Mulwala Cod

David Anderson targets snag-bound cod in Lake Mulwala on the Murray River

Lake Mulwala (Mull-way-laa) in the predawn murk is an eerie place: dark blue, black and grey with little to see besides an endless silhouette of dead trees as Cameron puts the boat — a flat-decked six-metre plate alloy monster — into the water. It’s cool and already a bit breezy. The weather forecast would suggest a tough day for cod, but given all the rain and bad weather through the Victorian season, and the number of times we’ve had to cancel our two-day trip, things could be worse. The Elliot Road ramp where we launch is at the top of the lake on the New South Wales side, very close to the Ovens and Murray junction. We’re soon pushing upriver against a strong current due to big water releases out of Hume Dam, further up the Murray at Albury. There’s a damp, swampy smell with just a hint of banjo twang in the air that speaks cod to me. At almost 4600 ha or roughly 9 km in length by 2 km wide, the lake is literally a shallow sea of snags and cod hiding holes, offering unlimited possibilities for powerboat anglers, a good selection of easily accessed water for kayaks or kick-boats and even a few options for shore-based fishing. Though not known for huge fish it is arguably the best cod water in Victoria, and might even be the best in the country on its day. After a short ride, Cameron slides the boat into a narrow backwater lined with dead timber, both standing and fallen, and drops the trolling motor. He’s looking for particular snags he calls ‘lay-downs’ that sit flat across the surface of the water and point into the river current — a favourite house for the cod, apparently. I’m seeing so many snags I wouldn’t know where to begin. Thankfully, Cameron, who is highly educated in the science of fish and their habitat and has worked for years in fisheries research and management before becoming a guide, knows exactly where to begin and we’re soon methodically working the banks with one of his ‘Cam’s Critter’ flies. It’s big, light, articulated and makes a ‘gloop’ sound that’s just audible over the waking birds. In the increasing light, the size, weight and tank-like solidity of the big boat suddenly makes perfect sense as there are so many semi-submerged obstacles outside the main river channels to hit, that a lesser boat might be a liability at anything over walking pace. After a few fruitless hours we move on to ‘the Everglades’ near the top of the lake on the Victorian side. There are dense stands of dead trees and thick banks of tall grass and reeds lining the twisting channels and backwaters. Little luminescent kingfishers dart around the shoreline, a hyper-flash of electric blue in an otherwise flat sea of green and gold as we slowly motor along, bombing the undercut banks and tree bases with a Yowie — a big dumbbell-eyed wet fly. Unfortunately, by late afternoon, with the wind having switched from annoying to just plain nasty and only one small fish to show for our efforts, it’s become clear that the cod are totally switched off. Cameron makes the call that we’re wasting beer time and after checking the forecast we make plans to start later and fish into dark the next day in the main body of the lake from the Victorian side. Joining us is Cameron’s partner Katie Doyle who has a PhD in freshwater ecology and is likely one of Australia’s top cod experts, and also, in a second boat, Kyle Dalrymple who specialises in Lake Mulwala cod and guides for Cameron. Though it is, for the most part, very similar water to the top of the lake, in the main body of Mulwala there are large expanses of very shallow water over flooded islands that carry varying levels of current through a thick jungle of standing and fallen timber. It’s not as scenic as the top end, but Kyle and Cameron have had some good sessions with clients here over summer when the weather permitted, and even pulled a few of the rare metre-sized fish. We split up in the boats to cover more water and drift with the currents across the islands with just the odd touch on the trolling motor to dodge the next tree. With the surface chopped up by a mid-strength breeze, we’re fishing deeper flies dropped as close as possible to the cover and working them back slowly. When the fish come on — sometime after lunch — it’s non-stop action for three hours before, like magic, they switch off again with the increasing wind. That, of course, is the nature of cod fishing. Some days they hit all day and others are little more than casting practice with a dream, but if you’re not on the water, and not working flies hard, you have no chance. Actually being there, at the right time, is the only way.

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