Goodoo Revolution

The Murray cod, or Goodoo as it is affectionately known, is one of our most iconic fish, endemic to the inland waters of Australia. And yet, it seems to be severely underrated by local fly fishers. On the other hand, international anglers react in disbelief when they hear about our cod: “So, this fish lives in Australian rivers, grows in excess of 100 pounds, hits top-water flies, and not that many fly anglers are interested in them?” Yep, that’s right. But things are beginning to change. And I can’t be one to point the finger, as I was also in the dark about Murray cod. But after landing my first on fly in the Macquarie River near Bathurst, I quickly became hooked. That was nearly six years ago, and now, when anyone asks what my favourite freshwater fish is to catch on fly, the answer is always Murray cod. GOODOO ON FILM A couple of years ago I wanted to make a film to smash the misconceptions surrounding Murray cod on fly. Through my local guiding I had been privy to some amazing sight-fishing opportunities: cod cruising around in shallow water and explosive top-water eats in picturesque locations. I wanted to give this fish the exposure it deserved. But our first filming attempt was uninspiring — blind fishing in deep and often murky water, with only small to medium cod. This wasn’t what I’d anticipated. So we scrapped all our initial filming and started again. Coming back to basics, we had three things in mind: catching a one-metre cod on fly; capturing good top-water action; and finally, and most importantly, sight fishing. As a recent client so eloquently put it: “If I can see it, or it eats off the surface, I am interested, otherwise you can leave it for the lure-chuckers.” POOL OF GIANTS A guy from Montana contacted me a couple of years back to book a guided day. He told me his dream was to catch a Murray cod on fly. I was amazed he had even heard of them; and then he told me his largest fish on fly was a 3-pound brown trout. His guided day arrived and we made our way along the river throwing surface poppers at likely looking submerged rock ledges and sunken trees. He’d had three aggressive hits, but this guy’s ‘trout-strike’ reflex was strong. The absence of a solid ‘strip-strike’ means your chances of a good connection dramatically decrease. We continued up the river and I was explaining some of the impressive things a Murray cod will eat — other fish, snakes, a full-grown duck, lizards… “Even like that large lizard there,” I said, pointing ahead at a 50-cm water dragon that had leapt from a tree and begun to run across the water. The unsuspecting lizard made three steps across the surface before it was suddenly engulfed by something from below. As we snuck up closer, our suspicions were confirmed — a 1.2-metre beast cruised below us, in only two feet of water. My client, Ben, managed to get a fly in the water, and despite having a mouthful of lizard, the large cod turned and ate his fly with gusto! With no time to trout-strike, the fish turned so hard on the fly it set the hook and bashed its way into the centre of the pool. Ben was shocked frozen and couldn’t move. The fish tore off and eventually broke him loose. We were both speechless and haunted by the loss. I am not sure what it is with that pool, but we call it the pool of giants. We’ve landed three fish over one metre there: two with clients, and a 1.22 metre fish after dark during the filming of ‘Goodoo’. Night fishing is not my preferred method, but when you are casting to a pool of giants, it still carries high anticipation and thrill. ULTIMATE SIGHT FISHING The Murray cod’s limited popularity on fly is partly because it is not known for sight fishing opportunities. But this is all reliant upon location, and when you know the right areas you can regularly see them cruising in the shallows. We found the headwater streams of the Murray-Darling basin in New South Wales were particularly promising for this sort of exposure. Sight fishing for cod has the same requirements as for other species: good numbers of fish and clear water for visibility. Murray cod also need deeper pockets to hide in, with shallow areas in the same pool to cruise around and feed. These characteristics may be obvious but it helps rule out certain areas. I don’t go searching the lower Murray River if I want legitimate shots at cruising cod. However, sight fishing encounters can still come as a surprise. During a recent filming trip, Josh Tredinnick and I were walking down the Macquarie River at daybreak. A decent rainstorm had just passed so Josh had packed away his camera. I was not expecting to see much as we walked through a shallow, sandy stretch of water. However, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fish cruising around in a mere foot of water. I assumed it was a carp but then saw that distinctive rounded tail with white tips. I wasn’t looking at a carp. “Treds, there’s a decent cod here in the shallows,” I called. Josh rushed to unlatch his bag and prepare the camera. Like a kid approaching a holiday destination after a long drive, I kept repeating: “Can I cast yet? Can I cast yet? What about now?” Treds finally gave me the go-ahead and I let the cast fly, landing a popper five feet in front of the fish. A couple of pops and the fish lunged directly at the fly. It was a stunning cod, around 70 cm long and a very surprising catch. THRILLING MOMENTS Andy Congram, an experienced fly angler, recently got in touch with me after seeing the videos of Murray cod swimming in the shallows on our Instagram feed. “That is something I need to experience. I had no idea you could fish for them like that.” “Have you caught cod before?” “Yes, but only a couple, blind fishing. I need to try this.” Mere weeks later, in the final days of December, Andy was on an early morning plane out of Melbourne, ready to join us for a short trip. He landed 25 cod on fly in three days, and the highlight was a chunky fish cruising around clear-as-day in a confined section of water. We had been fishing a bouldery pool and managed to land several small cod in the shallows. As the day warmed up, we continued downstream and the temperature pushed into the 30s. To our surprise we saw a 25-pound cod happily swimming near the surface in a small pool. It was on a consistent beat, much like a brown trout patrolling its territory. Andy got into an ambush position, waiting for the right time to cast. He sent out the fly and the cod aggressively attacked, but didn’t connect. Several more casts and two fly changes, but he wouldn’t eat again. It would rush the fly, reject it, then continue on its beat. We had all but given up hope, until Andy made one last cast. To our astonishment the fish lunged at the fly, fully engulfing it. Thrilling moments like this are what changed my perception of fly fishing for Murray cod. TOP-WATER ADDICTION For many Murray cod addicts, fly or lure, the thrill is found in that top-water explosion. Murray cod don’t typically give a long drawn out fight. They hit hard and fast. And when you have them beat they are done. For me, the hit, the environment and the beauty of the fish are what I find so satisfying. And when it comes to the hit, nothing beats the top-water explosion of a Murray cod eating a surface fly. I have seen them demolish ducks, lizards, snakes and cicadas. It can sound like a shotgun in the distance or a big slurping noise as they inhale their prey. The explosive eat can be unpredictable and I have seen even the most seasoned anglers ‘trout-strike’ out of pure shock as a cod attacked their fly right at the rod tip. We recently assisted an international film crew for three weeks as a ‘fixer’ and guide for their program, and after fishing for cod across NSW, the host commented that fly fishing for Murray cod on surface flies was some of the most exciting fishing he had ever experienced. We generally focus on surface fishing during the low light periods of the day, but on this trip we had one day with surface action the entire day. FUTURE OF GOODOO Murray cod have had a rough history since European settlement, with commercial fishing and poor river management, among other factors, leading to very low numbers of fish. But the times have changed. Murray cod, overall, are more abundant now than they were 50 years ago. Fisheries research, local fish and river conservation groups, and promotion of better fish-handling have all made a massive difference. And the attitude to catching Murray cod on fly has also shifted. I’m not sure why it took me, and many others, so long to catch on to this phenomenon, but now it’s here to stay. I can only encourage you to get out and explore this native species. You never know when or where that sight-fishing moment to a metre-long river monster awaits.

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