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STRIKING MURRAY COD

David Brace

On a recent trip west of the Great Dividing Range, joined by some good mates and invited to camp on the river banks of the Dumaresq River on private property, we experience some incredibly cold conditions while chasing Murray cod and golden perch.

We set out from the warmer coastal regions of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and headed inland nearing a small regional agricultural town known for its friendly atmosphere and hospitality. From here we continued westward to a property of livestock and broad acre farming, with the Dumaresq River cutting through its boundaries. It wasn't even winter, yet we experienced some freezing conditions with ice forming on our kayaks overnight and we awoke to some spectacular sunrises, albeit with a good layer of frost on the canvas of our swags. It just so happened to be the first cold snap of the season and it was certainly a shock to the system for those of us not being acclimatized to the freezing conditions. There is something special about this country and personally, after residing within the region a while ago, it bought back some very fond memories as it always does.

Setting up camp didn't take too long at all and our opened lure boxes were soon spread across the back of the ute. After some advice from the local characters joining us, discussions were had on what lures might work best for the conditions we were faced with. It seemed that TT Lures range of Striker and Tornado Spinnerbaits were the lures of preference and they didn't disappoint one bit over the entirety of our short trip. With darkness falling rapidly into our first evening under the stars, some of us opted to launch the kayaks and see if we could raise a fish or two. Some opted to remain comforted by the warmth of the campfire as the fantastic aromas of roast venison and vegie's cooking on the coals in the rustic camp ovens filled the cool air.

Shaun and I chose to head downstream  and it wasn't long before he hooked up to a Murray cod willing to take his presentation, a Red & Black Scale Striker Spinnerbait, slowly rolled back through the intertwined maze of snags that lay beneath us mid-stream. This was Shaun's first ever Murray cod so a photo opportunity was never in doubt before releasing the fish back to its underwater lair. Not from the lack of trying, this was the largest cod caught over the weekend measuring at an approximate length of 68cm. As the light was fading I decided to fish surface using a ZMan 4" Pop FrogZ, casting at the gnarly structure that lay along the edges of the river. An explosion of an erupting cod followed and I only managed a short glimpse of the fish as it struck the lure rather aggressively. With the cod now stripping line from the reel's spool and my kayak being funnelled into the fallen tree effortlessly, it swam under its hidden hideaway, back to where it came from. I felt the 20lb braided line being rubbed vigorously on the structure below and then noticed the fish had stripped the gears on my overhead reel, which resulted in having no control over this vivacious Murray cod. The inevitable happened losing the fish which was extremely disappointing, yet I was still very excited to feel that initial hit of this spirited fish. Soon after, calls from Shaun in the distant light alerted me he had hooked up again and a healthy 32cm Golden Perch saw itself being measured before its release which finished off a great afternoon session.

After a sumptuous meal around the camp fire, maps of the area were pulled out and discussion were quickly directed to how tomorrow might transpire for our 15km kayaking adventure, fishing the river after being dropped upstream and making our way back to camp. Likely holes to target and sections of the river were marked as points of interest as thoughts escalated of catching that thumper Murray cod we all know they can grow to. However we were distracted by some faint boofing in the distance by active cod feeding on the surface and a few of us grabbed a rod each and decided to fish land based along the river. This resulted in another two cod being caught using TT's Striker Spinnerbaits. We eventually all turned in for the night after being hyped up from the day's events, pondering what the morning will bring, staring at the glistening stars above from the warmth of our swags.

Waking before light, I peeled my bedding open only to feel frosty ice on top of the canvas which had formed overnight. I managed to find the courage to climb out of my warm haven and stoke the fire up before the remaining ambers died completely. As I did so, my thoughts were turned to the river and found it too irresistible to launch the kayak for a quick cast using TT Lures Black & Gold Metallic Tornado Spinnerbait. Wiping the ice off the seat of my kayak was a tell-tale sign that the session was going to be short lived. Less than 100 metres downstream of camp is where my first cod of the trip took a liking to my lure of preference, after positioning the kayak behind a Wattle Tree with its thin string like limbs cascading over the river, as steam lifted off the warm water meeting the cool, crisp air. All the while being graced by the sun just peering over the horizon, turning night into day.

After a quick breakfast, kayaks were loaded on the ute and the fishing gear was packed, along with some food needed for our long paddle. We headed along the road, which was adjacent to the river, looking at its adjacent riparian zone and taking note of landmarks such as power lines and pump stations. These landmarks were priceless in making clear judgement while on the water to verify how far we had paddled along the river and how far we needed to paddle to get back to camp safely before night fall, while fishing this section of river thoroughly.

We made our way through several sets of rapids; portage was minimal with just enough water over each set of rapids to prevent the kayaks from bottoming out. Every bit of timbered structure looked as good as the next and it soon became apparent that gauging how long to keep casting at each one was becoming increasingly frustrating. The theory I was working on in this situation was to spend less time on each snag so to cover more area. Various lures were used from soft plastics to hard bodied lures, from surface lures to deeper divers; however it was TT Lures range of Striker Spinnerbaits that gave us the confidence to attract a few more of these iconic fish.  It was a pretty tough morning, even though the river looked extremely inviting for any keen freshwater angler chasing these majestic fish. Shaun was rewarded for his persistence while bouncing his spinnerbait off the gravelly bottom, when a vibrant golden perch had aggressively taken his lure presentation well away from the snag where it had obviously followed the imitation bait mid-stream.  Another cod followed soon after that couldn't resist this battled Red & Black Scale Striker Spinnertbait, measuring about 60cm in length.

Approaching a huge fallen river gum, we knew that there would be a huge cod amongst the veiny branches of this fallen structure. Selectively choosing the best angle to approach the snag from, I cast within a likely strike zone. On cue as the lure hit the water, a life-sized cod smashed my Black & Gold Scale Striker Spinnerbait close to the surface. However I was unable to keep connected to this cod and lost the fish to the timbered haunt within seconds, noticing a chaffed leader 4" above the lure upon inspection. Continuing downstream we all began to receive numerous timid strikes from fish, not exactly wanting to aggressively hit our lures. Making a decision to attach stinger hooks to our spinnerbaits, these strikes turned into fish being caught. Steve changed tactics all together using a 3" soft plastic with a TT Lures Jig Spinner attached, which proved to be a great lure change and resulted in his first fish of the trip which was well deserved.

The winds began to blow stronger from the south-west at about 20 knots, and we were worried about becoming even colder, with hyperthermia being very relevant. The tops of the river gums blew frantically sideways causing dead branches to occasionally fall from great heights, creaking and swaying as flocks of Corella's and Gallah's were also becoming restless within the canopy's of the tall trees above. We pulled up along a sandy beach for a late lunch which was needed to stretch the legs and gather our thoughts. We couldn't stop shivering, unable to stop our hands from shaking which made casting and tying knots extremely difficult. Short cardio exercises on the river bank were undertaken, prior to seating ourselves back into our wet kayaks, to keep warm and get the blood flowing again throughout the body.

We estimated that we had approximately 3-5 kilometres left of our journey as we paddled with a bit more hast, knowing we'd be running out of daylight as the sun got lower and lower in the sky. It wasn't long before Shaun yet again struck another snag with an unwary cod eagerly craving to satisfy its appetite. Unbeknown to us all, this was going to the last time we were going to see this menacing Striker Spinnerbait as it was not long after the release of this particular cod, that this fearsome lure fell victim to a much larger fish that struck with an abundance of force, leaving Shaun slightly bewildered as to what had just happened. Shaun reverted to using the same coloured Black & Gold Scale Striker Spinnerbait that I had been using. I remained confident that my misfortunes would turn around soon enough and after varying techniques, one of which was pausing the spinnerbait and allowing the lure to drop deeper within the strike zone, I soon felt a fearsome strike of a Murray cod that was definitely attracted to the lure, engulfing it on the drop.

Filled with a bit more confidence and with only a few pools left to fish before arriving back at camp, I was casting my spinnerbait at the edges of some rock formations. I retrieved the lure with a slow rolling action, striking at another fish that couldn't resist the flash and vibrations of the lures spinning willow blade and it was landed after a short contest. The light of day faded quickly. Observing the colours of the sunset casting its reflections on the calm water through the silhouette of the gum trees made a fantastic back drop. We finally made it back to camp and found refuge near the roaring camp fire where roast pork for dinner was cooking in the camp ovens. Elated to be back in the comfort of some warm clothing, I dare say we were in our swags by 9:00pm in readiness for a morning session before making our journey home.

Upon approaching our kayaks which were left 300 metres upstream the evening before due to portage through the last section of the river upstream of camp, we noticed that a mob of cattle had meandered through and around them whilst they watered themselves during the night. Our second observation was less inviting, noticing that the kayaks were iced up quite considerably compared to the previous morning. It was freezing and as the sun peaked over the horizon the air temperature decreased by what seemed to be another degree.

Paddling into the sun, I soon lost sight of Shaun and Steve as the glare became too overwhelming, due to the sun's rays cutting through the lifting fog. It was a smaller pool of approximately 800m in length and we decided to work each snag at our own leisure. By changing lure colours and presentations throughout the range of TT Lures Spinnerbaits during this session, I caught another two cod off some structure I mentally took note of whilst eagerly paddling back to camp in the darkness the evening before.  Shaun also caught another smaller cod on his last cast, which was fitting for our time spent on the Dumaresq River chasing these incredible regal fish.

All up 13 Murray cod were caught, along with 3 golden perch, with plans now being to head out there again in the very near future for another exploratory mission chasing these incredible western river fish.

Cheers Dave Brace

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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2017