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BUSHY ON LURES – Stranger in a strange land

Heading to new water to fish for unfamiliar species means you need to start from scratch and follow the basics.

LURE fishermen often tend to be creatures of habit. We also tend to be good enough to catch a few fish from our home waters because we pretty much know what’s going on there.

We know when our local fish are going to be on the chew. We know where they live and we know how to work our lures to get that elusive bite. Sometimes, however, we want to check out those greener pastures and do something different.

Check the wheel bearings, hitch up the boat, pack a few lures and head for some new water and different fish – how hard can it be? Actually it can be diabolically difficult to work out a new location in a short time, especially if you’re targeting a fish species you’re unfamiliar with. There will be a lot to learn and not much time in which to learn it.

I can use one of my rare Murray cod fishing expeditions to Lake Mulwala in southern NSW to investigate some of these problems and, as a result, maybe provide some shortcuts to some of the solutions for other travelling lure tossers. I have been voted “worst cod angler in Australia” by the official national cod organisation so my efforts to catch cod in a strange location showed up plenty of fishing faults.

For a start I had no clue as to where to fish. I have mates who regularly fish for cod and they told me to fish near the trees. Thanks guys! There are about four million trees in Lake Mulwala. Turns out you are supposed to fish near certain types of trees. Really big ones are good, especially if the tops are missing, because that means the tops will be lying somewhere near the massive tree stumps and offering cover for cod. Really big trees without tops near a channel with some current are even better. “Lay-downs”, as the name suggests, are horizontal trees lying in the water and they also are great places to throw a lure. The lay-downs at least made sense to me because most fish like ’em, not just cod. There are willow trees around the lake and they’re also great spots to find cod. The lake looked fairly intimidating when I first ventured out, and my initial reaction was “where the hell do I fish in this mess” – but after talking to some proper cod fishers and just getting on with it, things started to make a bit of sense. There’s often a bit of positive transfer for the travelling angler and I now know that fishing for bass in the willow areas and fishing for barra around the lay-downs will catch at least some cod.
If you’re a visiting angler you probably won’t get many chances, so it pays to over-gun on line class. I used 30lb braid and 50lb leader on my cod gear just in case one of the serious fish had a grab. If you’re only fishing for a short time in any new location you’d have to be fairly lucky to hook a really big fish but such things can happen. On my trip I caught small fish but I was happy with that as I had very realistic expectations. Even my small cod pulled hard and the heavy tackle allowed me to land them quickly and release them in good condition.

Even with good tackle and some sort of an idea on where to fish, you still have to make them bite. I fished spinnerbaits because I thought I could keep them in good spots for a large portion of the fishing day. Spinnerbaits are also fairly heavy so they cast easily on a baitcaster, even into the wind. Spinnerbaits are also very snag resistant and you can bump them along over the downed timber without hooking up too many times. One trick I did learn from the locals is to carry one of those de-hooking type devices. The best ones I saw were just telescopic poles with a wire coil at the top for grabbing the lure and pulling it off the sunken timber. A combination of a lure that’s hard to snag and a de-hooker means that you have a working lure near good cod habitat for as much time as possible.

Fishing lures for fish that are unfamiliar to you can be tough. On your home turf you know how to do the right twitch at just the right time, or you know exactly how fast to wind the lure so it gets belted. These things seem easy enough and when you do know how it’s done, it is easy. On new fish there’s often a lot of trial and error in working out the right retrieve to actually make a fish bite.

I know I was just a bit fast with everything when I first fished Mulwala. I worked the spinnerbait just a bit too quickly and I was too quick to leave a good-looking cod spot. I caught more fish on my second day because I relaxed and settled into a quieter, slower mode. The inland is just slower – but in a good way. On a good day what clouds there are seem to sit glued in a blue sky. There is no wind or even a ripple on the lake. Even the cockies don’t do much except sit on the highest trees and let out the occasional screech. Once I got in synch with this world and realised I wasn’t going to get a bite every cast or even every hundred casts, I started to fish differently. It pays to cast at a good spot from different angles and to throw enough casts to annoy a resident fish. And I worked the spinnerbait slowly. I’m still a fairly bad cod angler but eventually I cobbled together a plan and executed it well enough to catch a few fish.

I guess that is the bottom line for fishing on a quick trip in a new location: realise you’re a learner again; find out everything you can about the fishing; make a plan; and fish hard. See you on the water.

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