The mighty Murray River is the home of the legendary Murray cod but can often be one of the hardest systems to get consistent captures. This is due to the river being such a dynamic environment and constantly changing. The river is exposed to high and dirty water levels every time rain falls in the catchment, while levels also fluctuate throughout the year due to irrigation releases. These two factors make fishing the river a challenge. As we all know, cod are notorious for shutting their mouths and sulking for long periods of time.
Go With The Flow
This is no different in the Murray and these changes in flows and environment often cause periods of tough fishing. But find a period where the cod are firing and you’ll be in for a good time. The fish can bite at any stage of a water fluctuation if the water remains clear, but I have found that the periods of low or consistent clear water are by far the best time to be lure fishing. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority puts out some amazing river data online for anglers and other river users to check out. By studying and looking at these flows across the length of the river, you can see where it is flowing hard or slow. Areas that have been flowing at a consistent rate for a week or more are the ones to target, and often hold the clearest water and angriest cod. It doesn’t matter if it’s above Lake Hume, below Mildura or anywhere in between, the whole length of the Murray is amazing. Anything around 30cm of water visibility is good for the river and worth a fish. Dirtier than this and your lure fishing opportunities begin to depreciate.
The river is loaded with Murray cod big and small. If you want to catch numbers of fish the river is hard to beat over the warmer months while the cooler months produce fewer numbers but bigger fish. Fishing the river is very different from fishing for cod in the impoundments as the river is often shallow and you have flow to contend with. Due to this the cod seem to do way less swimming around than in lakes and often just sit on a big snag in the river and wait for the flow to bring the food to them.
Keep It Old School
Old-school is still cool in the river and you can take all the fancy live sonar technology and swimbaits you like to the river; it’s hard to beat the old-school approach. This is to simply cast big snag-proof lures such as deep divers, spinner baits and surface lures at the snags in the water. By using a snag-proof lure, you can quickly fish your way along the logs, getting right in there and working every part of the log or snag without fouling your lure up. This allows you to fish a large number of logs in a short period of time searching for that active cod. Swimbaits and soft plastics are often too snaggy in the current and the logs, meaning you spend more time trying to unhook your lure from snags then actually fishing.
Live sonar in the river can also be tricky as much of the river is so shallow and snaggy, it becomes hard to pick what is a cod and what’s a snag before the flow pushes you away. The river cod often hold right in the snags and the ‘in-your-face’ approach of a strongly actioned lure is too much for them to resist. The thump of a big hard-body or the flash of the spinner bait helps the fish locate the lure in the often-turbid water. Due to this, noisy flashy lures seems to out-fish the natural presentations. The sound of a surface lure early morning or late afternoon is also very hard to beat. Aussie-style surface paddlers are the best in the river as they make large amounts of sound at very slow speeds.
Just A Little Pepper
Low and slow is often the best approach in the river. Get your lure down into the strike zone, then really reduce to a slow roll to keep that lure working away in the fishes’ face for as long as possible. A slow consistent roll is often the best but there are many stretches of the river where the current is extremely strong and this will force you to speed your lure’s retrieve up, but this is OK. Work the snag over well but don’t spend too much time on each snag – I’ll put one or two good casts into each likely looking area of the snag before moving on. On a really big log with multiple branches this may mean 10 or 15 casts but on a single old trunk of a log it means only a couple of casts. If there is an active fish on the snag it will most likely bite the lure on the first or second cast and you’re better off trying to find an active fish. If the snags look really good and you want to persist with this area, simply come back and fish it again later that day when a fish may be active. In the really good sections of snags and fallen timber I may fish through the logs two or three times that day before I get a bite. But I always leave the snags for a rest for an hour or so before returning.
Understand The River
The river has many different environments as you travel downstream. The upper reaches of the river around Yarrawonga to Albury are shallow and flow hard, suiting more surface luring and shallow hard-bodies. The lower section of the river around Mildura is much deeper and slower-flowing due to the locks. This section of the river favours deep divers and spinner baits. Both environments and everything in between hold plenty of cod, just pick an approach you can fish well with and try to get snagged as little as possible. Target the big old fallen logs in the river as these are the number one pieces of big fish-holding structure and can be found by visually spotting the log lying in the river or via the use of side scan on your sounder. But if you’re after numbers of fish, cast to every piece of timber or structure you see in the river, as often the smaller fish will hold on to as little as a small branch that has fallen in the river. The river is a great consistent producer throughout the nine-month season, as it’s obviously closed to cod fishing over spring. Over the warmer months the fish will hold a little deeper in the cool water while over winter, when the water is cool, the fish will sit right up in the shallows.
My best tips are to pick a snag-proof lure, and try to get snagged as little as possible to maximise your fishing time on the river. Target the structure and be prepared to fish all day – surface in the morning and evening then sub-surface throughout the day. River cod are stubborn but if you have a solid approach and stick at it, the bites will come. Fishing on the river is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable forms of fishing there is. It’s a magic spot and holds some magic fish!