Words & Images: Kate Norman
Lake Eildon holds approximately six times the volume of water in Sydney Harbour, and the sheer size of this lake can be overwhelming to most anglers and make it an extremely frustrating place to fish. There have been many heartbreaking trips made, with hours spent on the water, hundreds of casts, challenging weather conditions and at times no fish caught. Although I love this place, I also know how absolutely soul-destroying it can be – trust me, I’ve felt it. Unfortunately, when it comes to fishing, the amount of effort you put in does not always reflect the rewards you receive. No words can describe the feeling of a Murray cod smashing your lure, though; the power and fight these fish put up is phenomenal and, let’s be honest, can be downright addictive.
My fiancé Brendon and I live in Beechworth, which means we are near some fantastic fishing spots to target Murray cod. We started spending more time back up at Eildon a few years ago and have been doing regular trips since. My parents live in Alexandra and I grew up there, so combining fishing and family visits have been a perfect combination.
Staying in the ‘Boatels’ at Jerusalem Creek was a game-changer for us in our cod-chasing trips. For those of you who haven’t heard about them, they are floating apartments with a back deck area where you can moor your boat. Staying there allowed us to maximise the time we spent on the water during the ideal bite windows.
Towards the end of August last year, we had spent a couple of nights at the boatels and fished hard for little success. Spending time trying to fish the whole lake is a common mistake that so many anglers make at Eildon – I know, I’ve done it. You don’t have to travel long distances from each spot to find big fish. The last session of the trip was a typical freezing foggy morning and we had been on the water since 3am without a bite. Casting a swimbait (Megabass Vatalion 190) into the standing timber, I’d only just clicked the reel into gear; a few winds and a 109cm cod hit the lure hard. The fish put up a great fight and I was relieved to get it in the net, and I’m sure anyone fishing in the vicinity would have heard us cheering.
It’s fair to say after this fish I was addicted, and all I could think about was heading out for another session to try to catch another one. A few weeks later I got my chance. I had the day off work, the weather looked good and the morning sickness was tolerable (I was six months’ pregnant at the time). I packed the boat and headed out to Eildon, and on the way called Brendon at work to let him know I had headed out for a fish on my own. At 9pm the lake was glassed out and I was excited to be out on the water. The first fish of the night was a metrey that smashed the Vatalion at the surface right at the edge of the boat. It had followed the lure from about 20m out and had decided to hit it when I’d hesitated just before lifting it out of the water. Feeling thrilled that I got a metrey on the deck on my own, I took some photos, released the fish then quickly called Brendon to share my excitement. He was enthusiastic about my catch but wanted to know when I would be home as I was still on the water and had a two-plus-hour drive ahead of me. It was at this stage that I told him I’d planned ahead and packed the swag in the boat, just in case. He asked me to pull up and call it a night but I had other ideas. The fish were firing up and I was having too much of a good time. Within the hour, I sent him another photo, a second metrey in the net, which measured 113cm. I was still puffing when I called him back to tell him the good news – being pregnant made lifting anything difficult, let alone a fat Eildon cod. There was no way I could lift it up for a photo so had to sit it in my lap. When I finally rolled the swag out in the boat to get some sleep the adrenaline was flowing so much I lay awake for what felt like forever.
The next trip happened the following weekend, when Brendon and I booked into the boatels with some friends for a couple of nights. The first night out on the water ended with me catching another metrey, this time right in front of our friend’s boat. It was awesome to have them there to watch the whole thing from the fish hitting my lure, the fight and then getting it on the deck.
Knowing that my solo fishing trip days were numbered due to my rapidly growing belly, I planned one last trip out to Eildon on my own. With Covid restrictions easing, the lake had received a large amount of fishing and boating pressure so I had low expectations and just wanted to enjoy my time on the water. Switching my lure choice to one with the smaller profile proved to be a good decision, with a 112cm cod inhaling it on the drop.
Brendon and I welcomed the arrival of our daughter, Heidi, in January. The time spent away from fishing only fuelled the fire and I was back out on the water by the end of April. The three solo trips in a fortnight were memorable for many reasons. I no longer had a limitless time to spend on the water as I had a baby to get back home to, so I fished hard and maximised my time on the water. Using my little 3.6m tinny made the experience even more exciting as these big beasts of fish managed to drag it around. Each session ended in a metrey in the boat, which was more than I could have dreamed of. It was good to be back.
Although my most recent form has been consistent, I have definitely had my share of donut sessions and defeat. Always remember, the monster Murray cod don’t get that size because they’re dumb. These fish are smart. Combine that with other factors that are out of our control, such as challenging weather, and it can mean many trips for no success despite huge amounts of effort.
Preparation is Key
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. If there is any chance that any part of your gear or set-up will fail, then it’s highly likely this will happen when you have a huge head-shaking cod on the end of your line. Preparation starts before you even get on the water. This includes (but isn’t limited to): upgrading trebles/split rings on lures, tying new leader on, checking for wear and tear / maintaining your rods and reels, and charging batteries. Having your boat neat and everything in its place is also important. When a fish decides to hit your lure, you want all the equipment needed to land the fish easily accessible. Fishing solo and at night is difficult enough on its own, but having things organised makes a huge difference and is an advantage. You need a good head torch and gloves, net and pliers all within arm’s reach. A net at the back of the boat sitting under other gear will quickly turn an exciting situation into chaos when you are trying to land a metre-plus fish on your own.
Do Your Homework
Most of the fishing I do tends to be at change of light and night. This is due to several factors including less boat traffic, generally less wind and increased fish activity. I also enjoy the peace and quiet of being out in the boat at night on my own. Try to spend time during the day exploring areas that you plan to fish at night. I use my live sonar (Garmin Livescope) and side / downscan to investigate an area and become familiar with underlying structure as well as bait location and general fish movement.
Being familiar with an area improves confidence and in turn generally increases your success. If you are confident about where or what you are casting at in the dark then it will be easier to make every cast count. Pick out key landmarks that can be used to navigate such as trees, dense shrubs, rocky areas and drop-offs.
Targeting Murray cod can be an addictive form of fishing, especially at a location such as Lake Eildon. Patience and persistence are so crucial when you are dealing with these intelligent predators. Putting the time in on the water as well as being prepared before you even get to the boat ramp is essential. Hopefully, reading this article will give you the motivation you need to make the trip to Eildon and experience one of Australia’s best impoundment Murray cod fisheries.