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The Mighty Murray part 2 - The Main Arterial. by Neil Slater

The Murray River stretches across some 2600 kilometers and 3 states being Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. The river boasts fauna and flora that keeps the nature lovers coming back and is renowned as one of the better fishing destinations for the travelling angler.
The main artery of the Murray is what most people are familiar with and are prepared to travel miles during the holiday periods to enjoy the many water sports this large river has to offer.
Caravan parks and campgrounds are scattered along the length of this great river, which offer a close base camp to some fantastic angling for the native fish that inhabit the mighty Murray. Some caravan parks offer fantastic facilities and other campgrounds are bush camping so all rubbish should be taken out with you when you leave. The river has many steep banks so camping and small boat launching is most comfortable wherever you can get low to the water like a sandy beach on a bend.
The caravan parks offer camping from unpowered tent sites to 5 star villas and most have steep concrete boat ramps to accommodate the larger vessels. The river also has many flora and fauna parks that often include special 'no ski zones' to ensure a peaceful environment for photographers, bushwalkers, bird watchers and fishermen.
The Murray River is home to many species of poisonous snakes so it is best to check with the locals for advice on how to avoid these reptiles when bushwalking.
Primary fishing targets include the famous Murray cod, golden perch, silver perch, catfish, redfin and carp (all species of carp are deemed 'noxious species' and should not be returned to the water).

The hard fighting silver perch are becoming a little harder to find in the Murray River these days. They are more often than not caught on baits and are not well known for their affinity with lures, but ever now and then they surprise a lucky angler.
Silver Perch
Click on image for larger version

The river is also home to some of the world's largest freshwater crayfish that can approach 2 kilograms and are a popular target in the cooler months from May to September. 'Crays' as they are known locally, can be caught using a hoop net baited with fatty meat in the deeper sections of the river where there is ample cover. These crustaceans are a known delicacy and the river can be dotted with hoop net floats when the crays are on the move.

This undersized Murray cray means business! It's a good idea to keep well clear of their claws should you catch one. This one refused to let got of my camera bag until he felt water on his legs as he was lowered into the river. Their outer shell is also covered in very sharp spines and gloves are a handy addition to the tackle kit when targeting these delicious crustaceans.
Murray Crayfish
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The other smaller species of freshwater crayfish that inhabits the Murray are known as 'yabbies' and can be caught in numbers using basically the same method. On rare occasions, yabbies can reach 'beer bottle length' (30cm), but your typical edible size is around the 10 to 20cm mark. These delicious crustaceans are best targeted in slow moving backwaters and during the warmer months from November to April.

But it is the population of native fish that draws people from near and far - and rightly so. Murray cod have been recorded to a staggering 113kg and 1.8m and each year the river yields a monster or two over the magical 1m mark!
Most of these leviathans are returned to the water, as they are the larger 'breeders' of the river. There are strict guidelines and a fishing license is required for fishing in the Murray/Darling Basin so please check local fishing guides and tackle stores before the big trip.

The river is best fished using a boat but land-based anglers grass many fish and this is a very relaxing method of targeting the Murray's inhabitants. Land-based fishermen are better off using either running sinker rigs when bait fishing, surface lures (after dark) or spinnerbaits when lure fishing to avoid their hooks fouling and high lure losses due to the many snags the native fish call home.
Best baits are the form of the local shrimp population, small yabbies and a large moth pupa known as the 'bardi grub' (note: it is illegal to use fin fish for bait in the Murray River). Murray cod find these grubs irresistible and these baits can reach 15cm in length. They can be found burrowing in the earth under the overhanging branches of certain gum trees or purchased from reputable tackle stores.
When boat-based, you can open up your options a little more by way of positioning yourself over underwater snags that would otherwise see you snagged up solid if you cast to it from the bank. This allows you to lower your tasty morsel down to the most likely looking underwater obstacle using a depth sounder.
Best bait rig for the boat-based angler is a round sinker running straight to the eye of the hook. It's best to keep rigs simple, as the loss of terminal tackle can be high.
Alternatively, a popular way to target native fish is by trolling lures along the deeper sections of the Murray River. Lures designed with Murray cod in mind are generally large (around 70 to 150mm in length) and can obtain depths from 4 - 8m when trolled behind a boat.

A Murray Cod taken on a No1 Stump Jumper Lure
Don't be shy with lure sizes. Here a 55cm cod has slammed a No1 Stumpjumper intended for his grandad.
Click on image for larger version

Their action is generally a wide sway. This allows for the lure to be used very slowly and to tantalisingly hang in the fish's face, so to speak, for longer.

Here is a good spread of cod lures that cover the deeper sections of the river where the "meter-plus" fish live. They are (left to right) T50 Flatfish (dives to around 4.5m); Legend lures Yarrum (5-6m approx), Goulburn Codger (5-6m approx), JJ's No1. Stumpjumper (6-8m approx) and the Swagman Jumbuck (7-8m)
A selection of Cod lures
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Using these large, deep diving lures is the most effective way to target the larger cod, as they tend to hang in the deeper sections of the river.
By far the most enjoyable way to target native fish is to cast lures around the many fallen trees along the banks of the river. Some of these trees exceed 1.5m in diameter and are an absolute haven for all forms of aquatic life. When casting, yet another option is opened up that is not previously available to those trolling lures - and that is the fact that you can 'annoy' the fish into a strike by repeatedly retrieving the lure past their hole. Most Australian native fish are extremely territorial and will chase a potential intruder off with vigour. Their aggression is often their downfall and you can often feel multiple strikes or 'bumps' while casting at the same snag before a hook-up.
Golden perch are the other main target of anglers who visit the Murray. These fish posses an incredible spawning urge at certain times of the year and have been tracked for more than 6000km when the urge arises. Golden perch are famous for following lures repeatedly giving them a nip or a bump to hurry them out of their territory. If this is happening, vary your retrieval rate so as to imitate an injured fish. More often than not, if repetitive casts don't get him, the old 'wounded fish' trick will!

Golden Perch are another favourite target and are relatively widespread in the Murray River. Their eating qualities vary from something akin to muddy mashed potato to one of the best freshwater eating fish available. Larger specimens (4lb +) are best returned as they have a high fat content. This little ripper slammed a spinnerbait slow rolled down a rocky outcrop.
A Golden Perch taken on a spinner
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These fish are also well known for striking at lures that would never fit in their mouths. This suggests they are an incredibly aggressive fish. This also makes them a prime candidate for lure casting at the snags and can be tormented into attacking the artificial with a few repetitive casts.
Many native animals call the banks of the Murray home and if you keep the noise to a minimum, you can present yourself with some good photo opportunities of the local kangaroo, koala and bird population.

Kangaroo and Joey Kangaroos are very timid and can normally only be seen early morning coming down to the river for a drink before a hot day. Here a mum and joey (the baby kangaroo is known as a joey. Its hind legs can be seen poking out from the mother's pouch close to her right forearm) enjoy some lush after-flood greenery before retreating to the safety of the bush.

Neil Slater

Related Topics:
Murray River Introduction - Neil Slater

Copyright© 2006 Neil Slater. Sweetwater Fishing Australia