Brought back from the brink of extinction, the magnificent Murray Cod is re-establishing its place as the king of freshwater in the beautiful waters of Australia. It’s not surprise that these powerful fish with the capacity to grow enormous are a hugely popular species of sport fishing in Australia, with popularity growing by the day with the help of stocking and rehabilitation programs. Murray cod are an aggressive and territorial species that can be caught a number of ways, we will be going into a few important tips to learn if you’re after this iconic fish. Please be aware of catch limits and closed seasons in your state, getting this species back into abundance has been an uphill struggle, let’s not put more pressure on them!
Murray Cod are low light feeders, whilst they can be caught all day, the best times for fishing are periods of low light, such as sunrise, sunset and throughout the night. During the day, they will hunker down into various logs, snags and deep holes, where they wait quietly in the gloom for unsuspecting prey. During this period of rest, cod are more likely to attack due to aggression than they are due to hunger, as they prefer to hunt under the cover of low light, they do not like themselves or their abodes to be disturbed when they return, and will aggressively chase away anything that enters their vicinity. It is important to keep this feeding cycle in mind, by understanding how these fish act, we can quickly establish that daytime fishing around snags should be focused on noisy, bright, aggressive lures, whilst night fishing gives way to other lures such as soft plastics and surface lures. Bait fishing is a 24 hour option, but again is often more productive during periods of low light.
Murray cod are ambush predators, like all ambush predators they wait in hiding for unwary prey to pass by, anyone that has observed this fish either in aquaculture or in the wild can vouch for the fact that these fish will return to a favoured snag day in, day out. Cod will hold to their own shelter and seldom let other fish near it, if you failed to catch a cod one day, or your lure was pursued but not taken, chances are you will have another chance at that same snag the following day. Look for branches entering the water, logs, deep pools, submerged rocks, islands, undercut banks, falling structure and man made structure such as pontoons, jetties and boat moorings. These areas are likely to hold fish during the day. At night, cod leave their habitat but seldom travel far, continue to focus your efforts around snags, but don’t be afraid to fish a little further out of the snag than usual. During periods of sunrise and sunset, treat the shadow-line on the water as your casting point, cast into the shadow surrounding the snag, and push your efforts closer to the snag as the shadow migrates. Fish holding in deep snags are more likely to feed during the day than fish in snags closer to the bank, however, these fish can still be triggered into an aggressive response.
Lure fishing for cod is an exciting prospect, one minute you’re retrieving your lure, the next you’ve hit what feels like a rock, that is until it starts shaking its head! Murray cod are territorial and will eat almost anything, from lizards, frogs and ducklings, to smaller fish, insects and crustaceans. Because of this, there are many lures that work well for cod, including spinnerbaits, deep divers, surface lures and soft plastics, regardless of your choice of lure, one important theme remains the same: Pace. The pace of your lure should reflect the pace of the fish you’re targeting, trout and salmon are aquatic torpedoes and will give chase to a quick moving lure, bream are erratic, jerky and flighty, so a flighty, stop-start retrieve will often produce them, murray cod however are ambush predators, and so their attacks are often aimed at slow-moving, unsuspecting prey. Reflecting this behaviour with your lure is essential, retrieve it slowly, and keep it in the strike zone for as long as possible, you will be surprised how many cod bites occur right at the end of the retrieve, and you will often find most takes will occur on either the far bank, or the close bank, mid-water strikes often happen but generally the potential for strikes is at its highest near the bank. The second mutual requirements for almost all lures is a pause in the beginning, disregard this step for fast-sinking lures such as plastics and spinnerbaits, but for floating divers, and surface lures, this step is essential, the pause step is as follows: After your lure hits the surface off the cast, pause, wait at least 4 to 5 seconds before beginning your retrieve. This pause will give the fish time to notice your lure, they are unlikely to strike or attack the lure during this pause, but one they’ve noticed it they will prepare themselves for ambush, this pause will make a world of difference in your catch rate. Make sure you retrieve right to your feet, don’t forget about the bank-side take! The final piece of advice I will provide for lure fishing is persistence, don’t be afraid to cast 10 or 20 times at the same snag, sometimes it can take a few passes to irritate a cod into striking a lure.
If you prefer bait fishing, or don’t have the time and concentration to fish for lures due to other distractions, don’t fear, cod are a readily catchable species for bait fishermen. As mentioned before, cod enjoy a varied diet, and therefore can be caught using many baits, there are, however, 4 baits that come to mind as the most popular (in my opinion), these are in no particular order: Scrub worms, yabbies, bardi grubs and cheese. Yabbies and scrub worms make excellent baits, and can also be used as a cocktail, both of these will move around in the water, and a wriggling worm or kicking yabbie right on the edge of a cod snag is just begging to be eaten! Bardi grubs make excellent bait due to their high visibility in the water, and fantastic protein content, cod are a low-activity, high protein feeder, this is to say they are always looking for ways to eat the most nutritious foods whilst exerting as little energy as possible, because grubs don’t need to be chased and they’re loaded with protein, they quickly become a highly sought food source for cod. Last but not least, if you’re familiar with cod fishing, its a pretty safe bet that you’ve heard about the ‘cheese trick’, cheese has long been known to be an excellent cod bait, some say it’s because it attracts shrimp, others say it’s due to the oil content, as far as I’m concerned, the reason it works means little to me, as long as it works! A 2-3 inch rectangular block of cheese will stay firmly on a 3/0 – 4/0 suicide hook and can often work wonders on cod.
There are two main rigs I like to use for cod, these are a running sinker rig and a bubble float rig, both have their advantages and disadvantages. Bubble floats are great if there is little water movement and little wind, by setting the depth of the bait correctly you can literally wave a moving bait right in a hungry cod’s face, float rigs are great to use when fishing with worms and yabbies. Running sinker rigs work well with grubs and cheese, with the sinker being just heavy enough to hold bottom, and a leader length of around 40cm. Regardless of whether you are float fishing or using a sinker, I recommend using 30lb leader and 3/0 – 5/0 Black Magic Suicide Hooks (depending on the size of the bait).
A cod set up should consist of a heavy action rod, generally 4 – 8kg and between 6’6 – 7′, matched with a powerful reel, baitcaster rigs are excellent for accuracy and slow retrievals when lure fishing, but I wouldn’t recommend them for bait fishing. A 4000 sized spin reel should hold more than enough line, with a recommended main line strength of 20 – 30lb, braid line really comes into its own here, as it allows you to use 30lb line with great capacity and castability. If you’re using a baitcaster, you cant go past the Quantum Smoke S3 SM100. For spinning reels, a Quantum Inshore 40 with 22lb of drag can easily get the job done. Because the environments of cod vary so greatly, this set up is just a guidline, you may want to use heavy line, lighter line, or a different rod/reel rating if your local conditions vary from the average cod fishing locations.
A full in depth cod guide covering times of year, lure variations and variables could fill a book! I hope this small summary on cod fishing has given you some new information to help you on your way to catching one of these beautiful fish, or perhaps breaking your PB! Best of luck and tight lines!