Anglers go green for cod

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WHO CARES if the footy’s over and the Spring Carnival is behind us? STEVE COOPER reveals that the real sport is about to start with the chase on for the glorious greenfish:

AYE, it’s almost December, and thank cod for that! At least that’s what many devoted Murray cod anglers will be thinking after three months of greenfish withdrawals.

Mind you, plenty happens in the interim. Why, there are football finals (both codes), and then there is the Spring Racing Carnival. But who cares? At least for the angling fraternity there is some good news: trout opening in Victoria started in September, and farther south the annual migration of snapper into Port Phillip Bay and Western Port got underway.

Alas, true greenfish aficionados aren’t too carried away with any of the aforementioned. Devoted cod anglers can be the piscatorial equivalent of fire and brimstone preachers, complete with tunnel vision and no time for anyone who wavers from their perceived path to righteousness.

Gus Storer caught this 33kg (73lb) Murray cod in the Murray River.

Murray cod season, which lasts nine months, opens on December 1. There is no bigger predator or greater challenge for anglers in our southern rivers and impoundments than the mighty Murray cod.

Call them greenfish, Goodoo or just simply cod, there is no denying the prestige that the Murray cod holds in angling. Of all the native freshwater fish species in Australia, only the Murray cod is the stuff of legends, and there are more tall stories doing the rounds on cod than any other fish I know of.

Some people think of Murray cod as big and slow, well they aren’t. In our southern waters there can be few more exhilarating sights than that of a big green fish slashing at a couple of kilograms of yellowbelly you have just hooked.

Cod opening is an event eagerly anticipated by many native fish specialists, especially the cod specialists. These people are a breed apart. To them, trout are nothing more than speckled cod food, while a big cod is a fish to be sought, caught and then released.

Most of the cod caught by anglers are nearer 5kg than 35kg, but some of our southern waters hold cod of exceptional size.

Satisfaction is guaranteed when you return a giant Murray cod to the water and it swims away.

TOP SPOTS

There are people who will tell you cod are rare. Others will say there are plenty of small cod, but the big ones are hard to find.

Some of the Victorian waters stocked with cod by Fisheries Victoria include the Avoca, Campaspe, Goulburn, Kiewa, Little Murray, Loddon, Richardson, and Wimmera rivers. Other waters included Cudgewa Creek, Lakes Cullulleraine, Eildon, Mokoan, Hume, Taylors, and Eppalock.

Some of the best waters for cod are the Goulburn River at Shepparton and Nagambie, Loddon River at Bridgewater, Campaspe River at Elmore, the Wimmera River at Horsham. Lake Eildon, which has no closed cod season, has been heavily stocked with cod and recent reports are excellent with many fish between 80-90cm and even several over the magic metre being caught.

Cod need to be handled with care if you intend returning them to the water.

The Murray River is about the best cod water readily available to Victorians. There are regular reports of cod being caught at Lake Mulwala at Yarrawonga, Echuca and Swan Hill. Downriver of Swan Hill, due to a blackwater event, Murray cod have been scarce.

When fishing for cod, it’s all a matter of finding the right snag with a cod lying in it. You have to be prepared to put your bait in among the snags. If bait fishing, employ a 6-8 kg outfit, but trollers can go heavier and use braid lines to 15-24kg as they are much thinner than equivalent monofilament.

Leader material is important, and this should be about 15-24kg breaking strain. Hook size is generally a No.2-4 long shank. This will suit a bardi grub sliced in half, a yabbie or large shrimp. Rochester angler Steve Harris developed a hosiery sock for holding bardi grub baits. Called a Bardi Sock, the system allows you to catch more than one fish on a grub, which is a big saving if you have to buy your grubs.

BAIT

Bardi grub is the favoured cod bait followed by shrimp, yabbies, and scrubworms.

Hard to believe that a handful of shrimp this size could attract a bite from a huge Murray cod.

LURES

The biggest cod seem to be taken most often on lures. Top cod lures include the Codzilla, Stumpjumper, Halco Poltergeist, Predatek Boomerang, and Oargee. Surface lures like the Halco Night Walker work well at night.

METHODS

Murray cod thrive on shrimp, yabbies, freshwater crayfish, frogs, and anything else small enough to fit in their mouths. This fish has reputation for feeding on the unusual. Chicken bones and golf balls have been found inside cod. At Lake Mulwala, these fish seem to have difficulty distinguishing between eggs cast out of their nests by cockatoos, and stray golf balls landing in the lake.

The best places to seek out cod are submerged timber, deep eddies and under overhanging vegetation. Cod are territorial, and this trait can be used to advantage. Native fish congregate in a pecking order in these areas with the biggest fish, the cod, at the front.

Bait rigs vary but for the most part anglers fish on the bottom with a running sinker rig or else lower their bait over the side of their boat, allow it to get to the bottom then wind it up half a metre or so.

Trolling or spinning for native fish requires specialised techniques. First, you have to know where the fish are likely to be lurking and then offer a lure with all the right attributes: colour, action, and depth are the keys to success. Troll close to snags and other structure. If you aren’t fouled every now and again you are not close enough. Gelspun lines come into their own for trolling as you can feel when your lure is bouncing over submerged logs.

A miserable day was brightened up for Harro when he caught this big Murray cod near Wentworth.

Don’t overlook the obvious. The slightest irregularities in the shoreline or the bottom are likely places, as are choke points where the water narrows and the current increases and, of course, snags where these great fish lie in ambush.

When cod feed, they flare their gills and inhale their prey. To that end, most fish are taken at the broadest surface. It is the same with lures, which is why you should place special significance on the front trebles, even to the point of increasing their size.

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Author: Steve Cooper

STEVE COOPER won two Walkley Awards for investigative journalism but his great love is fishing and he is renowned as one of Australia’s foremost writers and broadcasters on the subject.

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