How to

Fast Water Fishing

Up until recently I thought most native sportfish preferred slow moving waters.

That’s probably because most of my fishing for species such as yellowbelly, silver perch and Murray cod had been done in impoundments.

Given the fact that water flow in these big puddles is fairly negligible, I guess I can be excused for thinking along these lines.

Once I started fishing a few inland rivers, however, I swiftly realised that our native sportfish react to current in much the same way as estuary species like bream and flathead.

There are obviously no tides in our inland river systems but most of these waterways are in a state of flow for at least some of the year.

It was a surprise to find out that the natives use this water movement in much the same way as saltwater species use the tide.

Key for anglers is how natives use current to bring them food, although it needs to be noted that current flow – especially that generated by flood events – also plays a major role in the breeding cycle of many native species.

Back to current and food, all keen estuary fishos know how ambush feeders like flathead use the tide to bring them an easy meal.

A flattie will lie in wait on the edge of a drop-off as the dropping tide forces baitfish and prawns to leave the sanctuary of the shallows.

Water flow basically acts as a delivery system for the flathead. And it’s much the same for predators like cod in an inland river. This was graphically demonstrated to me during a recent trip down a central-western NSW river with good mate Ken Smith.

The river was clear and running well. It was early in the season and the evil carp hadn’t yet started to silt up the water.

We’d left camp and paddled downstream to fish new water. After negotiating a couple of small rapids and having dragged the canoe over a sandbank or two we entered a large pool.

Having travelled down a few kilometres of what was essentially shallow and fishless water, the pool really looked the goods.

Both banks were heavily vegetated and there were plenty of snags, boulders and shady patches. The run leading into the pool was shallow and quite fast.

At the end of the run the water dropped over a sandbar and quickly shelved off. The stump of a large tree had been deposited by a past flood on the edge of the drop-off.

As we sped past, dragged along by the current, I couldn’t help flicking a cast in at the tangled roots.

My Swagman Jumbuck hit water midway along the stump and I retrieved it along and out from the timber.

Almost as soon as the lure passed out of the shadow of the stump, a mottled green shape materialised out of the dark water and smacked the bibbed diver in a burst of spray. A quick tussle and I had a healthy little Murray cod ready for release in the shallows.

I hadn’t expected a hit, let alone a fish. The water was pushing hard along that shallow narrow section. To me, it just didn’t seem like cod water. My preconception was that these fantastic natives preferred deep slow holes. But this fish was living in the fast lane as if it was a rainbow trout!

After a yarn with Ken, an experienced cod angler with plenty of big fish under his belt, it soon became obvious that I really didn’t know too much about our pre-eminent native sportfish.

Cod certainly have a reputation for favouring deep pools or holes – and that may well be the case with big fish in impoundments and larger systems – but the smaller river fish, especially those in systems with a bit of flow, definitely seem to prefer to position themselves in areas where they stand the best chance of being delivered a free meal via the current.

In my observation, cod generally don’t position themselves in the main force of the current.

An examination of their physiology reveals that they aren’t exactly the most streamlined fish – those barrel shaped bodies and big wide fins aren’t designed to go fast for long periods of time.

Instead they hang just out of the current flow, preferably in or near some sort of structure, ready to zip out and grab whatever’s going past.

The way the cod seemed to operate reminded me a lot of the way jewfish hunt in an estuary system. Another species with a penchant for lying up in deep holes, jewies are well known for positioning themselves against a bridge pylon, rock or reef and letting the current do the hard work for them.

It’s interesting to consider the evolutionary processes which influenced the feeding characteristics of these two iconic species …

The next few days of fishing with Ken resulted in a number of other cod, as well as yellowbelly and silver perch, being caught on cast lures.

The interesting thing was that current flow played a vital role in all the captures. We flogged spectacular snags in deep shady pools for zeros but came up trumps casting to tiny hidey holes at the end of rapids or runs.

It soon became obvious that fish were focused around areas of moving water. Target a snag or rock with a bit of current running past it and you’d get often smacked.

None of the cod we came across were big fish but it was exciting fishing, and often quite visual.

If you were going to get a hit, it generally came on the first cast. This indicated to me that the fish were tuned in to the potential of food. They were obviously waiting behind their rock or snag for the current to whisk past a yabby, insect or baitfish.

If you got the lure in the zone alongside a likely snag, you’d soon know if a cod was home. Ditto the perch.

Although aggressive, the fish didn’t seem too keen to chase the lure far or to venture away from the protection of their snaggy homes.

This meant fairly accurate casts focused around key snags and rocks close to the head of the pool produced the most action.

Back eddies were also likely spots, especially those produced by fairly fast running rapids.

There was obviously plenty of food getting dispersed by the faster running water and the fish were hot to trot in a couple of the bigger eddies we fished.

The relative predictability of the fish meant we didn’t waste time peppering snags with multiple casts.

Although cod are known to steadfastly ignore a lure until it annoys them so much they eventually smash it out of sheer aggression, in this case the fish were obviously in a feeding mode.

Whether this was because of barometric conditions, water temp or current flow, I have no idea. Something must have turned them on and then off again because the next day we struggled to raise a scale …

I’m finding that I’m constantly learning as I spend more and more time targeting our freshwater natives.

Tuition and advice from more experienced anglers like Ken Smith and Col Gordon, plus trial and error on my own part, is gradually revealing a clearer picture about these intriguing and addictive sportfish.

Up until this recent trip down the river I probably wouldn’t have targeted cod in fast water. But fishing is all about learning and trying new things – which is a big reason why so many of us keep doing what we do …

This story was first published in the Fishing World February 2014 issue.

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