Luring for the mythical 100-pound Murray Cod

As if straight from the script of the ultimate Aussie fishing action movie, the first Murray cod I ever saw someone catch was well over the mythical 100lb mark. It was in South Australia and talented angler Jason Peak landed the monster of a fish on none other than a black and gold Stump Jumper lure being cast toward the buttress of an old river gum. At the time it was the biggest Murray cod I’d  seen and from the looks it had to be the oldest.  Motley grey colourings filled its face and fell towards a cavernous mouth that could easily swallow the largest carp. Its body was massive and the beast of a fish was powered by a tail that looked more like an oar. It’s little wonder the battle between angler and fish was an epic and memorable one. That debut river Goliath was the start a long run of fishing adventures that went on span almost a decade of hunting the iconic species in the cod-rich waters of South Australia.

The early years

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One monster Swan Reach fish and two very happy anglers.

Swan Reach was first settled in the 1850s and soon became the largest of five sheep and cattle stations in the area. Before long it evolved into one of the first riverboat ports in South Australia, its boats taking aboard a wide range of cargo including all-important grain and wool. Nowadays the Swan Reach Hotel is a great vantage point to sit and view the river from its elevated position. Its cold beer and excellent meals add to the riverside ambiance especially at day’s end as the shadows lengthen and sun slips away. The Hotel was built around the original Swan Reach Station homestead. Imagine the stories the place could tell from the early riverboat days where cod were caught on baited hook and line in the size and numbers we can now only dream about. Like much of the Murray River, Swan Reach has seen its fair share of floods but none worse than the big one of 1956 when most of the town was swept away. Over time the town has been rebuilt with much of its history still on display at the local museum. The locals will tell you that Swan Reach gained its name from the large number of black swans that originally thrived in the area. To be honest I can’t say I noticed a single one as the spectacle of giant red cliffs stole my gaze and overshadowed everything in comparison. After a decade of drought the river waters were almost ocean blue and the clarity at the time was better than anywhere I had ever seen along the Murray River. Long strips of weed would rise from the river bed, caressing the occasional red gum snag that would disappear into the deep water below. This window to the depths would reveal many of cod fishing’s finer moments and the chance to see these giant green fish in action.

Fish of a lifetime

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Casting in cliffside cod country.

One of my all-time best moments involved casting a spinnerbait along an elongated weed curtain rising from the depths to within inches of the surface. The flashing blades slowly disappeared out of view before coming to rest on the silt-lined bottom. A flick of the rod tip set the blades back to life and the rotating metal meal slowly made its way along the weed edge before climbing towards the boat. From the depths of the river a monstrosity of a fish shadowed the flashing blades as they came into view. Slowly closing in on his target, the the cod’s mouth opened and engulfed the lure resulting in several buckets of water to rise in one massive explosion less than a metre from the boat. A huge fish of at least 100lb, the beast shifted enough water to partially drown myself and my young bloke fishing alongside. It rolled the lure in its mouth and headed straight for the depths.  Stunned by the size of the fish the rod briefly loaded before bouncing back as the hooks failed to take hold. While the whole scene lasted all but a few brief seconds, it played out as if in slow motion. Every detail of that glorious fish and what had just unfolded was etched into my memory forever. Some might think of it as a loss, coming so close to catching a river giant of such proportions, but for me the spectacle was reward enough. To watch that mighty fish track down and explode upon its target in the gin-clear Murray waters was about as good as it gets without actually landing a fish. My son still reminds me of that moment, like me he will never forget it.

Where to fish

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Another huge cod bank side, memories to last a lifetime.

The Swan Reach boat ramp is located behind the bowls club and close to the local caravan park. It’s suitable for all manner of craft and a popular location for water skiers during the warmer months. When heading upstream in a boat care should be taken as the ferry cables cross the river and sit high in the water when the ferry is on the move. There is a well-marked speed zone and this warning should be headed by all craft. Heading upstream and once past the ferry you will see the first of several giant red cliffs that tower over the river. Take the time to look around and you will see numerous hollows and broken rock above the water line. It doesn’t take an angling genius to work out that similar features lay hidden in the depths and deep down. Amongst that deep rubble lay some very large cod. The South Australian cliff structure is unique along the Murray and has its own angling related techniques. Many of the cliffs run deep right against the edge. With undercut banks and hidden chunks of fallen rock rising sharply like giant bommies, the fish are often located hard against the bank. In many locations if you decide to troll lures you are virtually running the rod tip within feet of the cliff face itself. It is risky business in more ways that one. Firstly a giant cod tucked under the rock is just feet from home and many a wrist-breaking strike has resulted in the unseen monster breaking free, taking your lure with it, and back inside his snag in seconds.

Killer cockatoos

The second problem comes from above. In some cliff areas large white cockatoos have hollowed out nesting burrows high in the cliff face where they noisily protest any intrusion. Often they drop or dig away at small loose pieces of stone that fall into the water close by. This was all quite amusing until one such incident saw a rock the size of a car battery detonate several feet in front of the boat. A direct hit would have been deadly. After our close call we were very wary of these birds and there rock dropping antics. This is not to say we didn’t fish in hard, we just chose our locations well. When casting the cliffs we do our best to position the boat sideways, a few feet of the edge and allow the current or breeze to slowly push the boat along the cliff. Once again we were fishing the lures along the edge so they would track close along the rock wall and undercut banks. With three on the boat the angler furthest the bank was often forced to fish wide in deeper water making it harder to reach and hold the strike zone, especially with standard lures. This issue led to the creation of the legendary 1oz mumbler. On its first outing and after less than a dozen casts, the rod loaded to the weight of a cod of more than 30 kilograms. This fish had been drawn from more than seven metres of water and would not be the last to take a lure on the outside run.

Launching and camping at ‘the pipeline’

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The Swan Reach car ferry – you know you’re getting closer.

  Several kilometres upstream from the first set of cliffs there is an area known as the pipeline. Here you can launch a boat on the far bank utilising a 4-wheel-drive and reversing down a well-constructed gravel ramp. You’ll find this ramp after crossing the Swan Reach ferry and traveling a few kilometres along the Stott Highway then turning right on Murraylands Rd and driving towards Blanchtow. The road is gravel and it pays to keep watch for kangaroos and wombats. The pipeline ramp is found by following a track down along the large freshwater pipes to the right of the road and driving for several kilometres. There is limited camping here so long as you don’t mind sleeping in your swag on a slope. We have camped at this location many times catching numerous cod and some very respectable golden perch. If you are planning to camp in the area it pays to remember that most of the land either side of the Murray in South Australia is privately owned.
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Some of the dramatic Swan Reach scenery. In spectacular country like this great fishing is all but a bonus.

  The fishing is not just restricted to the cliff areas. While the timber snags along the Murray in many sections of South Australia are fewer, those present are generally older and larger. Old snags are particularly good for casting as the majority of timber has broken down over time and is lying either on or very close to the bottom. Most South Australian river snags are like this providing the angler the luxury of being able to present their lure at depth for most of the retrieve. Make no mistake Murray cod are Murray cod regardless of where you catch them. They are influenced by the same factors regardless of where they are found. River heights, barometric pressure and moon phases are all factors that affect the way these fish respond to your presentation. Swan Reach is just one of many sensational cod fishing destinations I’ve been fortunate to fish along the Murray River. Each hold their own level of mystery and intrigue and all hold some of the biggest wild cod you are ever likely to encounter. South Australia has its own rules and regulations regarding the capture and handling of Murray cod. These include a strict policy making it illegal to remove Murray cod from the water for any reason. Failure to adhere will result in a hefty fine. State authorities also enforce a no-take limit and two-month shorter season compared to other states. The cod fishing season in South Australia opens on January 1 and ends on July 31.  
 
Rod MacKenzie

About Rod MacKenzie

One of the most passionate anglers you will meet, Rod simply loves his fishing and is eager to share the wealth of knowledge and experience he has picked up over the years.

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4 Comments

  1. Jason Kerr
    January 30, 10:17 Reply
    Jeez I love this bloke! Cod fishing is the reason I fish! What I would give to be able to catch just a small percentage of what Cod God Rod has. He consistently lands Monster cod. All my life I've fished for this Aussie icon and have only managed 1 fish over that magic metre mark. I said that day I can now die a happy man! Then I hear about this bloke and his DVD Cod Almighty and I'll be buggered I'm left with a new scence of ambition, 1 metre doesn't seem that big anymore. God love you Cod God you are my hero mate,and one day if I can say that I was half as good as you then I reckon I could die a happy man.
  2. Rod MacKenzie
    February 02, 10:46 Reply
    Thank you for your comments Jason I will now need a wheel barrow to carry my head. Mate stick with it that giant is often but a few short casts away.
    • Nat Bromhead
      February 02, 12:01 Reply
      Great feedback Jason! Let us know any other topics or locations you would like to see on Kaydo Fishing World. A sensational debut article Rod, and stunning pictures as well.
  3. ken smith
    February 27, 14:49 Reply
    Excellent article , very informative , hope to get to the Murray in the next few months and target some of those mythical legends of the deep

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