Words & Images: Colby Lesko
I have always been obsessed with travelling to new locations when targeting Murray cod. I think it’s the massive range of different environments these fish live in and the huge area of Australia where you can target them. The Murray-Darling Basin stretches across five states and territories of Australia and has some immensely different landscapes. Exploring these different locations, be they dams or rivers, is a great journey on its own. But working out how to catch a cod in each of these different scenarios is a challenge I love. Over the past 10 years I’ve been lucky enough to have had some success in most of the different rivers and lakes I have fished across the Murray-Darling Basin. I love catching big cod and will happily sacrifice all the bites from smaller fish. This usually works well for me and with some persistence I can generally find a bigger fish wherever I am fishing. However, there is always one exception, and for me this was Googong Dam in NSW, near Canberra in the ACT.
Despite my best attempts at trying to fool a large cod in this dam I was only able to catch smaller sub-one metre fish. Don’t get me wrong; even the sub-metre cod in this dam are seriously massive due to their obese condition, but I really wanted to find a true monster. This has gone on for a number of years, but I didn’t let the dam beat me and made time to put in at least three or four days every year, trying for a Googong Dam monster cod. A couple of winters ago I even said to myself, ‘I’m heading to Googong and I’m not coming home until I get one’. Well after nine days of casting for two sub-metre fish I returned home with my tail between my legs. I did manage to hook a big fish but it managed to spit the hooks on the surface and left me heartbroken. After all these unsuccessful trips you’d think I would give it away and just try some other locations, but there was just something about the challenge of Googong.
Googong Dam is easily the hardest place I have ever fished to get a bite from a Murray cod. This is due to a number of factors. Number one is that it’s loaded with small redfin and the Murray cod have an unlimited all-you-can-eat food supply all year. The cod are literally stuffed full of redfin their whole life in this dam, so they have no reason to even take a lure. I’ve been lucky enough to catch cod in Eildon, Copeton and Burrinjuck dams, which are renowned for having fat fish, but nothing compares to the condition of Googong fish. They are hands down the fattest cod in Australia I have seen – every fish is insanely fat. It has to be seen to be believed – photos don’t do these fish justice. Every time I catch one, I’m lost for words how it’s even possible for a cod to hold such condition.
Factor number two on why these obese cod are so hard to catch is that there is no prime-time fishing at the dam – it is only open during daylight hours. This is due to the dam being Canberra’s drinking water supply, and the gates into the dam are only opened 8am to 6pm during the cooler periods and open a little longer during daylight savings time. The water is very clear in Googong so I imagine the big cod do most of their feeding and hunting during the cover of night or low light periods. Not being on the water for these periods puts you at a serious disadvantage when trying to fool a cod into eating a lure.
Factor number three is that the dam is for electric motors only, meaning travel around the dam is slow and time-consuming. This puts you at a disadvantage, as if you find the area you want to fish doesn’t have any bait or signs of life it can take hours to move to a new part of the dam and you waste the bite time travelling on the electric motor.
Due to all these factors, Googong Dam has been the ultimate challenge for me to try to catch a monster cod. But thankfully on a recent trip, persistence finally prevailed, and I was able to hook and land a true monster cod.
April is a great month for targeting Murray cod and I was away with my mate Will Curtin fishing and camping on the mighty Murray River when we had 40ml of rain forecast over the next two days. 40ml of rain when you’re camping in swags and living out of the boat isn’t fun, so we hatched a plan to leave the river and drive to Googong. This way we could still fish for cod in the rain but not have to worry about a rapidly rising dirty river while heading home at night to dry out. Plus, Will fishes Googong regularly and had been having some luck recently on overcast/rainy days. Local knowledge is key!
We drove through the night to make it to the dam for the morning. We waited at the gates early and the ranger opened them slightly ahead of time so we were on the water fishing just after 8am. The forecast was 40ml of rain for the day, so we had the full wet weather gear on. The elements tried to beat us this day as we had every bit of those 40ml by lunchtime. A few heavy downpours had everything soaked but it remained overcast and dark, so our confidence was still high. The plan was to just blind-cast surface lures at the bank all day and cover lots of the flooded sapling edges on the lake. The surface allowed us to fish quickly and effectively over top of these very snagging banks but also didn’t give the fish much of a look at the surface lure. This meant if a fish was interested in the lure it was going to have to commit to the lure, not just follow it like the fish in Googong do to so many subsurface lures. At 11.30am I was casting into a pile of flooded brush and winding the Balista Tremor paddler back out to the boat when it was exploded on by a cod in six metres of water. The hooks found their mark and an incredibly fat 92cm fish came aboard. Being a year or so since I had caught a Googong cod, I was again lost for words seeing how fat this fish was. A couple of photos and the fish was returned to the water and the fishing continued. Thirty minutes later my surface lure was exploded on again but sadly the fish missed the hooks. We fished hard until the gates closed at 6pm but despite a couple of boils on the surface lures we didn’t receive a single bite for the afternoon.
Day 2 had us hitting the water as soon as the gates were open again and after getting two bites around midday the day before, we were confident we could stir up another fish. The conditions were much better with a lot less rain but the sky remained overcast. We decided to fish some new water for the midday bite period and hit a steeper rocky bank with flooded saplings. Will was spotting the odd fish on the sounder as we travelled down the bank, and I was standing at the back of the boat and firing long casts with the surface lure down the flooded edges and winding back to the boat. Right at 11.30am as we reached the end of the steep rocky bank it flattened off, turning into mud with a large weed bed forming off the bank. I fired a long cast down the edge of the weed and after a few cranks of the handle my paddler was exploded on by a massive fish. The rod loaded up and all the time and effort put in over the last few years came down to this moment. The fight started with a few tense moments with a big fish in flooded timber, but luckily Will got me above the fish and I got him clear of the structure with some heavy pressure from the 50lb braid and 80lb leader.
The next issue was fitting a fish of this size in the net, but we played it cool and waited for the perfect opportunity and Will did a great job of scooping the giant up. I had finally done it and what a great feeling it was. The adrenaline took over before a massive sense of relief. I’d finally done it! It really highlighted how incredible the capture of one single fish can be and how special big Murray cod are. The fish ended up going 121cm with some incredible condition, and after a few quick pics she was back in the drink to eat more redfin. I was on a total high and sat back to take it all in as Will continued casting the midday bite time. Around 30 minutes later Will’s Tremor was also exploded on by a metre-plus fish that sadly missed the hooks. This fish would have made it a dream day but that’s the way surface fishing goes and if you can hook 50 per cent of fish you’re going OK. There were no more bites for the rest of the afternoon but this didn’t really matter – it was incredible to catch such a big fish from Googong, especially during the middle of the day, on a surface lure. It’s certainly one I will never forget.