Cod fishing is riddled with unanswered questions. It’s part of the reason it hooks you so bad and keeps you coming back for more, like a cod junkie.
At times the addiction can be so bad it’s like you have blinkers on and the only thing you are searching for is that next hit.
Yet, this blinkered approach can mean you limit your ability to see the forest from the trees. By that I mean you can miss the answers to some of your cod questions that are littered right throughout each trip. It’s a trap for not only young, but also seasoned anglers.
While it seems like an easy fix – simply pay more attention when you’re on the water – it doesn’t always work out like that. You tend to have so many things going through your head and a cod will inevitably pop up when you least expect it.
Like when a goodoo blows up on your surface bait as it dangles over the edge of the boat, while you’re pondering your next cast. It’s such an instant thrill, with adrenaline literally flooding through your veins, it’s hard to think straight.
But that was the exact challenge Aaron Hill and I set ourselves. We wanted to pay more attention after a hit from a cod and trial a series of follow-up tactics to see if one stood above the pack and stacked the cod chips in our favour.
At first we wanted to set some ground rules and try to break a cod hit down into two categories. The first, aptly coined a ‘love tap’, was that faint nip or swirl under a surface presentation where the cod doesn’t actually touch the bait. The second is when they have a red-hot crack, whack the bait and draw cord from a locked drag. We called this one a ‘proper whack’.
Most anglers drop their bottom lip if they register a proper whack, never investing much time into thinking it might come back.
But we had only to cast our minds back to Rod Mackenzie’s Cod Almighty DVD trilogy, where a 100lb – yes, 100lb – beast smacked his Bassman spinnerbait no fewer than three times before he hauled it aboard. Each time the behemoth stripped string from a full locked drag.
Rodney also aggressively rolled his shoulders and jammed the bait deep into the fish’s gob each time it struck. This footage, while wild and awesome, always stuck with me that a cod, even after it’s been seriously pinned, might still come back.
Now, with the two types of hits categorised we decided to look at a couple of approaches we could test, post-hit, for the entire season.
The first option, ‘continued casting’, was to immediately bombard the area with an aquatic assault of both anglers’ baits – one bait going slowly through the hit and run crime scene, while the other worked faster and more erratic.
We would do this intensively for five minutes to really work the area over and hit it from multiple angles and different perspectives. The angler who didn’t register the hit would also change their bait type to see if that made any difference.
The second option, ‘just cool it’, would see us slowly and methodically paddle the twin seat Hobie or 420 Trophy Explorer under Minn Kota electric power, away from the strike site. Through the GPS on our Humminbird sounder, we would then mark the exact spot for future reference.
Without throwing another cast and disturbing the area, we would give the spot a wide berth for the next hour. We would then come back with all guns blazing and throw our baits at the exact same structure or snag.
Our watertight gentlemen’s agreement also stipulated that the angler who registered the strike always got the first cast. We stood by this on ‘most’ occasions. Like the first strategy, we would also change baits during our five-minute casting session.
If we registered another hit while employing either of the above strategies, we would go back to the start of the plan. This would see us either continue aggressively casting or give the spot another 60-minute time out.
With the ground rules set, it was time for December 1 to roll around and open those big mottled green gates to another cod fishing season.
Cod Open Wide
It was a tense start to the season as we floated in our kayak three inches above our local river that zig zagged through central New South Wales. Interestingly, it was the only time we were both collectively disappointed to have our first three fish stick.
Yet, we knew a miss was only around the corner, as it inevitably was when chasing these enigmatic green grenades with their tempestuous temperament. Sure enough, after gulping down some savoury noodles for lunch we rounded a boulder-strewn bend and Hilly had his Jackall Gantarel plucked on the pause.
“What do we do”? I yelped.
Cool as a cucumber, Hilly powered the Hobie away from the strike zone as my casting arm was twitching away.
“Don’t cast, we’re giving it an hour!” Hilly exclaimed, again, irritatingly cool, while I was losing mine.
Having checked my watch for the 114th time, it was now 55 minutes since the hit and we started to power back towards the spot. As per our verbal agreement, Hilly, who already had three fish for the day, delivered the first cast to the area.
We collectively waited with bated breath as he worked his swimbait past the apex point of a midwater boulder for not even a touch. I didn’t need a written invite, as I instantly fired my bait right into the danger zone. But, just like Hilly’s bait, it came through unscathed.
After giving the spot roughly five minutes, we then moved upriver, agreeing we would continue to cast after the next hit.
Three bends later, it was my turn to have a brief encounter with a greenback after my swimbait was whacked hard on the slow roll. Casting along the exact same line I nervously negotiated the bait back to the rod tip without any action.
Hilly then patiently manoeuvred the kayak as we continued to harass the spot from a variety of angles – but again to no avail.
While the one trip was only a small sample, we didn’t register a single follow-up hit from either of the two methods we trialled. As with all things cod fishing, however, it’s better to garner a perspective from an entire season rather than a single trip, as it’s easy to be deterred by these boom or bust fish.
The next session we had for the season was in a dam in the tricked-up tinnie, with all the electronic mod cons. Through the Humminbird MEGA Live technology we were able to see how a fish reacts after it hit our baits.
This proved even more valuable than we expected as Hilly drilled a cast to the back edge of a shallow tree-infested bank. After getting a quarter of the way back to the boat, a sizeable green back started to tail his hybrid swimbait as he worked it to the boat, only to nip it with inches left on the retrieve.
Against all instincts we decided to slowly power away from a clearly pent-up Murray cod and give the spot an hour. Well, it was the longest hour of our lives as we continued along the bank for no action.
As the timer hit the hour mark and we got into position, Hilly clicked Circle Mode on the Humminbird Helix sounder. This often-overlooked feature slowly moves the boat in a circle around a pre-determined waypoint, so both anglers can fish the spot hands-free.
Without the help of technology we wouldn’t have noticed it was the deep and dense foliage where Hilly started his retrieve that the beast lived – rather than free swimming in midwater, where the cod actually hit his bait the first time.
This small aquatic insight allowed us to fine-tune our approach. Then, like reading from a Hollywood script, the beast reappeared from the deep snag pile, but this time didn’t allow Hilly’s swimbait to make it out alive.
With a sharp arc of his graphite sword, we soon hauled aboard a serious slab of goodoo that also chalked up the first result for our season-long ‘hit test’.
One result doesn’t make a pattern so we were keen to continue to test our hit hypothesis. After a couple of less than entertaining trips, with only a few misses, we rocked up to our local stretch of river to again test it out.
The two-man kayak was again our vessel of choice as we stealthily glided into the vodka-clear water. It’s a unique fishing experience out of a ’yak and one we have enjoyed for well over a decade now, with Hilly’s PB even coming from one.
As we rounded a familiar bend we noticed a recently felled tree that was now three-quarters buried in the water. It was one of those spots that just shouted fish. True to form I let fly with my unweighted swimbait and felt an almighty whack that my ancestors would have felt, as it made it past the tree’s furthest submerged limb.
Slightly shaken and after a quick midwater discussion, we decided to continue to pepper the snag, rather than leaving it for an hour. After a few deep breaths, my very next cast was a carbon copy of my initial lob.
With my heart neatly nestled in my throat, I again paused the swimbait at the outer summit of the snag. Not expecting much as it really smacked it and pulled cord last cast, I was gobsmacked when my swimbait was again obliterated on the pause. A very pent-up underwater assailant then made a beeline for cover. Game on!
Lucky I had a full locked drag on my recently acquired Shimano Curado DC 200 baitcaster to stop the rampaging beast on its aquatic burial mission. Sans a few anxious moments, we eased the craft to the edge of the river and carefully submitted a metre-plus of green muscle.
After the adrenaline drained from our system and the medicine bottle got an early-morning workout, we continued on our hunt for another swag with fins.
Looking back on a very enjoyable nine months plying our trade against the most formidable foe in freshwater we started to unpack our results.
The most glaring observation was just the sheer amount of hits you encounter in a single season. These are those pivotal moments of a trip that can see you leaving as either a hero or with zero.
For us, we registered 73 hits of which 32 found flesh and the rest were just love taps or surface swirls. The mind boggles what type of a season it would be if all these enquiries connected.
Now, getting down to the nitty gritty. We were able to salvage 13 of the hits and turn them into repeat eaters. For the maths nerds out there, that’s 18% of all hits coming back for a second bite of the cherry and finding the trebles.
Of those 13 successful fish we tempted again, eight initially registered a love tap, while the remaining five all pulled cord, yet still came back for more.
Now, the best method, surprisingly, was to give the spot an hour’s grace before coming back again. Ten of the 13 fish that came back bit after an hour’s absence.
Going into it, the results are not what we were expecting to come out of our little hit hypothesis. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was sure going straight back into an already inquisitive cod would yield the best results.
Now, we acknowledge this isn’t really a statistically significant sample size to say emphatically you should leave every cod hit for an hour before reapproaching. But it did open our eyes to an alternative approach to trial if you are looking to mix up your Murray cod casting strategy.