In Australia the Murray cod is one of the most commonly targeted species. It’s easy to see why so many of us target these fish, their stunning looks, size and awesome power with which they hit lures will have any fisherman develop a slight addiction to chasing Murray cod. Anglers generally target these iconic fish in the warmer months of the year when the fish are more active and a little easier to tempt with lures, but as the water cools there is still some great fishing to be had with larger specimens often taken from April to June. Although you may not catch as many fish, and some days you may not even get as much as a sniff on your lures, chances are when you do get that hit you’ve been waiting for, it’s going to be a quality fish if not the monster you’ve dreamt of. One of the best things about fishing for Murray cod is that it can quite easily be done without the use of a boat, in fact some of the most productive fishing areas are often easier to access when land based.
Where & When
Murray cod can be found in many habitats stretching all the way from Southern Queensland through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. They occupy large rivers to smaller creeks but are also found in many of our lakes and dams. Although not naturally occurring in many of these places, cod have been successfully stocked in many lakes and impoundments for recreational anglers to take advantage of. This has provided us with an abundance of locations with some truly massive fish available. Whilst they are found in such a large range of habitats and locations, the basic principles of when to fish, equipment used and lure choice remain very similar. Cod typically like snaggy areas or deep ledges where they can take cover to ambush their prey. Like most fish there are better times to fish for cod to maximize your chances of landing one. Moon phases, the barometer, water clarity and time of day can all play a major part in catching cod. With most of us fishing when we can get the chance, it’s rare that you can align all these factors perfectly. The truth is if you only fished when everything was perfect you wouldn’t spend much time with a line in the water at all. If however you do find yourself with the luxury of choosing the days and times you fish or you are planning your next cod fishing trip I would recommend a couple of things: fishing early mornings or late afternoons, as with most fish this seems to be the most productive time for casting lures at cod. I like to fish a couple of days either side of the new moon or the few days leading up to the full moon. I like the water to be quite clear to give my lures maximum exposure to the fish, so if you have had some heavy rain in the area you are fishing, try to give the water some time to clear. When it comes to the barometer I have found that a sharply rising barometer often increases your chances, but I have had many good results on a very fast falling barometer also. A steady low barometer is probably when I have found the fishing to be the toughest. It seems to shut everything down and enticing fish into a strike can be very hard work. There are always exceptions to these theories, but if you want to give yourself the best chance keep them in mind.
When it comes to the outfits I use, it all depends on where I will be fishing. For smaller rivers and creeks where there may be obstacles such as low lying branches, and having to cast distance isn’t a concern, I recommend a shorter bait caster outfit. This is usually about 5’10’ in height and rated anywhere from 5-10 kg. For more open fishing in larger rivers, lakes and damns where there are less obstacles to contend with I like a longer rod about 6’6- 7’0 in length either in spin or bait caster. The longer rod helps achieve a bit more distance when that longer cast is needed. Again this rod is rated anywhere between 5-10 kg. In both of these rod options I like the tip of the rod to be soft enough to cast a variety of lures while still having enough punch to set the hooks on the fish. All the rods I use are lightweight graphite. This makes casting a breeze, especially on those long days walking the bank, when the number of casts you put in is in the hundreds. The sensitivity of graphite especially when used with braid gives a huge advantage when working your lures, you can just about feel every movement and bump your lure makes. Although sometimes graphite rods may be a bit more fragile than fiberglass rods, the advantages certainly outweigh the disadvantages. I match my rods with either a lightweight bait cast or spin reel with a reliable smooth drag spooled with a good quality 20lb braided line. The braided line I find easier to cast while also giving you a real feel for what your lure is doing thanks to its minimal stretch and fine diameter. Good quality fluro carbon leader from 20-40lb and 1-2 meters in length is ideal for most situations, I connect this to my braid via an Improved Albright knot. The fluoro carbon provides great abrasion resistance and is harder for the fish to see. In most environments fishing 20lb leader will do the job but if you’re fishing in heavy snags or rocky areas you may need to increase your leader to give you a bit more abrasion resistance.
We are certainly spoilt with the amount of lures available for cod fishing. Not only the types of lures but the colours and patterns are endless. There are three main types of lures I use when walking the bank fishing for cod. These are the traditional hard bodied bibbed lures, spinnerbaits, and surface lures. The selection of what lure to use in what colour all depends on where and when I’m fishing. Bibbed lures are probably the most well known and commonly used by most anglers out there as they are simple but effective in most situations. These lures come in many diving depths so it helps if you know what depth of water you’re fishing in before selecting your lure. Everyone has a favorite colour in cod lures, but I find darker colours work well in dirtier water and more natural looking colours that imitate either red fin or carp work well in the clear water. I like to cast these lures past the area I wish to target, usually a snag or a deeper drop off and give them a quick wind to get them down to depth. I then slowly swim them as close to the bottom as possible trying to entice a strike from a cod. Repetitive casting in the same area is often what brings a result when the water has cooled a little. The fish can be lazy and are often not interested in feeding but are more annoyed at your constant invasion of their domain.
Without doubt the spinner bait has to be my number one lure when casting from the bank. I have caught more fish on spinnerbaits than another lure. They come in a variety of blade configurations, weights and colours. I find the colarado style blades in anything up to half an ounce in darker colour variations deadly in most areas. The main attractions of these lures are they are not easily lost even when casting into the snaggiest water. The vibration and flash they put out can awaken the most reluctant fish into a strike. When the water is dirty spinnerbaits seem to work better than anything I’ve tried, this is partly due to fish not just having to rely on sight to find your lure but also on the heavy vibration these lures broadcast through the water. When casting these lures, strikes can come as the spinner bait slowly helicopters downwards beside a snag or a steep drop off, so be prepared. When retrieving the spinner bait let the lure work very slowly as deep as possible letting the blades work to maximum effect.
When night falls or early in the morning before the sun is up it can be a struggle to get a bite casting traditional lures partly due to fish just not being able to see them. This is usually when I opt for a surface lure. Cod are well known for eating small creatures off the surface such as insects, birds, frogs and whatever else may make the mistake venturing into their domain. Surface lures are many and varied, including poppers fizzers, frogs and surface walkers such as jitterbugs and Nightwalkers. All these lures are made to imitate a creature in distress on the surface. I have seen most success on the larger surface walking style of lures which make a distinct sound as you wind them across the surface. My all time favorite would have to be the Arbogast Jitterbug. This lure has been around for years and been the undoing of many cod. There are many colours available but the two main colours I use are black and white. When the moon is out or there is a bit of light on the water I have found the white jitterbug attracts more interest and on dark nights the black seems to do the job. The technique I use with these lures is to cast and leave it on the surface for a few seconds before starting my slow retrieve pausing again every so often and letting the lure sit. Cod will often follow your presentations right to the bank, lying in ambush. They may watch your lure travel past their head many times before striking. I can assure you it will be when you least expect it, but having the life scared out of you is all part of the fun. Catching cod off the surface is probably the least productive when it comes to numbers of fish you may catch but in my opinion is probably the most visually spectacular and rewarding form of cod fishing there is.
So next time you see that car and boat driving down the highway, don’t despair, because with a bit of time, effort and persistence, walking the banks of our great Australian freshwater waterways you may just find that you can achieve some outstanding results at a fraction of the cost of a boatie. Good luck. Just get out there and give it a go!