Freshwater natives like bass, Murray cod and yellowbelly are prime targets in inland waterways.
Growing up by the coast in Sydney, freshwater fishing wasn’t something I was brought up with.
I went bass fishing a handful of times in the Hawkesbury’s brackish tributaries, but it wasn’t ‘til many years later that I really got what fishing the sweet water was about.
Many years later, fresh out of uni and working full-time for a fishing magazine I’d grown up reading, I was sent on assignment to a freshwater impoundment in Queensland, with a couple of tournament anglers, a 4WD, a 14ft tinnie, a photographer and an imperative to come back with a story on the quality of the barra fishing.
I had less experience fishing the fresh than an average 12 year old kid from the bush, but I knew that I’d better learn quick and ensure we got the necessary shots if I wanted to continue to be sent out to fish during work hours.
In the end, we found the fish. I did a lot of reading and got in touch with a local charter guide who knew each bend and ripple of the lake.
The two tournament fellas I fished with scored some nice fish, and I even boated a fat 80cm barra which scored me a double page spread in the mag and made it look as though I knew what I was doing.
The freshwater experience is an immersive one. To have any hope of outwitting the apex predators in an inland waterway, you’re going to have to do more than turn up.
You’ve got to learn how these fish think and behave. What I love about freshwater angling is how transferrable the skills and techniques are. The basic baitcasting I’d practiced as a kid provided a framework to build upon when upping the stakes and chasing freshwater barra.
In western New South Wales, the wide-ranging golden perch and the mighty Murray cod are the prime targets. Both fish are high order predators in their respective domains, and in the lakes that they’re stocked together they compete for food and can grow to impressive sizes.
As native predators, some aspects of the way they behave can be compared to bass and barra, but they’re certainly unique species.
The lakes and rivers they’re found in are some of the prettiest places you’ll ever visit, too. So if you’re heading west and have a day or two to spare, pack a baitcaster and a box of lures – you might end up hooked!
Both golden perch and Murray cod are caught in most of the popular rivers, lakes and dams west of the dividing range and are excellent targets on lures and bait.
Goldens are found predominantly within the Murray-Darling system and its tributaries, as well as Lake Eyre and Cooper Creek. They’re also stocked in a whole bunch of impoundments outside of their native range.
Wild caught fish are generally between 30-40cm in length and weigh up to around 2kg, although much bigger specimens over 10kg are sometimes caught in dams where food’s plentiful and predators scarce.
Traditionally, goldens were targeted on worm or shrimp baits, generally fished on the bottom via a running sinker or paternoster rig. Good numbers of fish can still be caught this way, although the introduced European carp can be a big problem in many waterways.
For those more interested in the sporting element of the chase, lure fishing is the way to go.
The Murray cod is one of the most revered and pursued fish in the country. Its native range is throughout the Murray-Darling system, though stocking programs have expanded its range over a much broader area.
Murray cod grow to legendary proportions – big breeding fish easily grow to a metre long in most waterways, and the biggest fish on record, taken early last century in western New South Wales, measured 1.8m in length and weighed a shocking 113kg!
Most wild-caught cod are in the 40-80cm range, with any specimen over 80cm considered a trophy fish. As with most freshwater natives, bigger, healthier fish are often encountered in stocked lakes and dams where they can gorge on food and their habitat is protected.
Lure fishing is the most effective and satisfying method of catching a haul of cod and goldens, and in some waterways it’s possible to tangle with both species in the one session. The two most common approaches used are slow trolling and casting.
When fishing unfamiliar waters, trolling diving lures is a great way to cover ground and find fish. Large diving lures are trolled at walking pace with the aid of an electric motor.
Thick, mid-sized diving minnows are a popular choice when perch and smallish cod are the primary targets, but if you think big cod are an option, you can increase your lure size all the may up to the near beer can-sized models that often account for the biggest cod.
Both cod and golden perch behave similarly to other freshwater natives in that they don’t actively hunt prey in open water. They need to conserve energy and are thus ambush hunters.
Both species will take cover around structure like submerged timber, rockbars and boulders. When casting lures for these fish, focus your efforts around likely looking snags and structure lining the banks.
The more accurate your casts, the better your results will be. When targeting river-bound fish, focus your casts around the deeper pools, as this is most likely be where the largest fish will be holding up.
You can do all your cod and perch fishing with the one outfit, but at times it can be useful to have a second combo on hand. Your primary weapon should be a 6-10kg baitcaster setup, around 6’ in length and loaded up with 20lb braid and a rod’s length of 30-40lb fluorocarbon leader.
A quality baitcaster reel like the Alvey Orbiter Baitcaster BC80 is perfect for practicing accurate casting and suitable for targeting all popular Australian freshwater sport fish.
If you’re fishing amongst fallen timber in particularly rough country, 30lb braid is probably a better option, while some big cod specialists prefer to go all the way up to 50lb braid and even heavier leaders when targeting the ethereal monster cod.
If you’re packing a second outfit, it’s worth using a spin or threadline combo. A longer rod around 7’ in length helps to enable longer casts, which are sometimes necessary, although it’s almost always impossible to achieve the same degree of accuracy in your casts when fishing a threadline setup.
For this reason I’ll often have keep my accurate baitcasting setup rigged with a diving minnow for shortrange casting, and a longer spin setup rigged with a big soft plastic for long casts into distant pools.
The gear used for this sort of fishing is pretty versatile – it’s the same sort of gear you can use to tackle barra and jacks up north, or even flathead and jewies on the coast.
So it’s not necessary to go out and purchase a whole new setup if you’re not used to this style of fishing and are heading west.
If you’re curious, grab whatever medium weight outfit you’ve got, pick up a couple of perch or cod-specific lures from the tackle shop and give it a go.