Growing up in Deniliquin, fishing for natives like Murray cod was my bread and butter. I lived within walking distance of the Edward River and fished at least 2 days a week. I was addicted. Yet despite countless hours fishing, and doing what I could to learn more, my success at fishing for natives was limited. Meanwhile, a similar-aged Cameron McGregor was walking a similar path 2 hours east on the Murray River, albeit with more success catching cod than I was having.
When I was a kid struggling to catch them on conventional gear, the thought of trying on fly was a ridiculous one. Fast-forward a couple of decades and the cod fishery has improved dramatically. Not just on the Edward, but throughout the Murray-Darling and north-east Victoria. Stocking, environmental flows, and habitat rehabilitation have surely had a positive impact on the Murray cod fishery. What wasn’t a viable fly fishery, now is.
Still, I put off chasing cod on fly. In my mind I’d built it up to be hard work. Sure, I knew it could be done, but would it be worth the effort? And so to improve my chances, I waited for a fishing invitation from Cam McGregor, the authority on all things cod. Cam and his equally cod-addicted partner Katie, run River Escapes out of Myrtleford, an easy three-hour drive from Melbourne.
Joining us was mutual friend Antti from Vision Flyfishing. Vision are deep rooted in the pike flyfishing game in Europe. Cod and pike share many similarities and the smarter cod flyfishers are turning to better-established pike flyfishers for inspiration. If you haven’t already, check out Fly Vs Jerk on YouTube. This film series may be a snapshot of how much the flyfishing for cod game could grow. Antti and Cam are excited about how well the Vision pike fly gear crosses over to flyfishing for cod, and so they were keen for me to fish that gear. I was earlier impressed by Vision’s Onki series (see review here), and so it came as no surprise to be impressed by their pike gear. Cam is now working with Antti and his team at Vision to promote their equipment here in Australia. Rumour has it there is a cod-specific rod in the pipeline.
Maybe it was the hangover, but our technique was to focus on fishing late in the day. The theory was, if the evening fishing was on, we’d still have enough juice left in the tank to make the most of it. Cam uses a very portable inflatable boat to access some lesser-known cod water in north-east Victoria. Having said that, my first fish came from an easy walk near a major access road. This was my first ever cod on fly and to say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. Despite the many casts beforehand, the hit came as no surprise. The right cast into likely water was rewarded and fortunately, the fish stuck. Once landed, you can’t help but take a time out just to admire these fish. They are stunningly beautiful and the more you look at them, the more you notice their unique fins and features. Cam’s seen thousands of cod and despite that, he seemed equally captivated by every cod we caught.
The numbers weren’t high but every cod was a highlight. As evening approached, the fish became noticeably more active and so we switched to big surface flies. Soon one boiled under my fly and so Cam shouted to Antti to get his fly in there, all while I left mine stationary. With one strip of Antti’s fly, he was smashed by the fish and he soon had (my!) fish to hand.
Over two days, we split the trip with a day on Lake Mulwala, hoping for a big one, and then a day on the Ovens. We blanked at Mulwala but it wasn’t without some chances. Despite no fish, you’d be mad not having a day there on your itinerary. Mulwala has arguably the best reputation of any cod fishery in Australia. It’s a big open water and so Cam uses his large, custom-made boat that was built to survey. Fishing aside, evenings on the lake can be pretty spectacular.
When you’re based in Myrtleford, you have some of the best cod and trout water at your fingertips. Although this trip was cod focussed, we did spend an arvo at one of Cam’s secret trout spots. Cam is deadly working his way up a small stream and it was apparent that he was no one-trick pony. Whether cod or trout, I couldn’t recommend a trip with Cam and Katie at River Escapes highly enough.