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The “Plan B” Trip

Cod Catching

Sometimes a spur-of-the-moment trip pays off big time. DAVID GREEN experienced one of these all-too-rare events and caught some spectacular Murray cod in the process.

GRABBING fishing opportunities in a busy life requires careful planning. Over the past six months we’d carefully organised a three-day canoe trip to fish remote tributaries of the upper Clarence River, in northern NSW. Canoe trips mean stuffing all your gear into a single waterproof drum, minimising tackle, food, clothing and camera gear. It’s a great way to fish, and the extra effort to get into really remote places is always worth it. On this trip we had two canoes, a drop off point arranged and we’d worked out our camp sites on Google Earth.


With two days to go the river levels were nice and low, but the forecast was looking like rain. A day prior to departure the area was deluged, the river rose eight metres in the gorges, Coffs Harbour flooded (again) and our trip was impossible. With about two hours’ notice the canoe was put back in the rack, the tinny hastily loaded with camping gear and a couple of trays of lures and we headed west, out past the rain. Neither of us had ever fished the area before, in fact we didn’t even have a map. After the intricate and detailed planning of the aborted canoe trip, this three-day sojourn was planned and executed in 10 minutes. I didn’t really care where we were going, I just wanted a break from work and all its dramas, and my mate Kelvin had arranged cover for his shop for a few days. We had a short window of opportunity and a hastily contrived plan. In my experience the rushed alternative “Plan B” trips often end in frustration and misery and are fishless, full of gear and boat breakages and are often a cluster of mini disasters that happen due to rushed and poor preparation.

Fishing with Kelvin Williams is always interesting. Kelvin is a very innovative angler, has a lot of theories and likes to experiment. Kel owns more lures than most comprehensively stocked tackle shops. Our mission had changed from canoe to boat, so his small tackle box of only 150 lures for the canoe had expanded ten fold. For the first time in my life I never opened my tackle box this entire trip. My aim was to catch a decent Murray cod. Kelvin grew up in Shepparton, Victoria,  and has a lot of cod fishing experience. My Murray cod experience was a few trips in canoes and a couple of relatively poor trips to impoundments.


We headed out into the granite country west of the divide to an area that was still locked in drought. There are quite a few impoundments with cod in them in this area, and the one we chose to fish was quite low at the time. I’m not going to mention where we went, as I don’t think our results were in any way representative of the general fishing, and I definitely don’t claim to be any expert on cod. Suffice to say, this impoundment is a well-known cod and yellowbelly fishery. But somewhere along the way we’d been kissed by a fairy, and when your luck is in you’ve got to enjoy the ride.

After a long drive we set up camp near the shoreline of the dam. I love camping, and for most of our trips I’ve got the system pretty well sorted out. A decent tent, Cobb oven and camp stretchers plus a couple of pre-prepared boxes of gear make it quick and easy. After our camp was set up, I put a lamb roast in the Cobb (on six heat beads fully cooked in three hours!) and we headed out to fish the dam that we didn’t have a clue about. That first session produced three bites. Mine was just a sharp flick on the spinnerbait, more of a nudge than an aggressive bite. Kelvin hooked up to a better fish that shredded his leader and busted up in a second, but in three hours we soon worked out that there were going to be a lot of casts per fish.

Murray cod are an iconic fish. They are the supreme predator of the Murray-Darling river system, but like all fish species their behaviour can be very hard to predict. They have evolved so they are able to swallow anything from a carp to a water dragon or a duck, and their massive gob and huge stomach make them an opportunistic predator that will, if the mood is right, eat anything that moves and fits down their enormous mouths. Despite this aggressive nature, Murray cod have also developed a taste for Coon cheese, and go ballistic over the larvae of the Bogong moth, known as a bardi grub. With such diverse food sources, it is hardly surprising that cod eat weird lures, and if you want weird lures covered in bling, then Kelvin Williams is your man.

We returned to camp to a superb roast, hatched a plan for the morning and went to sleep as a black sky and windy rainstorm hit the camp. I don’t mind an early start, but when Kel set the alarm for 2.45am I was in a very foggy, hazy place. Adding 20 knots of wind and a temp of about nine degrees with squally rain didn’t really fire up my enthusiasm. Regardless, we were on a mission. On unfamiliar dams full of rocks and submerged trees in the black of night a GPS is very helpful, but mine decided not to work. We cast at trees in the darkness and finally found our way out of the bay to a small island. Part of the problem I find with cod fishing is the dams are bloody deep in the granite country. It’s hard to tell in 25m of water whether the fish is perched in the branches of a sunken tree or living down on the bottom, and I just don’t like presenting a lure in a really deep column of water as you just can’t keep it in the strike zone. Near the island the water was a lot shallower, between two and six metres. In technical Gen Y tournament bass fisherman terms our preferred method was to slow roll a double bladed silver Colorado 5/8 ounce purple Bassman Spinnerbait with Power Hawg trailer and 6/0 Owner Stinger plus added scent close to the bottom. What this actually means is that a bloody big bling covered spinnerbait with large round silver blades and two hooks was being wound slowly, just enough for the blades to turn. There’s a lot to spinnerbaits in both subtlety and action, but at three in the morning the lecture I was getting from Kel was being lost in the wind and rain and cold. Sleep would be nice.

 At 4am I had a small but significant moment in my fishing career.

The spinnerbait was cast out into the blackness when the first Hefalump cod of the trip inhaled it. I’ve been fortunate in my life to catch plenty of big fish, but I’d never seen a cod like this one attached to my length of string. The bite was solid, then the fight was like playing a slightly mobile snag. When I saw the morbidly obese fish in the light of my head torch it was much bigger than I expected, and it was relatively easy to bring to the boat and was netted without fuss, although it splashed both of us with its enormous tail. The bit you don’t appreciate about big cod from magazine photos is how thick they are. This fish was 99cm in length, probably about 20 kilos in weight and had a gut on it like the finest you’d see in a country pub. Definitely my personal best cod, and although frustratingly short of the metre mark it was a fantastic fish. Unfortunately in the wind and rain the pics were a bit fuzzy (like my head), but Kel’s decision to leave camp before 3am had come off. That fish was a bit of a knee trembler for me, and I was pretty excited. And for the moment, it was a bigger cod than Kel had ever caught.


One fish leads to another, and two become a pattern. Kel caught a smaller five-kilo cod just as the light was hitting the eastern sky, and I missed a reasonable bite that ate the spinnerbait as it sunk. With enough light to now travel, we moved down the dam to the spot where Kel had been busted up the afternoon before. In about four metres of water, we watched several cod very casually moving about. They were all solid looking fish between 70cm and a metre long, and displayed casual indifference to our lures, although one big one escorted one of Kel’s stranger offerings all the way to the boat. This large hard bodied lure, made by Jamie Flett, had a Mohawk section of fur mounted into its head, and is a very popular big cod lure. The weather was very dull, with intermittent showers and was cool. If I was on a barra dam it had all the necessary features to shut down a barra bite. Cod, however, are different. After about half an hour casting to the same spot my purple spinnerbait was nailed by an eight-kilo cod that put up a fair tussle before being released. Twenty minutes later, at the same spot, another Hefalump cod bit my lure. It seems cod can be eventually annoyed into making a snap decision, as the lure had clearly gone past this fish on many occasions. This cod was a big fat bullocky beast that was 102cm in length and probably 50 pounds in the old scale.

The fight, in clean water, was always controllable, but the huge fish made a couple of solid runs before sliding into the net. He was a pretty fish with a mouth that could suck in a duck. We took some pics and set him free to paddle off into the big pond in which he lived.

We finished the morning session with six cod. All were caught on spinnerbaits. We did a bit of trolling without success, but it was hard to vary your methods after you stumble on something effective. I wasn’t taking that purple spinnerbait off my rod anyway, and when Kelvin caught a nice fish on a double-armed chartreuse extra blinged up 1oz Bassman spinnerbait, he had his “go to” lure sorted for the next session.

After a few hours sleep in the middle of the day we set out to explore more of the dam for the afternoon session. As our success had come in relatively shallow rocky sections, we trolled for a while to find the shallower contours where our casting lures would be easy to present close to the bottom. We missed a few bites that were probably yellowbelly, and then Kel caught a small cod. I finally hooked a nice yellowbelly that was very golden in colour. A long cast with his chartreuse monster lure produced an 89cm cod for Kel that weighed 32 pounds on the Boga grips in the net. This was a very pretty cod, an ornate tapestry of green and wattle gold markings covering its flanks. Perhaps the pretty cod prefer the lures with all the bling!

As it became increasingly dark we moved back up the dam close to our camp. I missed a bite, then Kelvin missed a good hit, only to connect properly a second later. I know he was a tad disappointed that I’d caught the two biggest fish at this stage, but when a head surged out of the water displaying a mouth like the lid of a garbage bin, he knew he had his metre fish connected. When that beast swum into the light of the headlamp it looked like it wouldn’t fit its head in the net. This was a truly massive fish with a girth like a beer keg and a gut that could only come from overindulgence and a lack of exercise. This Hefalump was 111cm on the ruler, and after a few too many energy drinks and several fistfuls of chocolate and other crap, Kel’s eyes were just about popping out of his head with excitement. This cod was probably over 60 pounds in the old scale and was soon released back into the dam where he took off in a bigger hurry and with more speed than he displayed at any time during the fight. I caught a small fish 10 minutes later, and we headed back to camp for an early night.

The sky was clear the next morning, and in the pre-dawn session Kel caught two more pretty cod on the bling lure, and I missed a couple of hits. When the sun came up the fish were shut down, and when the wind came in hard from the northwest it was time to leave. The most significant moment was when we watched an absolutely massive cod cruise under the boat in clear water. I’m no expert on judging cod size, but it was probably around 130cm or more in length and looked like a 44 gallon green coloured fuel drum with fins. This sent Kel into a casting frenzy of epic proportions, but that great fish didn’t get that big by eating lures covered in bling.

Overall, we caught 12 cod between 60 and 111cm in about 16 hours of fishing on a dam we had never fished before. All were caught casting Bassman spinnerbaits in less than six metres of water. We met some great people camped near us, had a fantastic introduction
to a new place, and had no disasters, dramas or significant breakages. I think that is definitely one of the few “Plan B” type of trips I’ve experienced where the plan actually goes to plan, and it has left me with the insatiable desire to catch more and hopefully even bigger cod in the future.

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