Words & Images: Matthew Perdrau
The technique of targeting cod on surface lures has gained significant popularity over the last decade, but more so in the last two years. As a tackle shop employee in the nation’s capital I have witnessed firsthand more anglers willing to leave the spinnerbaits and deep divers behind and stock up on surface lures able to handle Murray cod. Eight years ago when I started employment in the tackle industry only a minority of ‘in the know’ anglers were employing surface lures to target cod, and the Halco Night Walker and Arbogast Jointed Jitterbug were considered ‘big’ surface lures. Well let me assure you the amount of anglers rocking up to work yawning and holding their eyes open with matchsticks after a late night surface fishing is on the rise. And those ol’ faithful Night Walkers and Jitterbugs, well let’s just say their considered an entree for a surface feeding greenfish these days!
Cod are an avid surface predator, feeding on insects, mice, lizards, surface cruising carp and even waterfowl. Knowledge of this has led lure manufacturers to create a plethora of lures imitating these types of prey. There are three main types of surface lures I use when targeting cod; walkers, fizzers and wake baits.
Walkers (or crawlers) are well defined by their large horizontal bib or wide reaching wings that give them a walking or crawling action when retrieved. This style of lure can be worked nice and slow in still or slow flowing water, but also works well in fast flowing water or rapid sections due to the resistance provided by the large bib/wings. Walkers are by far the go-to lure for targeting cod on the surface.
Fizzers are generally torpedo shaped lures with the presence of two propeller style blades, one at the front and another at the rear. This style of lure can be fished in most situations however excels when fishing hard in on cover (bank side vegetation, rocks or logs) in still or slow flowing water. The advantage is that a small twitch of the lure creates a lot of disturbance but doesn’t move the lure far, which means you can really keep the it in the strike zone for as long as possible. Slow rolling these lures works moderately well but fishing them close to cover with two or three rapid twitches followed by a long pause (10 seconds or more) is sure to tempt any alert cod nearby.
Wake baits are a newer style lure employed by Australian anglers to target cod and are are best defined as looking similar to a diving crankbait, however, the shape and angle of the bib only allows the lure to track along the surface, or at best just under the surface. They come in many sizes, shapes, configurations (single body or jointed/segmented) and unlike walkers and fizzers are a more subtle presentation. Their unique snake-like action through the water produces less commotion, but is deadly on cod. Wake baits are a great searching lure as they can be worked a lot quicker, whilst maintaining their action, than other surface lures. They can also be worked super-slow in the still water. I also find wake baits tangle less on the cast, which is very important when you’ve just landed that perfect cast and need the lure to work as soon as you start your retrieve.
Cod are a viable surface target at all times of the year (except during closed season). Their preferred temperature range is 18 to 22 degrees, however they will still actively feed outside of this range. In my experience late autumn and early winter are the most productive seasons.
I often find December and January too hot for the cod. It’s well known that cod (and other natives) slow down and become dormant in cold water but I can assure you they exhibit a similar behaviour when the water temperature rises above 25 degrees, becoming lethargic, sedentary and losing their appetite. For this reason to achieve best results focus your efforts on cooler days and evenings, and higher oxygenated areas like rapid sections, during the height of summer.
Late February through to early April produce the best conditions. The days aren’t as hot, the nights are comfortable and the water temperature stabilises in the low 20’s, perfect for cod. Cod are definitely more active at this time of year and consequently this is when I catch the majority of my cod on surface.
The end of daylight saving in April seems to coincide with most anglers’ pursuit for cod on surface. This is unfortunate for those anglers as this is when the big fish come out to play. Mid April through to late May is the best time for a big cod on surface and I catch more cod over 70cm during this time of year. The shorter daylight length and cooling of the water signals that winter is approaching and large cod feed up to gain condition for the leaner, cooler months and to ensure they are in good condition for the courting period at the end of winter. So if size matters, rug up a little and persevere those cooler conditions.
Cod are still a viable target in June, however evening and even the afternoon can be bitterly cold and once your rod guides start icing up and the fishless sessions outnumber the successful ones even the most hardened anglers motivation drops off. If you are going to brave these conditions then look to fish on the back of consecutive sunny days so the water will be at its warmest. Also look for days where the overnight and daytime temperatures are at their highest.
July and August are generally far too cold in the ACT however depending on the weather there is a small window for a few cod on surface in late August as the weather marginally warms and the cod start courting before the closed season.
Day or night
Undoubtedly surface fishing for cod is definitely associated with night hours and my first recommendation to anyone looking to target cod on surface would be to throw gentleman’s hours out the window. Cod are definitely more active at night (especially when the water is clear) and focusing your effort between the hours of 6pm and 6am will definitely increase your chances. However don’t let this fool you into thinking they won’t feed off the surface during the day. In fact, some of my best fish over the last season or two have been taken well before nightfall.
Cod utilise the cover of darkness to cruise around and hunt for prey. You only have to shine your head torch around in the shallows at night to see why- the margins are usually teaming with small carp (and some large ones), shrimp and yabbies. So with abundant food available for a hungry cod every cast has a chance of being boofed. In saying that during the day the tables are turned and both the prey and the cod are tucked away in the less abundant darkness. All this means is that instead of relying on the cod finding your surface lure, you need put it where they are likely to be, the same way you would if you were fishing a spinnerbait or diving hardbody during the day. Any shaded areas created by overhanging vegetation, logs or rocks are key ambush areas and should be peppered hard with your surface lure. I believe a cod will only move out of its comfort zone during the day if it is a ‘guaranteed feed’, so give the cod a good look at your lure by slowing your retrieve down and including plenty of pauses (this is where fizzers are great).
There is a strong perception that the best cod surface fishing is around the full moon. Personally, with work and family commitments, I don’t have the luxury of dropping everything to go surface fishing only on the full moon. And my catch records indicate that cod, in both quantity and quality, can be taken on surface at any time of the moon phase. In my opinion all the full moon does is make it easier for you to see at night without a head torch, which is handy if you’re fishing a new area for the first time, tight waterways or heavily snagged sections. Honestly if you limit yourself to the full moon, or any moon phase for that matter, then you’re missing out on a lot of surface opportunities. One tip I will provide in relation to moon phase is your lure colour selection. On a dark night use a lure with a dark underbelly and sides, as this will give the lure a greater silhouette in the low light. On bright nights use a lure with a dark belly and light (white or fluoro yellow if possible) sides, as the lighter sides will reflect the moons light and makes the lure more visible.
The barometric pressure also plays a part in the activity of cod with high-pressure systems (>1020hpa) being favoured by anglers, but again don’t limit yourself to any particular weather conditions. Cod (especially river fish) are opportunistic feeders and don’t necessarily switch on and off as routinely as we think. There’s nothing worse for your motivation than a fishless session that was planned around a full moon and a high barometer, only to listen to a mate tell how he smashed them on a spare of the moment trip in less than ideal conditions a week later. I’ve been disappointed in this manner on more occasions than I care to remember! One weather phase I would say is very overlooked by anglers is the back end of a high-pressure system. Physical conditions on the water can go from pleasant to less than ideal in a matter of hours, however, cod sense this change and will feed hard knowing bad weather is on the way and the unsettled conditions could restrict the availability of prey.
I’d confidently state that if cod inhabit a waterway then they are definitely a proposition on surface lures. Being able to identify areas where cod are more likely to ambush or feed on surface prey is what separates the successful anglers from the rest. Fish in the wrong areas and you’re wasting your time and while blind casting in the right areas will occasionally get you a fish; spending time assessing a water way, ‘thinking like a fish’ and constructive casting in the right areas will see you consistently score good results. In a river scenario I break the waterway up into four sections – rapids, head of the pool, middle of the pool and tail of the pool.
Rapid sections are best defined by areas of fast water that are generally shallow and link the larger slower flowing pools. Over the last 10 years I can’t tell you the amount of times I walked past these sections without even entertaining the idea of a cast…. what a mistake! I’ve ‘rapidly’ learnt that these sections are great in the height of summer when cod will push up into them to seek higher oxygenated water. I also think the faster flowing water over their body keeps them cooler. Look for larger depressions within the rapid section, as cod will hold up in these. Cast up ahead of the depression and retrieve you lure back ensuring you match the pace of the water to keep the lure working. It’s very akin to spinning for trout in mountain streams.
The head of the pool is easily the fishiest looking part of the river, defined as the area where rapid sections enter a still (or slower flowing) section of the river. These are great ambush spots for cod, as they know most prey entering the pool will arrive here and it will usually be disoriented by the flow. Pay particular attention to any inflows, back eddies, mid stream rocks or logs, rock faces or edges and cast both parallel and perpendicular to them.
The middle of the pool is generally a still or slow flowing bigger section with the odd bit of structure. It is very easy to walk past this section dismissing it as lifeless compared to other sections, but rest assured it is the easiest section to read and holds good rewards for anglers that bother to put a few educated casts in. Last season my three biggest cod on surface came from these areas. The key here is to only fish around obvious structure and apply the iceberg theory (especially to rocky structure) which is the structure you see above the water is only one third of its total size, meaning two thirds of it is below the water. With this in mind fan your casts around the structure targeting different angles and even casting over, and winding your lure across, rocks. The sound of your lure dragging and banging against the rock will certainly get the attention of an inquisitive cod.
The tail of the pool is another fishy looking area and is defined as the last section of the pool that feeds into a rapid section or outflow. Because of the water leaving the pool this section generally has a bit of flow and any type of structure in this section will provide great ambush points for cod. An interesting observation I’ve made about the tail section over the years is the majority of cod caught boof the lure at the front of the rock; as opposed to the more obvious (out of the current) back side. My only theory is that cod sit in the pressure wave created by water pushing onto the rock (similar to dolphins riding the bow wave of a boat) and this gives them prime position and saves energy. So always be sure to run a few casts around the front edge of the structure, especially if it has flow pushing past it.
I use two baitcast outfits for all my cod surface fishing. For lures up to 1/2oz I use a 6’4” fast actioned 8 to 14lb rod matched with a small low profile reel spooled with 15lb braid and a 16lb mono leader. For lures over 1/2oz, and up to 2oz, I use a fast actioned 6’6” 12-20lb rod matched with a large low profile reel spooled with 30lb braid and a 20lb mono leader. The later outfit gets most of the use as I like throwing big surface lures for cod. The longer, fast action rods are great for casting big lures accurately over a long distance and also provide plenty of grunt for steering big fish in rocky country. I prefer monofilament to fluorocarbon for leader material as it is subtler and knots easier. I use an improved uni knot to join my leader, which is a uni knot in the mono and a locked blood knot in the braid. I don’t like using clips or loose knots (like loops) to attach my lures, instead I tie directly to a solid ring (with a locked blood knot) and use a split ring to attach the lure to the solid ring. I find this is a fail proof attachment that gives the lure plenty of freedom to get the best action.
If possible get a view of your fishing location from a high vantage point during the day, assess key ambush points and mentally note them with features on the bank. When you’re at river level make every cast count and regardless of where it lands retrieve the lure right to your feet, you’ll be surprised how often you get boofed at your rod tip! Carry a variety of lures, but more importantly make sure you have timber lures in your box. Loud rattling lures are great for getting a cods attention but it may also be an all too familiar sound in heavily fished areas and deter them. Timber lures give off a more subtle and natural sound and I have clearly witnessed the benefits of using them in the last 12 months. Be comfortable with, and have confidence in your outfit and method. Don’t worry about what a lure looks like, its colour or how many fish someone else has caught on it. Focus more on putting it in the right areas and retrieving it correctly and I assure you the results will follow.