last foray into cod country I relied on a nine weight Shore Stalker rod and found it ideal for big fat flies (both surface and sub-surface offerings) tied on 5/0 hooks.

A suitable reel to hold a floating line to match the rod with some reserve backing under the fly line shouldn't be too hard to find for late evening and early morning surface activity. It’s also a good idea to keep a spare spool set up with a corresponding intermediate sink line for other times. When using sinking lines there is the possibility of snagging the fly, but a swim on a hot day is not a bad thing from my experience.

I rely on two styles of cod flies. For surface work the Gartside Gurgler tied on a 4/0 or 5/0 Gamakatsu SL12s hook is ideal (Google Gartside Gurgler fly; it's easy to tie). My favourite colours involve black over white foam with a silver or flashy green tail plus all white with a silver or red tail of flash material. This fly is so popular that fly shops sell Gartside Gurgler profile bodies.

When fishing the sinking line I rely on a Bush Pig in dark green over white or a derivative of the Lefty's Deceiver tied somewhat fuller and flashier in colour with red/black, gold/black, chartreuse/silver combinations my favourites. Hook size is again 4/0 or 5/0.

My leader is a home made job with 1.5m of 50lb line joined to the fly line, 1m of 30lb joined to that via a four turn surgeons loop plus a final tip of 50cm of 20lb tippet to which the fly is tied in a loop knot. Grease the whole lot of the leader for floating work, rub it in mud to get it to sink.

The methods

If you've taken cod on lures you will have the advantage of knowing where these fellows like to hold up and ambush prey. Otherwise it's a process of casting the fly as near as possible to cover and working it back from there. Cod will be found at the very head, or exit, from pools at time of low light, and at such times will slam a dry fly with great enthusiasm.

Slow strips, using either a wet or dry fly, seem to stir cod into activity, although they seem to actually miss the fly on a lot of occasions. This is probably no accident, but rather the cod behaving in the same manner as when they peck at a lure or follow it right to the angler's feet.

If a cod seems to have taken a determined swipe at a fly yet does not connect my advice is to spell him a bit and try casting from another angle entirely. This tactic has worked for me on several occasions.

Making plenty of casts, varying the retrieve and being able to work a fly enticingly is the key to success with these fish.

Do be aware though, cod can be quite frustrating at times and suffer lock jaw symptoms. Yet next day the same water will see fish on the job and causing endless excitement. That's the attraction of cod on fly… one never knows.

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