Freshwater, Native

Finally…a legitimate winter cod

I drafted this post in late winter but for some reason didn’t get around to posting it. Anyway, thanks for reading 🙂


It’s always good when a plan comes together.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been lucky to tangle with three sizeable Murray Cod (and a few slightly smaller, but very satisfying ones). Big cod are undoubtedly the king of our southern-Australian freshwater fisheries, with an allure that keeps anglers coming back again and again. Despite this glowing reputation, cod can be incredibly difficult to catch, particularly in certain areas that see a fair bit of angling pressure. There’s also the never-ending speculating about environmental variables and their effect on cod catchability, as we’ve discussed here. It’s these attributes that make them even more of an obsession for many keen fishers.

My problem until last weekend was that two of my three big cod that I have caught had come during closed season while targeting redfin and yellowbelly. The first came when I was fishing for redfin using a 60mm soft plastic on bream gear. I wrote about that here.

My illegitimate cod
One of my illegitimate cod, jighead firmly in the mouth

The second was in similar circumstances – I was casting a small spinnerbait over a weedbed during closed season and it was crunched.

Leading up to the last weekend of open season I had been noticing a lot of activity on social media about people catching cod in the rivers, so I knew that they were on the chew in some areas. I tied on my biggest, sexiest spinnerbait, loaded the Calcutta on the T-curve with 30lb braid and 40lb leader into the car, and headed to my local dam. I wasn’t overly confident to begin with. The water was cold and the only potential cod food I could see was tiny gambusia, miniature redfin in the shallows and the ever-present coots (for our international and/or non-ornithologically inclined readers, these are a small black waterbird that cod sometimes inhale off the surface). One thing I noticed was t1he wattles out in flower: a sure sign that nature is responding to the changing seasons. Surely the cod would be too?

I made my way around the bank, casting over weedbeds and shallows, hoping for a hit or a follow. I knew I wasn’t really fishing the right spot – at 12.30pm with bright sun, the cod were more likely to be hanging a bit deeper. I eventually came to a steep rock wall dropping off into 2-3 metres of water, flanked by submerged trees and weedbeds. It was the perfect ambush place for a cod. On the first cast I noticed a sharp, lateral twitch of the line through the water. I continued the retrieve and, through the murky water, saw the unmistakable, but often unbelievable, greenish/yellow flank of a good cod. I didn’t hook up that cast, but something deep down told me I would catch that fish. I would cast at it 50 times if I had to, but I knew it was there and that it had my name on it. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait that long. On the second cast, the spinnerbait was crunched about halfway through the retrieve and I had my fish on. I didn’t realise the size until it decided to come to the surface for a look at me, and we stared at each other for a few seconds, eye to eye, before it decided it didn’t like the look of me and took off for another run to the depths.

Armed with my cod gear, it didn’t take too long to subdue the fish and I slowly maneuvered it towards the shallows so that I could remove the hook and hopefully get a few photos. The hook came out easily, which is always nice. I marvelled at the fish for a few seconds, tried to take a few shots and decided to video the release. I wanted to move the fish so that its head was facing the direction of its escape, so stuck my thumb in its mouth. I obviously didn’t learn this from the last two cod, as almost instantly I had a lacerated and bloody thumb as my cod flicked her tail and swum slowly back towards her snag. It might sound silly to non-fishers, but one of the best things about catching fish like this is letting them go. I don’t mind the cod-thumb either – it’s a strangely delightful, yet initially painful reminder that you’ve had a good weekend.


I reckoned she was about the same size as my first one – around a metre and somewhere between 15-20kg.

I continued fishing for a few more hours, just soaking in the sun and the scenery and even found some new water that I hadn’t realised was easily accessible if you’re a blackberry-tolerant mountain goat. I hoped for another fish but was content as I knew I’d be going home knowing that the mission was accomplished – I’d caught my legitimate winter cod while actually targeting one.

It’s made me even keener for the coming summer season. In the meantime, I’m off to Tasmania for a week and the over the Europe for a month, so til then, stay safe and have fun on the water.


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3 thoughts on “Finally…a legitimate winter cod

  1. Very interesting.

    I’d like to point out that we should keep in mind that two scientific papers (Lake, 1967a and Rowland, 1988) and a lot of observations from hatcheries, indicate cod caught and released in winter, when roe development is happening in earnest, experience atresia (cessation of development) of roe and resorption of roe … and thus spawning failure.

    Basically, any cod pinned in winter probably won’t spawn the following spring. This appears to be phenomenon in all Maccullochella cods, because failure to develop roe was also recorded in an eastern cod brood pond that was harassed by trespassing vandals/idiots in the middle of winter years ago when the short-lived government eastern cod hatchery was running.

    Obviously an issue here is stocked impoundment fish versus wild fish. Perhaps inducing this in the former is not a great concern.

    But for wild fish? And how much of a concern this is in the context of broader population dynamics is a good question. I personally feel wild, self-sustaining cod populations should not be angled in winter for this reason, and I avoid doing so.

    1. Hi Simon, interesting points. I agree that the main consideration is stocked vs wild fish. My understanding is that cod stocked in impoundments don’t generally breed and recruit successfully, so have always thought that it doesn’t really matter when you catch them in some systems. I think this is the justification for the lack of a closed season for cod in Copeton, but correct me if I’m wrong. As for not targeting wild cod in winter, I don’t want to touch that with a 12 foot beach rod!

      1. “As for not targeting wild cod in winter, I don’t want to touch that with a 12 foot beach rod!”

        We are in agreement! I must say though, I never cease to be dismayed about how many rec-fishers don’t want to know, or care, about this issue. Every day seems to be another article about chasing Murray cod in winter … and often they are wild cod in streams. They just don’t care … and that’s quite an indictment given all the poh-faced talked about caring for cod some of these people regularly come out with.

        As for cod and impoundments … certainly a reasonable amount of breeding activity happens in impoundments. It is more a lack of recruitment than a lack of breeding. Reasons for lack of recruitment may include that cod larvae are meant to hatch into a lotic environment, not a lentic environment, and alien pathogens, particularly introduced, pathogenic strains of Saprolegnia.

        Incidentally, I vehemently disagree with the lifting of the Murray cod closed season in Copeton. I think it’s utterly disgusting and just another example of NSW Fisheries’ deeply inappropriate, mercenary, harvest-focused view of Murray cod (particularly) and other native fish.

        The study that justified this was a study which, yes, was quite comprehensive, but only four years in length. As this country recently experienced a ~10 year drought, and indeed often experiences climatic oscillations more than four years in duration, I think we can see the problem with this study. Frankly, it was outrageous to use this study to make the sweeping conclusion that cod in impoundments don’t ever recruit. Sometimes they do. It is particularly rank to make this claim for Copeton Dam because actually, in the early 2000s a very strong year class of cod came through the system, giving great angling, and it is extremely clear that this very strong year class came from a big natural recruitment event (obviously, there was a perfectly timed flood event or whatever with perfect antecedent conditions), not stockings.

        The entire year’s production from the entire country’s Murray cod hatcheries, poured into Copeton, wouldn’t have created a year class as strong as the one started to appear in the early 2000s. So it is really quite disgusting to see it claimed that “cod don’t breed/recruit in Copeton”. They do … sometimes.

        There’s also the fact that the closed season created good attitudes and respect towards Murray cod.

        The Copeton thing is a disgraceful decision from all aspects.

        Also disgraceful is we now know from another study that a large proportion of inland anglers brazenly target Murray cod during the closed season. The closed season for Murray cod needs to be a full fishing closure. The chorus of hypocrites, both in and out of our state fishery departments, saying it’s an unreasonable impost and can’t be so, never explain why a full fishing closure during the feral trout closed season is just fine, and seems to be coped with.

        If we have a full fishing closure for a disgraceful damaging pair of introduced species, we can damn well have one for native Murray cod.

        Time to bring one in … no more excuses.

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