Winter is the season for casting
  |  First Published: July 2017

As the crisp chill of winter bites at the skin it seems time to don the scarf and beanie and hit the water in hopes of a bite.

Along the Murray, irrigation demands have ceased and the river’s high turbid flows have fallen away leaving a picture of jutting snags that spear headlong into the clearing water. While many have packed the gear away in wait for the warmth of spring, those who love the crunch of green fish jaws are out and active in the cool of winter.

Winter is the season for casting and from past experience it’s also when many of the biggest cod are landed. Holding fast in the shallow flows these larger fish are eager to feed, especially when the pressure rides high. Good water clarity betrays the angle of the snags making it easier for anglers to position and retrieve their lures along the timber in order to tempt the strike.

An easy meal is now lost to these fish as smaller crustaceans like yabbies and shrimp are now hidden in the mud. In our local waters the bite continues along the Murray River upstream of the road bridge at Swan Hill. This past month has seen excellent fishing with most lure fishos catching a cod or two on each and every outing. While there are a lot of cod in the 55-75cm range, it’s the larger models that are starting to draw interest from anglers keen to travel.

Several fish over a metre have been taken in this area over the past month with many others in the mid to high 90cm range. These are good fish by anyone’s standards and it’s great to see this stretch of the Murray River fishing so well. Golden perch have been a regular catch too, but the bite has slowed a little in the cooler water conditions.

Downstream along the Murray to Robinvale, other than a few golden perch and a squillion carp, the river remains very quiet. It’s a similar story right through Wemen, Hattah and into Mildura and beyond with hardly a whisper of a cod other than the occasional small fish. Not all is lost; I have it on good authority that several cod between 85-95cm and a single metre fish have come up through the loch at Wentworth.

It has been almost five months since the black water came through this area –enough time for these fish to have swum up in the high flows from some of the lower lochs that did not cop the full brunt. While it’s only a drop in an ocean, it does provide some chances of perhaps catching a decent cod in this area soon. Until then there are still good numbers of perch being caught on bait and lures.

My cod fishing this season has led me a merry dance into unfamiliar waters where the catch rate is indicative of a healthy, vibrant waterway. Untouched by the black water, every snag holds a chance and the expectations ride high with every cast. My cod fishing has come down to one simple fact: in order to catch good-sized fish I need to travel.

On the subject of travel, I recently had the opportunity to fish the Murray River with a couple of notable Singaporean anglers. While their journey was a little further than mine we found ourselves on the Murray River trying to tempt a giant cod to the surface. Isaac Tang is the Market Manager for Mustad hooks, the biggest manufacturer of fish hooks in the world, and his fishing mate Ng Yam Pin is notable in his own right and recognised as Malaysia’s most famous angler. Together they were on a mission to land a monster Murray cod.

It was still dark as we boated our way down the Murray River to catch the early bite. A thick fog hung like an impenetrable curtain cutting visibility to mere metres as the torchlight reflected off a wall of white. Our speed was almost idle but fast enough in the current rich waters as numerous giant snags passed within feet of the gunnel. Out of the darkness another would appear, not unlike a scene from Titanic played on a much smaller scale.

I had picked a bank the previous evening that hung heavy with old snags and looked for all it’s worth a prime location for big fish. The plan was to be in position at first light and work the area with large surface lures – a ploy that has worked well recently.

Neither of these anglers had caught a big Murray cod before and the excitement was only overshadowed by the sound of chattering teeth in the morning chill. Used to the tropics, the icy cold predawn temperatures were somewhat of a shock to the boys who were slightly underdressed in light clothes and crocs.

We arrived at our chosen spot right on cue. With just enough light to make out the snags, the big lures were cast into the semi darkness landing with a heavy splash. The lures paddling sound amplified in the early morning still was broken by the bird song that signals the start of dawn. Time and again the popping tune of the lures would return to the boat unscathed only to be recast to the next likely-looking hold.

Midway back to the boat Pin’s lure was engulfed. The waters churned as the unseen giant rolled beneath the surface and the rod loaded tight. This is high-octane fishing where an explosive take instantly takes your mind from other distractions like the numbing effects of the morning chill. Heart in your mouth, the fight is on and you know it’s a big fish simply by the take and the water the fish moves.

Pin handled the large fish with the skill of a seasoned angler. Within minutes he was holding his first-ever giant Murray cod. A field tester for Mustad hooks, Pin has travelled the world catching all manner of big fish and loves the thrill of the unexpected. A lot was learnt from this catch, he said.

Later that day as the sun slipped below the horizon, Isaac too hooked and landed a monster cod from the surface. Both have promised to return as they are now hooked on our most iconic native fish and would like to catch an even bigger one. Perhaps one day we can wet a line closer to my local haunts, but until then, just like these visiting anglers we will continue to travel in order to catch good fish.
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