Targeting Murray Cod on Surface Lures
According to Australian cod legend Rod MacKenzie, prospecting the surface is easily the most exciting way of catching our most iconic freshwater fish.
The thrill of chasing cod on surface lures
Imagine if you will, the plop-plop-plop as your lure works its way across the surface of the water. The sound is amplified by the stillness of night.
Cast after cast explores the edges where weed beds and half submerged snags offer high expectations of a strike. As each cast returns full distance unscathed, your mind wanders into the midst of the darkness. For the umpteenth time the lure struggles its way across the surface towards the rod tip. You marvel at its action, a popping struggle. Its creator must be proud.
As you motion to lift the lure, an explosion of water as though a car battery has fallen from the heavens soaks you from head to toe. Heart in mouth, you wonder at the size of the beast that has just engulfed a bucket of water yet managed to miss the lure.
The thrill of surface fishing is about such encounters, where the prize that hovers just below your lure can quicken the heart and suck the breath from the staunchest of anglers. Imagine such a take, if you will, on the ebb of a new moon when the night is inky black and visibility is rated to that of a welder's dog.
Lessons from the top
The autumn and winter months are my favourite time to target surface cod, as fog-draped mornings offer up big fish opportunities, especially when the barometric pressure is on the rise. While this form of fishing consistently attracts the attention of big Murray cod, the strike to hook up rates are not always that great.
The seasoned guns will tell us to throw the rod tip forward on the take to create slack line so the lure can be fully inhaled. This might sound great in theory but deliver yourself into the half-light scenario where every sound is amplified as you hang in wait, only to be monstered at point blank range. I'm not sure about you, but the last thing on my mind is to throw the rod forward. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
Over the past few seasons we have invested a fair amount of time into the surface bite and how to make the most of each opportunity presented. Of course, all waters are not the same, from the calm, still waters of numerous cod-laden lakes to the often current-rich waters of our inland rivers
Murray cod rod and reel setup
When it comes to chasing Murray cod on lures, many experienced anglers prefer baitcaster combos as they greatly improve casting accuracy, especially around snags, as you can control when the lure stops it descent by clutching the line with your thumb.
For big lure crunching fish like Murray cod, opt for a good quality low profile baitcaster reel from a reputable brand such as Shimano, Daiwa, Abu Garcia or 13 Fishing. When looking to pair your reel with a baitcaster rod, look for something made from graphite around the 5-6ft mark. You'll need a medium-heavy taper for casting big lures and for big fish, look for a weight rating of 3-5kg or 6-8kg.
Buy the best you can afford and if you look after your rod and reel combo, it will look after you when that big fish comes along.
Best times to chase Murray cod on surface lures
Most anglers are aware that fishing the surface works best during periods of low light, with dawn and dusk providing the optimum windows. Some anglers prefer to fish well into the night, and while they do most certainly catch fish, night sessions are not the be all and end all of surface fishing for Murray cod.
On overcast days and late periods of fog, surface opportunities continue for those who fish outside what's viewed to be the norm.
Personally, I am reluctant to fish the surface late into the dark for no other reason than I like fires and spending time with mates. The social side of angling is to be savoured, and the crackle of the riverside campfire has no doubt inspired many fine angling moments. There are more than enough surface opportunities hidden in the light changes and the shadows of the river to keep me interested.
Why is it that large cod are far more receptive to surface presentations than other methods of fishing? Perhaps they are not given the time to examine and inspect the lure as it's on the surface and paddling towards the bank or structure. A deliberate assault, they cannot afford to spook the meal in case it is, in fact, a bird that might suddenly take to the wing if it suspected there was a giant cod lurking below.
Most of the strikes I have seen in the current-rich sections of the Murray River have been full-on airborne explosions where, if not all, most of the cod cleared the water. These fish are hitting the target at full speed, yet their accuracy is nothing short of abysmal.
Perhaps in nature there is a fine line between opportunities where to approach the surface with caution is to see the meal more often take to the sky. Hence, the full-blown assault that might see wings injured by the flailing body and tail, should the jaws miss the mark. Either way, it is very frustrating to tempt the strike only to see the fish disappear - lure free.
The best takes, by far, are those that hardly break the surface, yet implode a bucket-sized hole in the glass-calm water. Such takes generally result in a good hook up as the lure is sucked deep into the fish's mouth. The question is, how do you tempt such a strike and avoid the all too often overzealous airborne assault?
How to tempt a Murray cod surface strike
It seems the straight retrieve without a pause tempts the majority of the aerial fumbles. This might explain the amount of missed strikes as the fish fails to lead the moving target, instead pushing it out of the way under speed.
On the flip side, the broken retrieve generally produces a better hook up rate and a more calculated assault, as the fish has time to prop under the lure, even if it is for just a few short seconds. Once the lure is re-engaged, it generally moves but an inch or so before it is engulfed.
It's funny how each new location presents its own set of patterns, and shallow, fast-running sections of river are no exception.
Our first observation was the difference in where you might expect the fish to come from. The calm eddy behind a log might seem the most likely hold for a giant cod, patiently waiting in ambush out of the main flow, yet we have taken few fish from such locations. The end branches rich in the flow of passing water have been the holding points for most surface assaults.
Wide of the main buttress, these fish hold tight to structure, allowing the current to deliver their next meal. In many instances these fish will leave their wide holding points and strike the lure at close quarters next to the boat. What we have found on these larger fish is that if they fail to find the hooks on the first strike, most will not take a second shot. The vast amount of energy spent in a failed attempt may be weighed and measured as being unworthy of the effort second time around. While many fish will not be tempted twice, not all is lost, as that first betrayal provides a positive location for future visits.
Surface fishing for Murray cod is very effective for several reasons. Firstly, these fish are hunters and the chance to engulf a substantial meal is often too good to refuse. There are other factors that include lure recognition.
In hard-fished waters educated fish quickly come to recognise certain lures and will often follow them all the way to the boat before refusing to take a swipe. No doubt they are having a good look before they make their decision.
In the case of a surface lure, they can only see it from below as they cannot get up beside or above it for a better look. Over the next few months early morning and evening light changes will offer up most of my big cod opportunities. And regardless how many times it happens, I will never tire of the explosive sight that is surface fishing for Murray cod.