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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Copeton and the Quest for a Meter Cod


By John Cahill

The roots of my fishing days are firmly entrenched in Murray Cod waters having grown up in Shepparton with the Goulburn River my backyard and the Murray a short journey away.  My youth has any memories of chasing cod and Murray River crayfish with mates and family in particular my dad the late Ted Cahill.  As was the way things were done back in the day, nearly all these cod were taken on bait by pretty primitive methods that belong in the past.  Fast forwarding to today, those that know me or follow my work, it's no surprise that lure casting is my thing and any chance I get to fish it's usually throwing lures.  'Back in the day' there were plenty of cod and our share over the magic meter mark however I have never troubled the scorer with a fish of those dimensions on a cast lure and I sorely wanted one.   

If you are a fan of Murray Cod fishing you can't but help notice the steady stream of Face book images of big lure caught cod coming from Copeton Dam in New South Wales.  It was a bit too much for me and I had to plan a trip one day; a significant one considering I reside in Melbourne.  Setting myself the task, I found researching Copeton on line quite difficult and sure there are a few You Tube clips and info-less Face book photos but not a lot of tangible, helpful information. What my research did reveal however was that a lot of these big fish were being caught in the cooler (cold) months and on top water (one thing not so good, the other massively appealing).  I was not able to make the trip until early spring which put me at an immediate disadvantage but I factored it was better to go and learn rather than sit on the couch and dream about it so September it was to be.

Trekking North
The 14 plus hour road trip to Copeton was completed towing my 4.2 Mako Craft Estuary Tracker behind the Navara with my partner Lydia and friend from Singapore adventure angler 'Uncle' Chuan Tay who had traveled over to specifically try and catch his first cod.  The plan was pretty simple, cast big wake baits / plugs over the weed low light and work the deeper drop offs / rocks / timber during the day - simple!  I had been following the forecasts in the week leading up to the trip but not so much what had been occurring prior and what was immediately obvious was that a lot of rain had fallen throughout New South Wales.  Every creek and river was overflowing and there was standing water in paddocks everywhere, this was getting concerning as we closed in on Copeton as this was surely going to mean changed conditions to what I was prepared for.   The final leg of the trip involved numerous creek / wash-away crossings, no doubt ordinarily dry but there clearly had been a lot of rain.  Arriving in the middle of the night, we waited till first light on day one as I didn't fancy launching at a new place without some light.  A fishing buddy from Melbourne Thomas Pinter had given me some starting points where he had caught some good fish in about eight meters of water over weed beds.  I immediately checked these areas out and was a little shocked to find these now covered by 18meters of water; clearly the game had changed.  Indeed looking around for the first time I was not pleased to see how much dirty water was flowing in with floating logs and debris everywhere, this was obviously going to be a challenge. 

The fishing
I wont bore you all with a blow by blow description of each day, but it was clear any game plan I had was now pretty much out the window and fishing had to be rethought.  A trip into Inverell Fishing and Hunting and consulting a few local cod guns was certainly helpful but to be honest the advice was fairly contradictory, such is the nature of large lake fishing there is more than one way to skin a cat. 

Through our casting efforts and plenty of sounding around with side and down scan I am comfortable with saying that where the water was covering grassy banks it was pretty much devoid of fish.  The theory I am comfortable with being is that the fish don't like the rotting vegetation and the oxygen it takes from the water, the same can be said for the weed beds now deep under water and no doubt dying off through lack of light.  That's not to say that they wont be far away from those areas however, just not right on it.  The dam wall end of Copeton remained quite clean with good visibility and the deeper drop offs especially among rock and timber were showing fish during the day quite deep from 12 to 20 meters.  Getting a lure in front of these fish and getting them to bite is tough.  

Casting from outside the zone in towards the bank it's hard to keep a lure deep enough as you retrieve.  Casting from the shore line out is in my opinion better but you need to allow considerable sink time to get the lure down in the first instance, the down side is that this results in some very deeply snagged lures which will account for plenty of collateral damage, but if you want to catch the fish you need to be in the zone right?  We found these areas much more productive in low light, the observation being that when ready to feed, the cod would rise up through the water to do their thing and could be targeted mid water and potentially on surface although all our top water efforts were unrewarded on this trip.

In the dirty water, essentially the areas subject to the considerable inflow      there was no shortage of fish and if anything they appeared to be more willing to play the game, was it the rising water the trigger to play the game or perhaps the slightly warmer water? Who knows.  We did find that even during the day we could find fish in the dirty water shallower which at least provided the opportunity to get a lure in front of them a little easier, getting them to bite still as much a problem.  Late in the trip in fact the last night a significant weather system moved in and dumped rain and wind again, so much so that when we rose at 3 am to go fish we went back to bed till 5.  At 5 we returned to bed and turned off the alarm all together as it was horrible.  Waking at 8 am the system seemed to have passed so we set up for a solid daytime fish.  Returning to a dirty water area with plenty of rock and timber it felt right and that we would get a bite.  It took until the mid to late afternoon for the fish to kick in but we had multiple chances with a glorious 108cm hitting the net and another boat near us scoring a 90.  We seemed to have come to terms with Copeton for the moment but sadly on the last day, the flush of water (again) and weather change really fired them up.  I got my metery, now to get one on top water... 

There are too many factors to give a definitive run down on what you need to know about a Copeton trip but here are a few thoughts of mine:
  • Take a big selection of lures, top water, mid water, deep stuff - wake baits, walkers, chatter baits, crank baits, plastics, spinner baits - you never know what they might want and what the conditions might call for.
  • Make it big or at least have a big presence - I honestly believe that size is everything here; there is a lot of water between fish.
  • Fish low light - especially through the light changes and for as long as you can handle it after dark, warning even in September most clear nights are frosts so be prepared.
  • Day time - concentrate on the deep drop off or go get some sleep so you can concentrate on early starts and late finishes.
  • Keep an eye on the approaching weather for your trip (obviously) but also recent changes in water levels as it will affect your fishing - see water flow and lake level (at time of writing 44% and rising).  irrigation season can also see massive and sudden drops which will probably not aid your fishing until water levels settle.
  • Gather as much info as you can from locals or social media on what is working.
  • Handle the big fish well - we released all fish quickly in good condition with minimal handling or time out of the water.  Catch and release will also gain some respect from the locals who are protective of their fishery.
  •  Stay at Copeton Waters right on the lake in one of the on site cabins or camp or swag it.  If you stay in the cabins it puts you among the other fisho's and you never know what bit of info you may find from your fellow anglers ;) - we met some great and helpful people.
  • Enjoy Copeton - it is a stunning waterway and home to so much wildlife, water fowl and not to mention so many big cod and golden perch - it does not just give them away however...
  • Get a hold of specific Copeton mapping for your plotter.  I found this to be a significant aid in working our where we should be concentrating our efforts.  At $88 it is a small price to pay and is available from the guys at Charted Waters, if you currently have a Copeton map card from Chartered Waters, there is an update, contact the guys for a free upgrade.
  • I recommend fishing PE 3 or 4 for a good balance between 'castability' and strength - Toray Super Strong served me well.  60lbs flurocarbon is about right for the leader. 
75 cm for Lydia - caught on a Lox Ambassador bream rod while targeting yella's!
Back she goes

Lovely golden for Chuan
98cm taken an hour after dark
The release...

Sometimes it makes sense to get out of the boat and work a bank

108 cm's in the last hour of fishing - yeah!
Letting them swim is the BEST feeling.

So many waterfowl at Copeton currently

Goats, roo's and fallow deer a plenty

Pretty

My Lox Iridium served me well as always

I always work over any old lay downs - several resident golden perch on this one

Love this mapping - the low water level is of benefit
A selection of Copeton essentials