The Cod Cabin – Cody Hochen February 2016

I don’t venture into New South Wales on fishing trips very often, but when I do it usually involves an epic adventure over the Great Dividing Range to target Murray cod. The granite gorge strewn rivers and creek around Glen Innes, Tenterfield and Inverell offer some of the most stunning scenery in Australia and are home to the Murray cod. Over my last few trips I have visited all these towns in search of this addictive fish.

The mighty Murray cod or ‘goodoo’ are a fish typical of the Australian environment. This green and gold bulldozer is a true Aussie battler that manages to thrive in the creeks that caress some of the driest land in Australia.They are a fish that every keen fisherman should experience sometime in their life. Its stunning green and gold flanks and aggressive nature make it a pleasure to target such an exciting fish.

When it comes to Murray cod, most of the least pressured waterways – and therefore best fishing – is on private property. If you are lucky enough to know someone or receive permission to fish a waterway on private property you will more than likely have the whole section to yourself. On a recent expedition chasing Murray cod with good mates, Matt and Phil, we were lucky to have access to a section of river in north/western New South Wales that has had very little fishing pressure, so we knew they’d be plenty of hungry Murray cod. The plan was to take advantage of a long weekend and to fish hard for two days. I studied the specific location on google maps beforehand, noticing that it had a number of large pools connected by a series of rapids and smaller pools. All these areas were prime cod habitat, which had me drooling over my keyboard.

The morning of our cod trip arrived and we were greeted with some glamorous conditions. What should have been a four-hour drive took five-and-a-half as we had a few stops on the way to further stock our already bulging tackle boxes with some more spinnerbaits. We arrived at the property mid-afternoon and were greeted by the property owners as well as a couple of small storm cells that were moving in around the granite hills. We were led to our ‘Cod Cabin’ as the thunder rumbled around us. Once on the hilltop, I could see the massive waterhole I had studied beforehand on the laptop. I instantly felt a connection with this property and an understanding of the ‘lay of the land’ from my ‘lounge chair research’ the night before. This knowledge of its unique and somewhat difficult landscape, would no doubt assist me in locating and tackling the fish that brought us all this way.

We cracked open a XXXX while we admired the view and waited for the storm to pass. This also gave us time to rig up and unpack our gear. I tied two metres of 40lb Sunline FC Rock via a FG knot to my 20lb braid on my Daiwa Tatula. It wasn’t quite late enough for a surface presentation so I tied on a Jackall Veyron, a softplastic swimbait, which looks just like a small perch/redfin. Matt and Phil tied on large Bassman spinnerbaits in purple and red/black.

The storm quickly passed once we had rigged up. We finished our beers and put the Rodeo into 4WD and steadily zigzagged our way down to the waterhole our cabin overlooked. In their eagerness Matt and Phil had leapt out of the car with rods in hand before I had a chance to put the hand brake on. Before I made a cast I took in the surroundings, as this was truly spectacular country. In that moment it occurred to me how these Murray cod lurking below the surface have no idea of the majestic landscape that towers above them. The granite rim showcased oversized boulders and never-ending gums, and the rays of the sun stung our eyes and our skin as it bounced off the rocks. The deep waterhole where we stood was littered with a border of fallen trees and was surrounded by a granite-strewn gorge. The water and had an assortment of boulders protruding out of the murky depths. In short, it looked extremely fishy. My third cast was parallel to a large fallen tree and bang: a solid thump was received right next to the snag. Unfortunately the hooks didn’t find their mark, but this indicated there were fish about – and they where hungry. Five casts later, Matt and I both hooked up to two smallish cod, around 45cm. During the next hour we landed another 4 or 5 that size, but although receiving plenty of hits, the single treble on the Jackall Veyron kept failing to hook up.

The sun was starting to duck below the gorge, so I knew it was time for some surface action. I tied on a Jackall Mikey (a large jointed wakebait that I knew would be a hit with Murray cod as soon as I spotted it on the shelf at The Tackle Warehouse). Wakebaits are large bibbed lures that can be swum a foot under the water’s surface with the rod tip down, or alternatively, right on the water’s surface with the rod tip high, leaving a wake on the water. I had previously removed the three small off-the-shelf trebles and replaced them with two wide gape Mustad size 1 trebles. I like using trebles with as wide a gape as possible as I tend to get a much better hook up, particularly on surface. Sometimes cod miss the lure when striking and wider gaped hooks tend to find the mark better than smaller hooks.

We then made our way up to the top of the waterhole at the base of some rapids. Whilst fishing in these freshwater syatems the most productive fishing is often from the top of a waterhole or at the base of rapids or waterfalls, as this is where predators wait for food to be flushed down with the fast flowing water. I cast out the retrofitted Jackall Mikey and lowered the rod tip, slowly rolling it back just under the water’s surface and back to my position on a large granite rock. Half way through the retrieve, the green and yellow flanks of a large Murray cod swirled under the lure. This happened again for the next two casts, as the same fish frustratingly struck under the lure leaving large swirls as it then made its way back to the depths. On the fourth cast the cod eventually hit the lure and the ultrasharp Mustad trebles found their mark. After a solid battle, and whilst hopping over and avoiding boulders, I eventually lip-gripped my personal best Murray cod at 65cm. Although it didn’t set any records, it hit like a freight train and seeing the fish wallop the lure was a spectacle. The next cast resulted in me being slammed again by a similar fish, which again put up a great fight on my baitcaster tackle. I caught another 2 in the next 5 casts. All darted out of the depths and smashed the Jacall Mikey in view. To me, it doesn’t often get any better than that! My last cast of the session was right up against the base of the rapids. This was a perfect spot for a cod to be lurking for prey as it washed down with the current. It took three cranks of the Tatula for a cod to strike under my lure, but only to leave me with a large swirl on the water’s surface. Immediately after, Matt lobbed his Jackall Pompadour in the same spot. Half way through the retrieve, and ‘BOOF’, the cod had launched itself out of the water and smashed the lure as it walked across the surface. The 60cm fish was caught after a spirited battle and then released after a quick photograph.

We decided to leave on a high and make our way back to the car. Unfortunately we were wearing shorts (big mistake) and the stinging nettle that we dodged when the sun was above the gorge was now almost impossible to see in the dark. We got stung big time. By the time we made it back to the car my legs were pretty numb and I had little feeling from my knees down. Nevertheless, it was a great session to start our trip. After a few beers over the fire, my numb legs were soon forgotten while we took a moment to plan the next morning’s trek.

We woke up (still with numb legs) in the dark, eager for some surface action once the sun rose. We worked our way downstream (this time wearing gaiters) of the large waterhole where we had fished the afternoon before. There we stood, casting surface lures to any likely looking boulder or snag along the way. I tied on a Pompadour, and by the third cast the peaceful dawn chorus of the birds had been interrupted by a ‘BOOM’. A rather nice cod slammed my lure right at my feet, slapping its tail as it turned and tried to bulldoze its way under a boulder. This woke me up from my daze and got the adrenalin pumping for the best session of the trip. Over the next 3 hours the fishing was red hot and the Pompadour was dominating with catching at least 15 fish. The highlight of the morning was the simultaneous double hook up of surface-munching cod 2 metres apart. On one particular occasion I pulled 3 cod (all around 60cm) in 3 casts from separate small pools that would have been no deeper than 1 metre at the base of the rapids. These solid fish came out to smash the lure from amongst the many granite boulders and fought well above their weight in the current. We quickly lost count of how many cod we had caught during that morning session, but it must have been close to 30. By the end of the session the Pompadour was pretty banged up and its near perfect walk along the surface was more of a one armed paddle to the left.

The afternoon session started off the same with cod falling to surface lures in some pretty tight surrounds. It would have been about 2 hours into the session when a cold change whipped through the valley and immediately shut down the surface bite. Even though the fishing was on fire beforehand it is amazing how susceptible Murray cod (and other freshwater fish) are to a change in weather conditions. This prompted us to adjust our technique by using slowly worked spinnerbaits. Although the changed conditions took the edge off the excitement, we still managed a few more average fish before heading back to camp to get the coals ready for our camp oven roast. For future reference, we will not choose the biggest of lamb legs (as great as it eventually was) to cook when we are already weary from a long day of fishing.

The next morning while the boys slept in (or digested) I again got up at the crack of dawn to make my way down to the large waterhole that our Cod Cabin overlooked. I thoroughly worked the whole stretch of the waterhole for another 7 cod with the Jackall Mickey, but the bite was pretty slow. It was only a short session since we were to leave that morning.

What to bring when trekking for cod

When choosing tackle for Murray cod, there are many lures on the market. The two most commonly used are large surface walkers and spinnerbaits. Both are very effective and cover most bases to successfully target cod. Deep diving lures, vibration style lures and swimbaits all work well. After having huge success on this trip, the lure that will always make its way into my cod tackle box is a large wakebait. A medium baitaster spooled with tough 20lb braid and 40lb leader is what I use and all that is needed for targeting cod in the granite country. Spinning gear also works, but it can be difficult to use long rods amongst the tight areas with its overhanging vegetation.

When chasing Murray cod from the bank, there are a few things to remember in the planning stage. Most areas are only accessible on foot, and so it is important to pack as light as possible. Like all fishing/trekking trips, appropriate clothing should be worn. Also bring plenty of food and sugary treats, at least 3 litres of water, a first aid kit, a brag mat, camera, leader, lures and pliers.

As mentioned long pants or gaitors are a must: not only for the stinging nettle, but for the abundance of venomous snakes that claim this granite country as their home.

Another necessity is a pair of lip grips to handle these strong fish while unhooking and photographing. When fishing for Murray cod I always practice ‘catch and release’. If you choose to catch and release it is imperative to respect such a beautiful fish and to not risk dropping it on hot rocks or dirt while removing hooks or taking a photo. A pair of lip grips will avoid this from happening. Their bucket-shaped mouth contains a nice sharp and raspy set of teeth, which can do some serious damage to a bare thumb. Personally I like my thumb with skin on, so I’d prefer to use a pair of lip grips to handle my fish. Remember to support the belly, particularly with big fish whilst handling them.

Along with barramundi, Murray cod are one of the most iconic fish in Australia. While standing amongst these majestic boulders and peaceful fresh waters, it would seem as though catching a fish is simply a bonus.