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Posted 17th June 2022

How to Catch Impoundment Cod: A Complete Guide

How to Catch Impoundment Cod: A Complete Guide
How to Catch Impoundment Cod: A Complete Guide

Of the iconic fish species native to Australia, none capture the imagination quite like Murray cod. Their relationship with humans is as old as humanity itself, and the imprint they’ve left on various indigenous cultures is testament to this.

Unfortunately, it was the arrival of Europeans that led to a severe decline in stock numbers over the last two centuries. Following the first European expedition over the Great Dividing Range in the early nineteenth century, colonists stumbled upon the Murray-Darling Basin, which provided them with a stack of natural resources.

Before too long though, overfishing and poor land management saw a rapid decline in not just Murray cod, but other Murray-Darling natives as well. Pictures of multiple dead cod strung up along poles, with some as long as the men shoulder pressing each end, gives an indication of how rich the fishery was.

Through the second half of the 20th century Murray cod became an endangered species. It wasn’t until hatchery techniques for Murray cod developed in the 1980s that Fisheries and stocking groups were able to reintroduce cod to waterways where their stocks had been decimated or severely reduced.

The results haven’t been good, they’ve been great! Metre-plus specimens and lots of them have been turning up where they’d previously been unheard of for generations. The introduction of a closed season has also had a very positive effect on stock numbers.  

Add to this the fact that cod can form self-sustaining populations once their numbers are brought back to a certain level, and things are looking fantastic for the future! 

Dam Big Fish!

There is one environment that produces a disproportionate number of XOS specimens, and that’s our stocked impoundments. Fish up to 113kg have been reported, and although fish of this calibre are extremely rare, it makes you think about what else might be out there…

Lakes such as Copeton, Wyangla, Burrendong, Blowering, Googong and Eildon have become meccas for cod lovers, and as time goes on anglers are tapping into the fisheries of other, lesser known impoundments as well.

Large fish with large appetites require highly specialised equipment, and that’s where Daiwa Australia are well ahead of the game. The growth in popularity of impoundment cod has kick-started tackle development like never before. 

Murray cod can be reliably targeted throughout the year (bearing in mind that closed seasons apply in the spring months for rivers and select dams), but winter is when the largest cod are captured, especially in our impoundments.

It’s only in the last decade or so that this fact has become common knowledge in the angling community, but no doubt a few cluey individuals were holding this information close to their chest before this. Daiwa’s Pro Team features anglers who love getting very specific with their techniques, and given the gear required for this pursuit and the knowledge needed to bring it to action, it’s no surprise there’s a few XOS cod hunters in Daiwa’s ranks.

One such angler is Josh Kopp, based in NSW’s Central West. Each winter he braves the sub-zero temperatures and the possibility of coming home empty-handed just for a chance of cradling a barrel-sized cod.

“For me, it’s all about the thrill of seeing a really big cod,” he explains, “I always try to imagine what the biggest fish in the lake might look like!”

“River cod generally don’t get as big, especially around here.”

Josh’s regular fishing partner Jakko Davis echoes these sentiments, and also loves the physical and mental challenges that come with this style of angling.

“They can be few and far between, and you have to battle the elements,” Jakko says, “But once you get that fish, it really is a different feeling.” 

Impoundment Cod Habits

The difference in habits between impoundment cod and their riverine counterparts is the reason for the average size discrepancy. Murray cod anywhere are happy to scoff just about anything, and this approach to feeding is how some cod achieve gargantuan proportions.  

Cod’s natural tendency in rivers is to station up in one area, sometimes even staying under the same piece of cover for their entire lives. This is an effective strategy, as in this environment food is brought to them by the current. Additionally, migratory fish and crustaceans, which form a large part of cod’s diet, will need to pass right through their territory.

Adopting this same approach in a large lake, however, isn’t quite so productive. Stationing up in one area won’t see them starving, however with nothing funneling food to them and an entire dam for prey to get lost in, they probably aren’t going to eat as often as they’d like. 

For a larger animal to sustain itself, it has to venture out in search of food, and given the abundance of prey in impoundments, they can reach incredible sizes once they adopt a more transient lifestyle.

“Bigger cod need to hunt all year round, because they’re just so big – they need the food!” Josh explains. “Smaller cod seem to slow down their feeding in winter.”

Jakko confirms that the cod in his local lakes form different habits to the ones in nearby rivers.

“They’ve got a lot more space to move around in these massive waterways,” he says, “They can go anywhere in theory, but seem to follow the bait, so they’re more pelagic in that way.”

“They’re not so much structure-oriented,” he adds, “In winter they’re going to be cruising along shallow, featureless banks, because that’s where the bait is.”

You may be thinking ‘why would small fish expose themselves like that?’, but Josh has a very sound theory to explain this. 

“They’re small and need to be in warmer water, and the shallowest margins will always have the warmest water during daylight hours,” he says. “During the night they seem to go a bit wider and scatter.”

Baitfish can include carp, redfin, trout, spangled perch, and literally anything that will fit inside a cod’s mouth. 

Both anglers agree that figuring out ‘bite times’ is important, and arguably the most favoured time, and one that’s available every day, is sunrise. This is when small forage species will flock to the shallows to catch the first rays of the day, and with any luck, larger predators won’t be far behind.

“I pretty much focus my fishing around first light; it’s my favourite window,” Jakko says, “I’ll usually fish an hour and a half before sunrise, and then an hour and a half after.”

“After that, I go home, or to work.”

It’s not just a crack of dawn caper though, as Josh has had plenty of success outside this window.  

“Most of my big cod have come in the daytime,” he says. “I’ve had experiences of metre cod from less than a metre of water at lunchtime!”

Josh believes these fish were likely trying to soak up a few rays, just like the baitfish, and spotted a feed too good to refuse.

“But I catch them during the day because I fish during the day,” Josh explains, ”The best time to get a bite is around any light change, so sunup and sundown, and outside of that is tides.”

The ‘tides’ Josh is talking about are tide change times in nearby saltwater bodies. It sounds wacky, but anglers fishing for barramundi in impoundments further north also swear by tide changes. Likewise, with the ‘moons’. The moon rise, high moon and under moon (that is, when the moon is directly under your position on Earth) are seen as good times to be fishing, regardless of what time of the day or night they occur. Full moons, as is the case with a lot of predatory fish, are best.

A Battle of Will

Chasing giant Murray cod in dams has been romanticised as a huge psychological battle, with anglers spending hours casting big, heavy lures in frosty conditions, sometimes in pitch darkness. All for the glory of one, fridge-sized Murray cod.

While there’s certainly truth to this, good anglers know that focussing your fishing around the bite times mentioned is a great way to maximise shorter fishing windows, and not freeze to death out there!

Finding productive areas can be a challenge, but cruising slowly along shallow banks as you make long, searching casts is a great way to find these spots. Finding areas holding bait schools either with your eyes or using a sounder is the key, and some anglers even go a step further and use technology to find individual fish stalking these schools. The advent of live scanning sonar has allowed anglers to sometimes spot big Murray cod before making a cast in its general direction. However, sounders are not the be-all-end-all, as Josh can attest.

“I used to not run a sounder at all,” he explains, “and I think it sometimes helped not having a sonar ping, especially when fishing in shallow water.” 

“Something else to remember as well is that a sonar might not get shallow enough to where the fish sometimes are, so I guess they’re good to have, but not essential.” 

Jakko and Josh know that so long as you’re out there around one of the bite windows, covering water with your casts and looking for productive areas, you’re in with a chance. With this style of fishing, you really do have to be in it to win it – there’s no way around that.

Being observant and looking for any patterns that may emerge is a great idea too.

“We keep an Excel spreadsheet, to log results, and see what the trends are,” Josh says.

It’s worth remembering that even fishless trips should be logged as well, as they provide data and help put the pieces of the puzzle together.

A Heavy-handed Approach

There really is nothing subtle about the gear for big cod in winter, with Jakko and Josh both opting for Daiwa’s range heavy swimbait-specific tackle.

“I pretty much only throw swimbaits,” Jakko says, “And I wouldn’t want to do it with a rod and reel that’s not designed for it.”

Heavy baitcasting outfits with long butt sections and reels with large gears are standard fare in this game. This gear isn’t just for show and status either, as throwing lures as heavy as 250g can’t be done comfortably with standard baitcast tackle.

“We use heavy outfits with heavy lines for battling big fish, but mostly they’re for throwing big lures without the worry of casting them off,” Josh explains, “Swimbaits are expensive!”

Josh generally runs two outfits when searching for winter behemoths, a TD Black Mother paired with a Tatula 400 for ultra heavy work, and a Rebellion 691HFB-SB and Tatula 300 for ‘lighter’ work.  

Jakko tends to use very similar outfits, but also likes using Tatula’s range of swimbait rods, namely the 762XH-SB. 

Both anglers opt for 50lb J-Braid Grand braid and a 60lb J-Thread Spartan NY Leader trace on all of their winter outfits.

“I haven’t found anything yet that’s too big to cast on these outfits,” Jakko says, “And for these monsters there really isn’t any lure too big either.” 

It’s true, Murray cod have been known to eat birds, turtles, large crayfish, and even small mammals! So throwing lures between 6-12 inches is a good starting point, with larger swimbaits (hard or soft) as well as topwater lures not a totally silly idea either. 

“I always tell people not to worry about the large splash these lures make when they land,” Josh says, “The splash of a swimbait is a drawcard for big cod, and if there’s a hungry cod in the area they will find it.”

The Time is Now!

Big Murray cod are more available now than they have been in the last 100 years, and this is the result of concerned anglers and scientists recognising a problem, coming together and giving these amazing fish a helping hand.

Getting up close and personal with Australia’s largest freshwater fish really is an experience worth chasing, and being able to let these incredibly tough customers go to hopefully make another anglers’ day (or night) makes it even sweeter.  

We hear so many tales about other species whose story is less fortunate. We’ve all heard stories from older generations about ‘the good old days’. With Murray cod, those days are happening.  

If you’ve been putting off that impoundment Murray cod trip because the challenge seems too great, remember that the fishery hasn’t looked this good for generations.  

The time is now!


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