Not many things can get me out of bed at 4am on a Monday morning. Especially when it is zero degrees outside. But for big Murray Cod I will make an exception!
First of all, ‘I take my hat off’ to anyone who has dragged themselves out of a nice warm bed at some ridiculously early hour to go fishing. I congratulate you because I too feel your pain. When you are addicted to fishing it’s not as though we have a choice right? Surely you can see the bind we are in? In my case my addiction to the big green fish (Murray Cod) had me drive several hundred kilometers to a place where, like on The Game of Thrones- “WINTER IS COMING.”
The cod tend to be most active at the bookends of the day so 4am to 7am and again at 4pm to 7pm tend to be the best bite times. Awaking to a 4am alarm when temperatures are minus 4 degrees celsius and dragging oneself out of bed is no easy feat. Speaking of feet, if you happen to have left your shoes outside the tent they should be nicely frozen solid along with the car, the boat and and all your tackle (hopefully not the wedding tackle). Once in the boat and on the water as you are speeding into the black abyss your ears will soon match your frozen shoes.
But the challenge has only just begun. In the pitch blackness and the sub zero temperatures you soon discover that cod fishing is ‘a game of one thousand casts.’ This basically means that perhaps every thousand casts you might expect to catch a fish. After many years cod fishing, I think that estimate is sometimes a little ambitious. But cast our lines out into the abyss we do. We cast and cast and cast and cast………..and with each retrieve we envisage a huge fish attacking our offering. Perhaps more often than not we go back to our tents empty handed. “Did you catch anything?” they ask. “Nope” you bluntly reply, “I think the barometer is too low” or “it’s the wrong moon phase.”
Later that day and then again the next morning you head out into the cold determined to catch the big one. You can’t give up now, you have driven too far, spent way too much time, money and planning this trip to simply stay in a warm bed. In fact the more time you spend chasing the fish, the more determined you become. It is an obsession now, you are thinking about it every minute of the day. Everyone else you speak to in the camp ground has caught fish. “So and so got a metery last night…… and two the day before. ” Their words are like poison to your ears.
The next night you are sitting out there in the dark. You are retrieving what has been ‘the last cast’ (for the past 27 casts) and you are dreading heading back to camp where you will hear those spiteful words “did you catch anything,” when KERSPLASAAAAAASH!!!! the water explodes around the lure right in front of you and a massive piscatorial beast inhales your lure and heads for home. A small tight lipped “yep” is all that escapes your mouth as you struggle to perform a reality check on what just happened. After a few dogged runs the fish surfaces near the boat and you swiftly swim it to the net. As you try to lift the fish into the boat you realize the enormity of it’s bulk and prey the net doesn’t break before you boat the fish.
Once on the deck you gaze in utter amazement at the size and beauty of this mottled green thing. Lifting and holding a 25kg plus fish for a photo is not easy, but it is the happiest moment you have felt since the birth of you own children. All the effort has now paid off. All the time and money spent, all the blood sweat and tears, the 4am starts, the frozen shoes and testicles have all been worth it in the end. Now you can finally go back to camp with your head held high. This time you eagerly await those wonderful words “Did you catch anything?”
Later that night as you lay there in your bed with a huge feeling of satisfaction and a smile on your dial as you drift off to sleep, a small part of you knows that tomorrows another day and the addiction starts all over again.
If I had a bucket list, somewhere near the top of that list would be to catch Murray cod on fly. Well last weekend I made that dream come true, although it took some doing. During the week leading up to the trip the conditions couldn’t have been worse. Easterly winds and a low barometer were forecast. To top it off the recent rains had dirtied almost every river in the area. All accept one. The Severn River.
After the long drive I met up with Nick and we hit the Severn. The river looked great. It was running clear and warm. But the low pressure system and easterly winds Heralded that the cod fishing would be tough. As tough as it was, we patiently probed our flies into the depths of every fishy looking snag. Nick was first of the mark with a solid little cod of about 50cm. I encountered a few bumps and follows before I had my first hit. There is little question when a cod hits your fly. They tend to hit it hard. Whether fishing with a fly or a lure, that familiar strike delivered from a cods’ powerful jaws always puts a smile on the dial.
With the first strike, I simply failed to set the hook hard enough and the fish swam away. But I didn’t make the same mistake twice. When the next strike came I lifted the rod sharply and drove the hooks home. I was very happy to feel weight at the end of my line and shortly after had my first Murray cod on fly in the net. He wasn’t going to break any records but I was stoked. My First Murray cod on fly!!!!
The next day we tried a different section of the river. The easterly wind fired up and again it appeared the fishing would be tough. As we worked the pools and runs from our kick boats no strikes or follows were forthcoming. I decided it was a good time to replace my leader. The very next cast I let the fly sink deep across the face of a snag under a willow tree. To my amazement the fly was smashed hard and I immediately set the hook. I gave the fish no line as I knew it would bust me off if it headed back into the sticks. Suddenly the line went slack and the tell tale boil of a large tail fin surfaced. Upon closer inspection the uni-knot in the leader had pulled. It was definitely my bad. I have tied hundreds of uni-knots before but not in 30-40lb fluorocarbon line. I’m not exactly sure what went wrong but from then on I vowed to leave longer tag ends and set the knot really tight. Loosing that fish was a bitter pill to swallow. Not only did it feel like a very big fish, but the knot failure was my fault and to top it off the fly I lost was a ripper.
Still, the day was young and we continued floating on downstream. Then to our delight, the wind died down and the day started to really warm up. From then on the fishing vastly improved. We both worked hard and by the end of the day I managed about 4 cod averaging approx 50cm. Nick, being the local must have landed closer to a dozen cod, at least 4 of which were more respectable fish of around 60+cm. I watched him closely and tried to learn from his example. He had fly fished these rivers for many years with great success.
For the most part, the tactics used in fly fishing for Murray cod are similar to any type of lure fishing for Australian natives. Cast the fly/lure as close as possible to any likely fish holding structure and retrieve the fly with plenty of action, pausing occasionally to tempt a strike. Trying a variety of retrieves to see what works best on any given day is the key. Triggering a ‘reaction strike’ that day involved beginning our retrieve the moment the fly hit the water, with shorts sharp strips that would cause the fly to ‘pulse.’ I have seen this style of retrieve work with bass on certain days too. Other days they like the fly to just sit there motionless.
What surprised me more than anything was the type of habitat that we caught fish in. Of course the cod were found in the usual places around the best looking snags, but most of the fish came from sunny positions. When fishing for bass I only ever focus on the shaded areas as most often the fish are found under the trees. However it would appear that day the cod actually preferred more sunny positions. What surprised me even more was the depth of the water Nick was targeting. He had no hesitation in fishing snags that were in no more that 1ft of water!
The other surprising thing was how close Nick would manoeuvre his kick boat to the snag he intended to fish. What appeared to be paramount was getting that fly right up into ‘tiger country’ and if you need to be 3 meters away to do just that, the cod didn’t seem to mind. Nor did they appear to be put off by repeated casts, with the fly slapping the water, probing for a closer position to the snag. In fact if anything I think the cod were actually turned on by all the commotion. I clearly had some old habits to break.
We caught cod on a number of different flies that day but the pink ones were the flavour of the day. With the sun now fast retreating I excitedly gave a purple surface popper a swim, but it drew no response. As we made the long hike back to the car I reflected on what an awesome day it had been. A dream come true and hopefully the first of many more to come.