The first of December arrives with much anticipation: it’s cod opening.
Here’s Darky’s guide to getting the most out of your Murray cod open season. Hopefully you’ll get a bit out of it, but more importantly, get amongst one or two those magnificent big green fish. Be warned though, chasing Murray cod is extremely addictive.
The best destinations to open your Murray cod season are in the northern reaches of the state, with the Murray River the obvious destination. The Murray River has excellent bush camping reserves along its length, adding the camping dimension to the opening weekend as well.
Every major town along the Murray River can be a cod hotspot. Despite there being an overall reduction in cod numbers they’re still quite widespread. Downstream of Lake Hume and Albury Wodonga yields some great fishing, although faster moving water in some of these areas mean adapting to the flow.
The areas around the Corowa region similarly are good, productive stretches of water, all the way down to the weir-influenced water at Lake Mulwala. Immediately below Lake Mulwala the closed area of the Murray River re-opens at the same time as Murray cod open season, and this too is a sensational piece of river.
A few years back I spent a bit of time fishing Cobram with well-known guide and writer Roger Miles. The locals love Cobram and with good reason, it’s a Murray cod Mecca!
Around Echuca The Narrows and Barmah are great areas, right through to above and below Torrumbarry Weir. Barham/Koondrook through to Swan Hill has some great water, as do the areas further downstream with Tooleybuc, Wood Wood and Boundary Bend being popular and fruitful.
The river around Robinvale just continues to produce fish to lure casters, trollers and bait anglers. The areas both above and below Mildura are fantastic, offering much variety. Above Mildura expect shallower water, which is fantastic for cast/retrieving. Below Mildura the water deepens substantially, with areas around and beyond Wentworth like Fort Courage having those incredible, deep troll runs to 40ft and more.
Closer to Central Victoria, the Loddon River is a lovely little river that holds good numbers of Murray cod. The areas around Bridgewater and Newbridge are very popular with anglers; both have produced excellent Murray cod in the past, as have the weir-influenced waters further downstream.
Further east the Goulburn River also is a great Murray cod destination. The areas both upstream and downstream of Shepparton yield some great cod to anglers not put off by the incredibly murky waters of this waterway.
Further east again and the Wangaratta region boasts the Ovens and King Rivers, both of which hold good numbers of Murray cod which respond particularly well to a cast and retrieved lure.
Jump the border and the New South Wales rivers in the Edwards around Deniliquin, and the Darling north of Wentworth also offer excellent Murray cod fishing with easy access for the travelling Victorian angler.
There is also a number of what I classify as ‘second tier’ rivers in Victoria. These streams would not be an angler’s first choice for opening day, but for locals with limited time they offer a very real option.
The Campaspe River near Bendigo is one such river that has small pockets of quality cod. Similarly the upper reaches of the Yarra River means that anglers in the know may also partake in the Murray cod opening: within easy reach of the Melbourne CBD.
Similarly the Avoca and Wimmera Rivers also hold small pockets of Murray cod, however the exact locations are closely guarded local secrets; fair enough too.
Without a doubt, every feature mentioning Murray cod lakes should lead with the premier cod fishery of the land: Lake Mulwala at Yarrawonga. Combine the country’s best Murray cod fishery, with the largest and best run, open to all, fishing competition in the land (the Cod Classic) and you have a recipe for cod opening weekend to remember!
Yarrawonga/Mulwala really is a holiday wonderland and a great place for the entire family to visit in fact.
Most importantly the Murray cod are abundant. The lake is often criticised for having a large proportion of smaller under-sized fish and this may well be the case; there are a lot of undersized fish taken.
That said there are also plenty of good-sized fish taken too, with the occasional behemoth mixed in as well. I think anglers are often a bit spoilt with actual numbers of fish in this lake (I have taken 18 fish in a morning casting session with a mate) and that clouds the perception just a little. It’s a top spot; if you haven’t been there, go!
Closer to Melbourne Lake Eildon has turned into a somewhat unlikely native fish fishery. Stocking of Murray cod into this traditional salmonoid lake has been happening for quite some time now and anglers are regularly rewarded with quality Murray cod when fishing the rocky shorelines.
Similarly the Hume Weir at Albury Wodonga is another excellent mixed fishery with Murray cod and golden perch living (relatively) harmoniously with the resident trout. There are also some lesser-known lakes that are well worth a look if you’re unable to get to one of the more prominent lakes.
My former local of Lake Eppalock near Bendigo is one such lake. The drought has done everything possible to kill off this great fishery, but the fish are still there and keen to be caught. Lakes Mokoan (if it still has some water), Nillahcootie and the Goulburn Weir also hold small numbers of Murray cod and can be handy destinations for local and time limited anglers.
For the grass roots anglers (and there are still plenty of them out there), there’s nothing better than selecting a likely looking spot, drifting down a favoured bait on a needle sharp hook and waiting for a cod.
At the top of the tree bait wise is the bardi grub, Murray cod simply can’t go past them. They are difficult to source and expensive to purchase.
There is however a viable alternative out there nowadays in the cheese bardi moulds. These moulds turn out perfect mozzarella bardies which gain results just as good as the real thing. Don’t let the lack of a mould put you off trying cheese for bait however, as the cod love a cubed portion as well.
The old favourites still work well so don’t be scared to pop on a good-sized yabby or a nice succulent scrub worm. Smaller worms and river shrimp will work well too, however you’ll be attracting the smaller species of the river as well like golden and silver perch, redfin and European carp. If you have Murray cod in your sights, try and stick to the larger baits.
Hook size is largely dependent on the bait being presented, with 4/0 to 7/0 usually being sufficient. Buy the best hooks you can afford; the chemically sharpened ones are the optimum choice.
As with all bait fishing, use only enough lead to anchor your bait on the bottom, keeping in mind any flow in the river or walk-ability of your bait (yabbies). In and around the snags is a great place to start bait fishing, but slightly upstream of a nice snag pile will also see a cod with a keen nose sniffing up the minute berley trail that is inadvertently formed.
For the more adventurous anglers, give your baits a thorough hosing down with CRC before sending them down. I know it flies in the face of all we’re taught as budding anglers to keep our hands free of petrol and sunscreen when fishing but trust me, it works.
CRC being a rust preventer apparently has a large fish oil base structure, so that being the case it’s little wonder it turns the Murray cod on. I know a lot of readers will shake their heads as they read this, but all I can say is give it a go. You might get a big Murray cod surprise!
Lure fishing for Murray cod has a tremendous following these days, and why not? There’s nothing quite like the aggressive strike of a Murray cod on a well-presented lure. The power of these fish is simply awesome.
Trolling lures is a favourite fishing method and it’s an incredibly effective way of turning up some nice fish. One advantage is that it’s often the only way to present a lure to a fish holding in some of the deeper areas of our rivers and lakes.
Trolling is also accessible to anyone with a basic tinny; the mega-boats with high tech bow mounted electrics are not necessary to troll lures.
As long as you have an outboard capable of idling down nice and slowly, you’re in with a show trolling a big old, slow wobbling Murray cod lure.
Another advantage of trolling is the sheer amount of water you can cover searching out your fish. If one area is shut down, you’ll soon be in another knocking at another fish’s snag!
That said, there’s a lot to be said for picking a short troll run of a couple of hundred meters perhaps and methodically working it over, exhausting every possibility of goading that angry Murray cod into swiping at your lure.
There are a couple of disadvantages to trolling. Firstly the lures often won’t get near a fish holding deep within some cover, it simply won’t see the lure or will be too lazy to punch out the extra few meters to swipe at it.
The other disadvantage is the physical amount of times a fish gets to see a trolled lure. Some fish need multiple views of a lure to gain a strike and even then it can take a change of lure or colour to get a hit. Trolled lures simply don’t allow that bang, bang, bang, ‘in their face’ presentation that casting and retrieving achieves.
Despite it sometimes looking a little bit aimless in its presentation, anglers applying a little science to their trolling will gain far better results than those who don’t.
Using your sounder, aim to keep your lures within 3ft of the bottom and the structure down there, that’s where the Murray cod will be. To that point you need to have an intimate knowledge of the swimming depths of your favourite cod fishing lures.
If your lure is occasionally nudging the structure, that’s perfect. If you happen across a run that looks particularly promising either with structure or arches on your sounder, work it over from all different angles before moving on.
This way any resident fish will get a second or third look at your lure, enticing a strike.
Trolling speed is variable, but let your rod tip be your guide. If your lure is transferring that rhythmic action to the rod tip and you feel it’s also reaching its optimum depth then that’s good.
There used to be a school of thought for ultra-slow troll speeds but some lures won’t work properly or achieve depth unless there’s a little more speed involved. A lure trolled downstream in some sections of the Murray River will not have a hope of reaching depth without a little speed either.
There are a lot of popular trolling lures out there. Some of my favourites include the Goulburn Lures Old Codger, Custom Crafted Lures, Legend Lures and the ever-popular OarGee range, which now has an ultra-deep diver in the stable.
There are a lot of excellent Australian made brands out there and all work well. The only bad lures I’ve seen are the cheap, and nasty rip-offs of some of our more successful styles. Anglers should bypass these in the tackle shops and spend a little extra on the real thing. There’s no comparison between the two.
Casting and retrieving lures is the other popular presentation.
The major advantages to this form of presentation is the ability to get right in amongst the snags where a fish may be holding as often as is required to gain a strike. Casting and retrieving is really only governed by the anglers biceps and/or patience.
The presentation is very much be governed by the lure in use.
Spinnerbaits and their variants will need to sink to depth before commencing the retrieve, as will the bibles rattling lures. Diving hardbodied lures will need to be dug-in in the first stage of the retrieve to achieve the correct depth.
On that note, don’t be scared to change styles if a strike is felt which in resulting casts doesn’t produce the fish. Often a complete change of lure style is enough to turn a looker into a striker.
Casting lures were once limited to spinnerbaits and hardbodies of the same bibbed style that is trolled but there are a number of variants available now.
Mumblers and Chatterbaits are spinnerbait variants, with the bibless rattling minnows taking the angling world by storm over the past couple of years.
Soft plastics have been around for some time but simply haven’t caught on for Murray cod to date. On smaller species the new big thing is the vibrating blades. It remains to be seen whether they take off for cod as well.
Popular spinnerbaits are the Bassman and Outlaw ranges, amongst others. These two brands particularly have upgraded hardware to cope with the strength of fish up to 100lb and beyond.
The best Murray cod spinnerbaits also carry a soft plastic and a stinger hook hidden within the ‘budgie’, a nice mouthful for the most demanding of Murray cod.
The Mumbler variants carry a flat front blade, a large soft plastic minnow and often a spinnerbait skirt as well, and offer a vast difference to the traditional spinnerbait.
The best bibless minnows are the Jackall range by far. There aren’t cheap though. There are cheaper variants available for those with shallower pockets and all are capable of catching fish if presented in the right place at the right time.
Just as with the trolled lures, your retrieve speed will be determined by the style of lure being used. Spinnerbaits particularly are very sensitive to speed. Those with Colorado blades require far less speed to work properly than those with willow style blades.
The Mumblers and variants speeds will be determined by the rod tip action. Bibless minnows can be gently retrieved, lifted and dropped or any manner of style in between. Mix it up for best results.
So there you have it, the where how and what with of Murray cod fishing. It’s now up to you to get out and about amongst them. Be aware that chasing the big green fish is an incredibly addictive pastime. Lifetime addictions resulting in sheds full of rods, reels and lures are a frequent consequence. That’s a consequence I’m willing to wear however.
Rules and Regulations
Unless you are a designated exempt person, you will be required to hold a current Victorian Recreational Fishing Licence to fish in Victoria.
Please be aware that the Murray River is New South Wales water, therefore a New South Wales licence is required to fish there. Lake Hume is designated Victorian water for licensing purposes, and Lake Mulwala is designated New South Wales water for licensing purposes.
In Victoria Murray cod now effectively have a slot limit of size which may be taken, of between 60cm and 100cm with a possession limit of two fish. At the time of writing the New South Wales regulations are similar size wise, however NSW still allows one fish to be taken over 100 cm in length. It is every angler’s responsibility to be aware of rules and regulations; they can and do change with little notice.
Catch and Release
Murray cod are not by any stretch of the imagination a prolific fish. Angling practices of the past combined with water mismanagement, agriculture and the introduction of feral competitor fish species sees a much declined fish species from the middle part of the last century.
In recent times anecdotal evidence suggests that European carp are nowhere near as prolific as they were 20-30 years ago. I don’t think I’m drawing too long a bow in suggesting that some of this can be attributed to evolving fishing practices where the larger fish such as Murray cod that predate on the carp are returned to the water.
Without a doubt catch-and-release is catching on. There is simply no need to kill the large fish for bragging rights these days, mobile phones and digital cameras have relegated this practice to the dark old ages. The large fish are the breeders of the system and are essential for the survival of the species.