Fishing for Large Murray Cod on the Darling river
I hear fishing tales all of the time, there is big fish in nearly a lot of inland waterways whether you’re fishing Blowering, the Murray river or anywhere in between. At the end of the day if you get enough people on the water fishing, a big fish is bound to pop up. When I start hearing success stories from many anglers that were fishing the Darling river I start to get intrigued, I love exploring new waterways and thought I’m going to give it a go. It was the last weekend of Cod season and after a few busy weeks I was dying to get away for the weekend, I had done an expo for 3 days the week before I needed a break from talking and decided I was going to throw the swag in the boat and go for a fish solo for the weekend. I drove up to the Murray River and start exploring some of the subsidiaries off the river to see what I could find.
I arrived on a Thursday afternoon and launched the boat, I packed all my gear into the boat including swag, a small esky and few others bits and bobs for cooking. My plan was to drive up river for a couple of hours and find somewhere to camp the night, I drove for 3 hours by boat and a horrid thought crossed my mind, I didn’t bring a spare container of fuel, I looked down at the fuel gauge and only a little under a third of a tank was left, I thought that’s not ideal but I have 2 full batteries of electric motor power as well it shouldn’t be a problem. I wanted to go further upstream the following day my plan was to spend the whole day on the electric motor not using any further fuel, to save that for the way home. I hadn’t done a solo trip like this for years and I was starting to wonder if there was anything else I had forgotten.
Half an hour before dark I came across the most spectacular looking sandbar, it has 3 huge big logs on the other side of it just to make it even more tantalizing. I pulled up stumps for the night, got a fire going and rolled the swag out next to the fire, the perfect spot to sleep when camping in Winter. An evening camped out on the most amazing sandbar known to man next to the fire wouldn’t be complete without a glass of Port, it warms me up and tickles my senses in all the right ways. I had one bar of cell signal, enough to exchange text messages with the mrs and a couple of mates, when I’m on the edge of cell signal range the 3G kicks in drains battery life super quick, within an hour I had 50% left of my battery life. Lucky I had brought with me a little solar battery bank that provides 2 full charges for my phone. The instant the thought came into my brain about pulling out to charge my phone, I remembered I left the chord to connect it in my car back at the boat ramp, bloody hell. I turned my phone off and sat next to the fire for the next couple of hours sipping my Port and I realized something, I never kick back and fully relax, life seems to be so busy I guess that’s a choice if I’m not working I’m catching up with friends or watching a TV series, but never kicking back and letting my mind think. I thought about things I hadn’t in years, memories from early childhood with grandparents, in my mind exploring their farm inch by inch, I could tell you where the towels went, the location of Pa’s camp oven, anything. After a great reminisce I topped up the fire and ready to call it a night.
Every hour or so before light I would wake up and lift the flap from the top of my swag and check if it was light yet. Once it was light I was out like a flash keen as mustard to get stuck into the fishing. A quick brush of my teeth and a bowl of cereal and I was away. The first call of business was fishing the huge snags opposite the sandbar, if there wasn’t big fish on those snags you can call me Susie for the rest of my days. I gave those snags a good hiding the only thing I raised was a Golden Perch that hit me close to the boat, not what I was after. I’m always nervous until I get the first Cod in the boat, it feels like a burden, once I get that first Cod the pressure is removed and I can enjoy my fishing.
I could see a decent snag about 200m up from the sandbar so I fired up the electric and started heading in that direction. It was 3m deep so I threw my diver out the back I thought I’ll have a little troll on the way over. Well you wouldn’t believe it I got smacked by a feisty little Cod, only about 65cm but I was happy with that just to get on the board. After releasing the fish I got over to the snag and fired a couple of casts in and got smacked again, another fish around 60 odd centimetres, not big fish but I was thinking this isn’t too bad at least they’re active. Again I kept moving I wasn’t wasting my time on any smaller structure I was focusing my efforts on the bigger stuff. Up ahead I saw a couple of skinny branches coming out of the water in the middle of the river, I thought they could be connected to something bigger I’ll give that a little work over and see what happens. I flicked a cast in and got monstered but unfortunately it didn’t hook up. I threw back in there and again I got slammed, this time I was on and it felt like a better fish too. I got him netted and in the boat, he went 92cm, a healthy river fish too, I’ve had fish around that size out of other systems and be half the weight of this fish he was bloody chunky. After getting him in I had the challenge of trying to take a picture. I quickly set the tripod up and set the timer, 10 seconds isn’t enough time to click the camera button pick the fish up and try and make the fish look reasonable for a photo, you make do with what you’ve got though.
The morning started off well, 6 fish in the first hour, then it quietened off significantly after that. Later in the morning I could physically seeing the river had dropped a few inches that day, not good, I hope that wasn’t going to be the theme, I’ve never had of too many days of the fish jumping in the boat when the guts is dropping out of the river. The fishing was tough for the next few hours I couldn’t buy a hit. It didn’t help that the water was super shallow I was barely casting any lures I was up the front of the boat lifting the electric motor up so that I could navigate through the water that was only a few inches deep. As it kicked into the afternoon I found a ripper looking snag and fired a cast in. I got whacked on a side branch around a metre or so to the right of the main trunk, this fish had me on the other side of the structure, I was waiting for the hooks to pull or possibly the line to snap, though with 40lb braid and 60lb leader it was going to take a fair bit of heat to break that setup. One unlucky move for the fish and I was able to manouver him out of the snag and into the clear. With my spare hand I grabbed the net and guided him over to it, of course he couldn’t make it easy for me and made another dash for freedom as he was half way into the net. His body got out of the net but yep you guessed it the lure was still stuck in the net, I’ve seen this happen plenty of times before this time I had no one to blame except myself. Whilst the lure was caught in the net there was still one treble pinned to the mouth of the fish, I pulled out my lip grips and got hold of him. I’m glad there was no one around to witness it, I then awkwardly lifted the fish and net into the boat whilst still trying to hold my rod. With more than my fair share of luck I got him in the boat, just on 90cm, a beautiful fish and after a couple of happy snaps he was on his way giving me a splash of cold water across the face to say goodbye, it was nice meeting him too.
I had got to the point with this shallow water where it didn’t look like it was getting any deeper any time soon so I decided I would mission back and stay at the same sandbar as the night before. My intention was to get up much further than I did and camp the night, and then fish my way back towards the boat ramp the following day. As the afternoon rolled into evening the fishing started to pick back up fishing some of the haunts I had hit during the morning. The snags that hadn’t produced in the morning came to life that evening, casting big hardbody divers through the big timber was producing the goods. As the sunlight started to fade the LED light in the lures I was using was getting brighter, and boy were the fish destroying it. I believe the fish were coming on for a bite period around dawn and dusk which helps, however the rate these fish were hitting the light seemed to be more than a bite period. The guys that had been fishing in previous weeks said the exact same thing, that the LED was producing big numbers of fish at dawn and dusk when the lights a lot brighter. I do make these LED lures what I can tell you is that the research we’ve done and the feedback from regular fisho’s that use them consistently, is that the red light is particularly effective at dawn & dusk. Another hand full of nice fish for the evening and that was it for the day, back to this sandbar I could call home and one more shot at a good fish the following morning.
Technique – My approach for the trip was a simple one, casting Dyno 90’s around big timber. And it had to be at least medium size timber to bother warranting the effort of casting it. I was driving past plenty of smaller looking timber without even throwing a cast. I wanted to direct my efforts to only the biggest and oldest timber in pursuit of a good fish. There was plenty of attractive looking timber around however some of it didn’t have enough depth on it. Ideally you want at least 4 or 5 feet of water to pull something decent out of it. Sometimes I would motor for 500 metres or even a kilometer without even throwing a cast, I wasn’t wasting a second on inferior timber. Fishing surface is another extremely effective technique in the Darling, targeting only large Murray Cod my go to choice is the Tremor. If you want to target numbers of fishing including good sized Murray Cod then the Hunchback 90 is an ideal choice.
The fish of my lifetime – The next morning I was chomping at the bit even more so than the morning before, I woke up for a whizz at what I guessed was around 3-4am, unfortunately I couldn’t get back to bloody sleep. After tossing and turning until sunrise I was up and about in no time and back over fishing the big ol’ snags opposite the sandbar. Like the previous day I couldn’t get a strike out of any of them, I will be back for those, they still haunt me, there has to be something enormous on all of them. Like the morning before the fish were on the chew, a couple of smaller fish on the board quickly. As I worked my way up to a scarily big old log I thought I better chuck my Gopro on for this, the day before I kept forgetting to put it on, it will probably jinx me putting it on but bugger it realistically it won’t make any difference. I put 3 casts into the front of the log without any action, I knew I needed to be a bit more patient and wait until the boat drifted past at the right spot so that I could get a cast in at just the right angle. Needless to say I nearly had the rod ripped clean out of my hand, the hit was beyond aggressive, it knocked the air out of me and worst of all I could feel it was in heavy timber and dragging the boat quickly over into the snag. I quickly pointed the electric motor upstream and fired it onto the number 4 setting on the foot pedal to try and gently pull away from the timber. I got the fish out of the timber but still hadn’t seen it, all I knew was it made the 92cm fish from the day before feel like dragging a bit of weed up off the bottom. I finally got the fish up for a look and bugger me dead this thing was enormous, I got the net and was about to make an attempt but realized there was no chance he was fitting into the large enviro net. I grabbed my trusty red fish grips and knew I was going to need a serious amount of luck to get this fish in the boat. I got him to the side of the boat, he was tired, I was tired, whilst trying to get the fish grips into his mouth my left leg was shaking that violently that I was struggling to stand. 3 or 4 times I got the grips in his mouth but wasn’t quick enough in clinching down the grip before he would barrel roll. I could see the lure down his gob was only just pinned on a piece of flesh, my chances were running out fast I had to act quickly. Finally I got the grip onto his mouth, I tried to get my arm underneath his belly but between me and the fish there was too much weight on that side of the boat I felt like I was going to fall out. In the end I had the lip grip on the right hand side of the bucket gob and I put my hand in and grabbed him on the left of the mouth and dragged him in to the boat. It wasn’t the ideal landing, but thankfully his body weight was supported at all times by the side of the boat when bringing him in. Getting pictures of this fish was excruciatingly difficult, luckily the tripod was already setup I setup the timer pressed the button but I couldn’t get in position in time. If I wanted a picture of this fish I had to think of something, so I sat the fish on my left leg whilst having control of him with the lip grips in my right hand. I was going to attempt to reach over to the camera with my left hand and press the buttons required for the timer and then click the camera button to start the timer that way, at least if I had the fish up off the floor I was half way into position and a better chance at getting a photo. I had the camera set on a burst of 3 pictures, I had a quick look at the photos it had me and the fish in the photo I thought that will do bad luck if the pictures aren’t any good this fish needs to be back in the water asap. I held him in the water for 60 seconds or so, his fins started to get active and once he gave a couple of big kicks I knew he was ready to go. I sent him on his way, I was very satisfied to see him power away into the depths.
A little bit of drama before heading home – As you know I had 2 batteries of electric power and one third of a tank of fuel by the time I got to the sandbar the first night, on the second night I still had only had a third of a tank of fuel but now I only had half a battery worth of electric power left. Going upstream and into the wind at 8 out of 10 power had drained the battery life significantly, I knew it was going to be touch and go getting back to the ramp. I kept fishing for the next hour or so but my luck had began to run out, 100 metres from the big fish I got slammed again I was on but my reel wouldn’t engage and put line back on the spool, the big fish had damaged my reel and before I knew it was all over and this fish was off. I was a bit bummed but I thought that’s ok I’d been very fortunate up until that point I’d only missed one strike for the trip. I was able to get my drag to the same point as before after tightening it up another 3 clicks. Needless to say over the next hour I got slammed and hooked up to another 3 fish, 1 of them felt very solid however they all got off. My reel was in a bad way, the drag was too tight, then too loose I was started to get a bit peaved by it. I had decided I was going to use up as much of the electric battery power as I could at the start of the day so I could fish a bit whilst I was going, I knew there was a fair chance I was going to be paddling for a couple of kilometres and I wanted to leave myself plenty of light to do so.
I came across a deep looking bend on the edge of a sandbar, I didn’t even have the fish finder on as I was conserving every bit of battery I could, but I thought it looks like there must be a bit of depth I’ll have a troll on the way past. My lure bounced over a snag and smack this fish walloped me, massive head shakes, blistering runs I thought I’m definitely onto a metre fish here the way it was carrying on. After the initial 10 or 20 seconds I was able to control the fight from there and get him up off the bottom and into the net. He wasn’t as big as I expected, he was 94cm but struth was he strong and bloody aggressive. I decided that was it for the day, I’ll finish on a high note and I’ll attempt to leg it back to the boat ramp with the remainder of my fuel. It was a nervous drive back to the ramp, a massive sigh of relief as I finally approached the ramp, I looked at the fuel gauge and it was dead empty, I picked up the fuel drum there was nothing in it, it felt like it had been running on fumes. I’ll put that down to precision fuel planning to the milliliter, more likely a bit more luck than good management.
My usual patience limit for fishing by myself is an afternoon kayak session, maybe a full day fishing. This trip pushed new boundaries for myself, its always great fishing with mates but it was nice to break the norm and get a bit of solo time in. I feel a hell of a lot more positively about undertaking a mission like this again in the future