Report: Winter Cod

WE waited until the sun rose over the hills and burnt away the frost before launching the canoe. There was a fair run of water in the river and we traversed the first set of rapids easily. Foremost in our minds was the importance of not coming a cropper – the water temp was in the single digits and neither of us fancied an icy cold bath at this stage of proceedings.

It was good to be back on the river. Tendrils of mist rose over the water, kingfishers flashed like tiny blue missiles from the bankside trees and the plaintive bleating of feral goats echoed from the surrounding hills.

The more I fish these western flowing rivers, the more I appreciate them – and the great native fish that call these waterways home. Spending a few days camping out here with good mates Col Gordon and Ken Smith is something my 15-year-old son Harry and I always look forward to. This morning Harry and Col had headed out into the hills in search of a trophy billy goat while Ken and I braved the freezing water in search of cod.


Central west rivers like this are a stronghold for native species such as Murray cod and yellowbelly. Image: Jim Harnwell

Despite many casts aimed at prime fish-holding locations in the first few pools, we didn’t raise a scale. I admit to being somewhat unconfident – surely it was too cold to catch native fish on lures?

However, Ken, a dedicated and very experienced cod angler, exuded an air of quiet expectation. Everything was looking good, he explained as we paddled down another run. A good flow of water and a high barometer, plus the fact that cod would be starting to scout around for breeding sites, meant we were in with a chance of some decent late winter fish.

Ken’s confidence was soon rewarded. I registered a gentle tap on my lure after making a cast into a bankside eddy. Next cast got whacked and my rod loaded up as a solid fish made a series of powerful lunges. “I heard that hit,” Ken said as he struggled to manoeuvre the canoe out into the main flow.

Like other implosion feeders such as barra, Muray cod create a significant amount of water pressure when they strike a lure. As happened with this fish, you can often hear or sense the power of the hit, especially when fishing shallow water in a canoe or small boat.

Unfortunately, that fish came unstuck after those first few headshakes. However, it certainly woke me up. The fish had felt big, certainly bigger than any other cod I’d ever hooked. Maybe there was something to this winter cod fishing?

Towards the middle of the next pool my Salmo Perch lure got snaffled by a small cod around a boulder located just out from the bank. We were assuming the shallows would be warmer than the main flow and that the bankside rocks would be providing a bit of thermal mass the fish would likely appreciate.

The cod was about 500mm in length and was very pale coloured. Other cod that I’ve caught in this system have tended to be quite dark with rich mottled markings. A quick pic and the little native was released to grow bigger.

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The business end of a pale coloured Murray cod prior to release. Image: Ken Smith

We were both stoked with the catch. As Ken and I always say, any cod is a good cod. Unfortunately my next cast ended up with my Salmo lure hopelessly snagged down deep and I busted off while trying to retrieve it. Bugger!

I tied on a Rapala Tail Dancer, a lure I’ve previously enjoyed success with while targeting natives. This deep diver has a wide action and slender profile – I hoped it would appeal to the natives as well as the Salmo did.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out. Another cast to a collection of sun-warmed boulders close to the bank resulted in a solid hit followed by a fast run along the shoreline. I thought I’d hooked a decent yellowbelly when a series of thumping headshakes and surges indicated I was connected to another cod.

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Jim (top) with his 780mm cod and (above) the Rapala Tail Dancer that was its undoing.

After a typically short but intense battle, the fish was landed. Easily my best cod to date, it measured a respectable 780mm and was quickly photographed before being carefully released. Again, it was much lighter in colour than other fish I’ve seen from these waters.

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Ken Smith with a beautifully marked cod taken on a chatterbait…

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… and a pretty fish taken from a fast run. Images: Jim Harnwell

We headed back towards camp, aglow with the special satisfaction that only native fish can bring. On our return trip, Ken scored a couple of 500mm cod on his trusty chatterbait. Oddly, these fish sported the rich colouring typical of this system.

Four cod, including my PB, from a quick morning session. Can’t get much better than that, hey?

Next trip out this way will be after cod season opens in December. Hopefully the water will be warmer and I’ll get a chance at that metre-plus trophy fish I’ve been dreaming about!

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Camp tucker (top) is always good! Bacon and eggs cooked to perfection by Col Gordon with Ken’s famous cheese and bacon damper. Image: Jim Harnwell
Above: Harry Harnwell and Bundi the goat at the riverside campsite. 
Image: Ken Smith

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There are some great places to find and explore once you get off the beaten track … Image: Jim Harnwell

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