Freshwater, Native

Things that go BOOF in the night

If you’ve seen and heard a Murray Cod engulf a surface lure, you’ve witnessed one of the most exciting and heart-stopping fishing experiences our region has to offer.

There is a time somewhere between ‘afternoon’ and ‘evening’ when the sun is setting and you can no longer quite see into the water.  You cast out a lure and wind it back towards your feet with a gentle plop – plop – plop across the surface.  The retrieve is almost finished and you are about to lift the lure out of water. Without warning the water erupts with a BOOF!

Stunned and excited, you recoil slightly.  Somehow the massive fish failed to connect with the hooks and you are now wet from head to toe. THIS is cod fishing with surface lures.

Lee fishing during the magic hour - shortly after his lure got crunched by a feisty cod that missed the hooks
Lee fishing the magic hour – shortly after this photo his lure got smashed by a feisty cod that missed the hooks

Locally, the Murray Cod are feeding up, filling their bellies before it gets really cold and prey becomes scarce.  To cross paths with these mighty fish, you don’t need to travel far – head down to lakes Burley Griffin, Tuggeranong, Yerrabi or Ginninderra.  Or try some of the regional reservoirs like Googong, Burrunjuck and Blowering, to name but a few.

Surface luring for cod is only really an option during low light conditions.  When the sun is bright, more traditional offerings like spinnerbaits, crankbaits and deep diving lures can tempt any cod waiting in ambush.  During the day cod generally sit under the cover of a snag, cave or hollow log.  A well placed cast, generally on or near the bottom, is required to get a bite.  A stubbornly territorial fish, sometimes a dozen casts over a likely looking structure is required to elicit a response.

But as the sun begins to dip below the horizon, that’s when the real fun can starts. Crawlers, poppers and fizzers are fair game for a hungry cod during the last hour of sunlight and the first hour of darkness.  Persistence, dedication and a strong resolve are important traits for a cod angler though, a great session might mean you catch a couple of fish – a slow session can be very quiet indeed.

Surface strikes on the edge of structure can put serious stress on gear as this 'Cod Whalloper' shows
Surface strikes at your feet can put serious stress on your gear – as the hook on this ‘Cod Walloper’ shows

The technique is relatively straight forward.  From the bank, cast out near fallen trees or rocks.  If you have the option, cast out parallel to the bank, rather than out into the featureless deep water.  Retrieve the lure slowly, then pause for a few seconds just before you run out of line.  It’s amazing how often a fish will follow the lure for several metres before striking.  Once the lure has stopped, hang on tight and try to maintain your self-control if a cod inhales your lure from underneath.  On a calm and quiet evening, it’s absolutely frightening.  If nothing happens – cast out again!

Fish of a lifetime - on a surface lure - at night!
Fish of a lifetime – on a surface lure – at night!

Murray Cod are an Aussie icon and can grow beyond a metre in length, so it’s important to be well prepared.  Arm yourself with a 3-6 or 4-8kg rod and a minimum of 20lb main line.  Ben Broadhurst (pictured) was understandably delighted with this 103cm Murray Cod he caught on a surface lure at night.  It had two attempts at the lure before it finally connected.  As I said – this type of fishing is not for the faint hearted!

Native fish are notoriously temperamental so it pays to keep half an eye on the weather, particularly air pressure.  At this time of year a rising or high barometer seems to be when the fish are most active. You might like to keep a fishing diary, so you can start to develop your own theories about cod behaviour.

Just a reminder that these legendary fish are still recovering from commercial fishing and changes to river flow and habitat. Please use barbless hooks, release any wild fish and respect the September 1 to November 30 closed season.  The population of cod in the lakes are bolstered with hatchery raised fish and are a better option – and closer to home!  Enough said, grab a head torch and give it a go.  The boofs can be few and far between, but are absolutely guaranteed to send the heart racing when you experience one.

Graham Fifield
Flick & fly journal

This article first appeared in the Canberra Times on May 25 and Rob Paxevanos blog site

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