Full guide to fishing the Goulburn RiverJames Dainton
The Goulburn river starts south of Eildon around a little town called Woods point, from here it travels 654 kilometres through Lake Eildon, Alexandra, Seymour, Nagambie, Murchison, Shepparton to the Murray river around Echuca. The upper reaches of the Goulburn offer brilliant trout fishing, as you get down to Seymour Murray Cod become more prevalent, and from Murchison down the water is all fairly similar, great fishing for natives. The stretch from Murchison to where it flows into the Murray is where this article is focusing on.
I was born in Shepparton and have been living around the area most of my life, I grew up fishing the Goulburn. I can remember catching my first Cod in the Goulburn on a bardi grub, a couple of years later then catching my first Cod on a lure in the Goulburn, on a Goulburn lure, so many memories starting out casting and trolling lures.
Its not the most attractive river I’ve fished, there is quite often a lot of rubbish around the river which is sad to see but on its day it still a great little fishery. I know a lot of fisherman around Shepparton that will fish everywhere except the Goulburn, they’ll travel to the Murray river, Lake Eildon, Lake Mulwala etc. I cannot blame them at all, I’ve gone through stages with the Goulburn as well because if you hook the boat on and rock up to the Goulburn on any old weekend your just as likely to turn up when the river is on a massive rise or a massive fall and you won’t be able to buy a bite. If you keep an eye on the water levels and fish it only when it is steady and at its best you can catch fish consistently in the Goulburn.
When to fish the Goulburn
The key to fishing the Goulburn is on steady water flow, this can be easier said then done because large amounts of water can be released from Lake Eildon to supply farmers around Shepparton for example, which of course creates a large rise in the river and subsequently a large drop in the water, both of which can make the fishing tough, especially the drop. The Goulburn’s water flow is heavily regulated for agricultural purposes making the fishing quite temperamental throughout the irrigation season. I’ve gone back through river level data which has information dating back to 1987 trying to find a pattern on when the river level might be at its most steady. Every year is different which makes sense given that a primary purpose of the Goulburn is for agriculture, if the region has had a higher than average rainfall than I imagine there will be less demand on irrigation water which would in turn mean more steady river levels.
Here is a map of boat ramps on the Goulburn river that I know of (click the map for a larger image):
To work out what the river levels are doing is to visit these two websites below:
This takes you through to a page where you can select which Victorian river system you would like to check the river level of, in this case the Goulburn catchment. It only has 2 weeks of data which is the only downfall of it, I would prefer to be able to go back a few months to compare river data, still very handy for checking how the water levels of the Goulburn are doing currently from the top of the river system all the way to the bottom.
I also like this website as its great for putting the data into perspective, if you’re given information on a river height but you don’t know what the height is usually its not overly useful. Even though this page only shows the river height and flow at one location on the Goulburn, Mccoys bridge which is down the bottom end of the river towards Echuca its still very handy for cross referencing water levels/flows between the two websites. From here you can work out how high the water levels are, you can check if the river is undergoing a large rise or a fall and make your decision whether to fish it after reviewing all of the relevant information. This website also allows you to download historical data going back to 1987.
How to fish the Goulburn
The Goulburn is littered with timber, there is so much timber in the river it can be hard to know where to start. The fish have a plethora of snags to choose from which means that you need to be more selective in which snags to fish. If you cast at every snag that you see you’ll barely get a kilometer for the day.
99% of my fishing is done casting, that’s not to say its more effective than trolling I personally would prefer to cast at timber all day, it keeps my mind active searching for timber, fishing the timber thoroughly etc. When casting the Goulburn I focus only on the best timber, what I’m looking for are massive logs, complex logs and where there is two or more logs crossing over each other. That can mean motoring either by petrol or electric motor for up to 500 metres without firing as a cast to find great structure to fish, you’ll catch better quality fish by honing your time in on the best snags As Cod fisherman we all know those structures like a massive old gum tree laying in 2-3 metres of water, my mouth waters when I see one of these knowing there has to be a thumper living on it. Given that there is so much timber my preference is to cast hardbodied lures as they crash down through the timber with ease and are snag resistant.
This season I didn’t do as much trolling as I would have liked, after a few reports of big fish and one from a close friend of mine landing his PB Cod of 114cm I have no choice but to re-consider my casting ways and in future I will be integrating more trolling into my fishing of the Goulburn. The one thing that all of the decent fish that were caught trolling had in common, is they were caught on big deep bends. There are quite a few big bends in the river, generally each kilometer would have at least one. If you dedicate time to trolling these bends up and down a few times you will produce fish.
Talking about trolling bends up and down it reminds me of a trip with Lubin Pfeiffer a few years back in the Murray river, he had a big bend that had been producing fish. All we did for 2 days was trolling this 1 bloody bend up and back the entire 2 days. There was a reason behind his madness as twice a day like a switch had been flicked the fish would come on the chew for 40 minutes and then turn straight back off. They would have been watching our lures the whole time but they only fed when it was convenient for them. Needless to say some solid fish hit the deck that weekend.
I won’t be spending days on end trolling these large bends up and back, not to say that wouldn’t work, I have every confidence that it would work the problem for me is it would drive me insane. I would rather troll a big bend up and back 6-12 times depending on how good the bend was and then continue on my way casting. On the way back home that evening I might then troll that bend again, my approach is looking for an active fish rather than waiting for a fish to become active. Most of the water in the Goulburn is reasonably shallow, about 1-3 metres on average, its in this water that my preference is with casting. Generally a big structure will have some part of it out of the water in this depth range meaning it can be fished thoroughly by casting.
I find a lot of anglers like to troll which is fine, in the Goulburn you don’t want to start your trolling run at the boat ramp and troll continuously for 10 kilometres, sure you can catch fish like this but its not maximizing your time. If you would like to troll exclusively you’re better off focusing your time on the big bends that are at least 4 metres deep, put at least 6-12 passes up and back into the bend and then instead of continuing to troll, pull the lures in and motor up the river to find another quality stretch of river, rather than wasting time trolling shallow water. Or alternatively instead of motor up the river past the shallow stretches you could roll your arm over and give casting a go at the bigger and more complex snags.
A lure that has been a standout for me in the Goulburn is the Balista Dyno 90, it’s 90mm in length and dives to 6 metres. What I like about this size of lure is I can leave it tied on all day if I wanted to, for casting it can be used in 2-6 metres of water or if trolling it can be used in 4-7 metres of water by altering the amount of line let out to control the swimming depth. Even at the rivers cleanest there is still colour in the water, the Dyno 90 contains a water activated red LED in the tail which is ideal for countering dirty water. For your information I do make Balista lures so yes I’m going to favour the lures I’ve put my blood, sweat and tears into. There are a few Balista’s that work well in the Goulburn however the Dyno 90 is by far my favourite. There are plenty of other good hardbodied lures that also work well, and spinnerbaits are an excellent choice as well, especially if casting.
The Goulburn can be a temperamental river but it is well worth your time if you catch it on a good day when its flowing steady and has the greeny/semi clear look to it. I rediscovered my passion for the Goulburn earlier in the year upon returning from a sales trip to Cairns. My mrs wanted me to take her out for a fish, there was only 3 hours before dark not even giving us enough time to get out of town a bit. Given the lack of time we launched the boat at Dainton’s bridge right in the middle of town. Needless to say we hooked onto a solid Cod, it was almost not to be, I said to Ally this is a big fish can you grab the net. Instead of grabbing the net she cast out again, I said to her ‘what on earth are you doing?!’ she replied ‘ what’s your problem, I want to get one too’. So I grabbed the net and landed it myself, as soon as I got the net under the fish lure popped straight out. I was extremely thankful to get the fish in the boat as it went just over a metre. Gosh she would never have heard the end of that if the fish had gotten away! We ended up fishing 5 days out of the next 2 weeks as the fishing was quite for the Goulburn, we averaged around 5 strikes per day casting lures, with usually 1 of those been a solid fish. I’m well and truly reinvigorated on the Goulburn now, my plan is to fish it hard when the river is right, and concentrate on other waterways when the river levels aren’t right.