Many a freshwater angler will plan a road trip destination based on accessibility and available fishing. This isn’t always easy. Water levels, be it a drought or a flood, control access and fishing, hence these are overriding factors in any decision making.
As I write there is a huge ongoing drought in eastern Australia. Forecasters are saying it is the biggest drought, or was the driest summer, since 1983. There are depleted water storages in every State and Territory compared with this time last year. New South Wales and western Queensland were hardest hit, but Victoria, South Australia and even Tasmania are dry. While Far North Queensland endured a deluge of Biblical proportions, the annual monsoon rains of other parts of the Top End left much to be desired. There was a wet season, but not of the intensity desired or required.
There will still be plenty of barramundi up north, but when less rain falls this affects the run-off and shortens the best part of the season. Farther south and the drought is having an impact on many waterways. In March this year New South Wales was the lowest at just 27.8 per cent of water capacity overall. It gets worse when you look at individual dams. An ABC News report quoted Tony Webber from WaterNSW saying it was a “very serious situation”.
Keepit Dam on the Namoi River, north-west of Tamworth, all but ran dry at the end of 2018. Lake Keepit is about 4370ha in size and located 57km west of Tamworth on the Oxley Highway and the lake has park accommodation and bush camping. The lake had a reputation for producing Murray cod to more than a metre in length on lures trolled during the warmer months.
Menindee Lakes in the far west is in a similar predicament and releases into the Lower Darling have ceased and the Barwon-Darling River system has all but ceased to flow the ABC News report said. Meanwhile the pipeline to supply water to Broken Hill was activated in February. Most northern NSW dam storages are in single figures. Pindari Dam, 63km north of Inverell for example, was at 3 per cent at the time of writing.
Another popular cod water is Burrendong Dam built across the junction of the Macquarie and Cudgegong Rivers. Another popular Murray cod water, the dam or lake services communities like Wellington, Dubbo, Nyngan and Cobar. It is down to about 7 per cent of capacity.
Most readers would be aware of the devastation imposed on native fish stocks in the Darling River where tens of thousands of fish have died. The result was a massive blame game, however, who or what was to blame was not as important as the loss of fish. In this drought scenario, many irrigation dams have been drawn down to low levels, and many natural lakes have all but dried up. There will still be fishing available, but it’s now about choosing your best options.
Anglers seeking native species like Murray cod and yellowbelly would do well to look south, and to the best of my knowledge, the following waters are still fishable, but I suggest you make some enquiries just to be certain nothing has changed since these words were compiled.
Edward River at Moulamein is worth a visit. Moulamein is a small town in southern NSW that backs onto the junction of the Edward River and Billabong Creek. Murray cod are prevalent in both waters, and boat access is available behind the local hotel. Shore based fishing and camping is available on the opposite bank. Moulamein has a caravan park that backs onto the local lake, which also holds small numbers of Murray cod.
The Loddon River, a 392km long tributary of the Murray River, flows through central and northern Victoria. Bridgewater, on the Calder Highway, is a popular location for cod anglers as it features a riverside caravan park and boat launch facilities. Bank fishing is available and lure fishing is most productive during summer, when the water is often crystal clear.
The Wakool River at Kyalite rarely fails to produce fish, be they cod or yellowbelly. Directly opposite the Kyalite Hotel, a steep concrete ramp provides access for boats to the Wakool River. Bank fishing is available, and there is accommodation at the caravan park next to the hotel. A bushland reserve on the Balranald side of the bridge gives access to camping and bush launching for smaller boats.
The Murrumbidgee River at Balranald is an old favourite. A concrete boat ramp at the Balranald reserve provides access to the Murrumbidgee River for larger boats, while the local caravan park has a dirt ramp and excellent bank fishing and accommodation.
The big opportunity is the Murray River, and cod and yellowbelly can be caught from Lake Hume downstream to Murray Bridge. The Murray River, from Lake Mulwala to Wentworth, has been a standout with good numbers of Murray cod, many over the magic metre mark, and yellowbelly to 56cm caught. It seems strange that the Darling River flows into the Murray River at Wentworth. Upstream in the Darling at places like Menindee Lakes and above, the fish population, or what is left of it, is under stress. There are areas along the Darling where the river has dried to a series of puddles, and in some of these puddles you may come upon the remnants of native fish populations, however, places like Lakes Hume and Mulwala are well worth a visit. Lake Mulwala is a Murray cod Mecca. Situated about 215km north of Melbourne, the lake covers some 4400ha when full and has an endless amount of standing and fallen timber in its margins. The lake is serviced by several caravan parks and has numerous concrete boat ramps accessible to the public. Free lakeside camping is also available at Kiffens Reserve. Yarrawonga sits on the Victorian side of Lake Mulwala. There is a concrete boat ramp in the Murray River below the weir at Yarrawonga and the area is renowned for producing big cod and good numbers of golden perch during periods of high flow. This is a shallow section of river swept by current and broken by occasional deep holes. There are abundant snags that are also home to good numbers of trout cod. Camping is available on both the Victorian and NSW sides of the river.
Cobram is a popular cod fishing destination. It was here John Ellis designed the most recognized cod lure along the Murray River, the StumpJumper. Mostly shallow with fast flowing current, the river holds vast numbers of snags that produce some very big cod every season. Several concrete ramps are available; the most prominent is located directly over the bridge at Thompson’s beach on the Victorian side. Bush camping is also available as well as on site vans and cabins at the local caravan parks.
Torrumbarry Weir is situated 20 minutes north of Echuca in Victoria off the Murray Valley Highway. Above the weir, the water is deep and void of current. This is excellent trolling water that produces big cod on deep diving lures during the cooler months of the year. Bait anglers also do well in the deep water, especially on grubs. Below the weir, the river is shallow, but produces good numbers of Murray cod on bait and lures. The Weir Holiday Park has self-contained units, cabins, powered and unpowered sites. There is a concrete boat ramp both above and below the weir.
The Little Murray is an anabranch of the Murray River and is located about 25km east of Swan Hill on the Pental Island Road. The Little Murray River flows for about 30km, beginning near Fish Point and flowing back into the Murray River at Swan Hill. Bush boat ramp access is available during irrigation season when the water is high at Fish Point. Camping is also available at this location or the Pental Island Caravan Park. A Victorian fishing licence is required to fish the Little Murray River.
Swan Hill is home to the giant Murray cod statue. The Murray River here is mainly shallow with numerous snags and rock bars. The old abattoir downstream of the Swan Hill road bridge is a popular big cod haunt, as is the stretch of river upstream of Pental Island. Concrete boat ramps are available in town on the Victorian side of the river as well as accommodation at several caravan parks. The small township of Wood Wood, 36km north of Swan Hill on the Murray Valley Highway in Victoria, nestles on the banks of the Murray River. It has a concrete boat ramp and bush camping is available.
Boundary Bend is located in Victoria 50km east along the Murray Valley Highway from Robinvale and is downstream of the junction where the Murrumbidgee River joins the Murray River. Deep holes and rock bars break the river. Bush camping is available. There are also cabins at the local caravan park. Belsars Island, 19km southeast of Robinvale on the Murray Valley Highway, is an area of State forest on the Victorian side of the Murray covering about 3400ha. Tracks are clearly marked, and camping is available along the river. Bush ramps are numerous with ample bank fishing available. Tol Tol marks the top end of the pool water where the river starts to become deep with less flow. This stretch of river is accessed 5km east of Robinvale on the Tol Tol loop road with several signs clearly marking the river entry points. Camping is available with well-used bush ramps at regular camping spots.
Robinvale is a noted big cod haunt. The Murray River here is deep pool water void of current. The bridge caravan park is a popular destination for anglers as it has a concrete ramp and riverside accommodation. Boats can be left in overnight. Upstream of the cut around the Nine-Mile Island is popular cod trolling water. Euston is downstream of Robinvale on the NSW side of the Murray. Accommodation is available at the local caravan park or the Euston Club, which also overlooks a large concrete boat ramp. The water between the boat ramp and the lock is deep and excellent for trolling. Bank fishing is also available. The red ochre cliff near the Boyanda grape farm is a popular launch site for anglers fishing the Murray River midway between Robinvale and the small horticultural town of Wemen. A track follows the river from Happy Valley Shop at the southern end of Robinvale. Go to the end of this road, turn left at the crossroads, and then right past Boyanda. There is a steep concrete ramp just off the end of the bitumen on the dirt road. Camping is available all the way along the Victorian bank to Wemen where there is a concrete boat ramp and ample riverside camping several hundred metres on the Robinvale side of the Wemen store. The river here is shallow with numerous rock bars and fallen timber.
Red Cliffs, named after the 70m high cliffs that overlook the Murray 4.5km east of town, Red Cliffs is located 16km south of Mildura on the Calder Highway. There is a bushland reserve at the end of pump road that offers access to camping and a concrete boat ramp. The Murray River at Mildura is wide and deep with many hidden snags. There are several concrete boat ramps on both the Victorian and NSW sides of the river. Trolling between the Mildura Road Bridge and the township of Gol Gol, several kilometres upstream, has produced many big cod over the years. Accommodation is available at several caravan parks and houseboat hire is available. Horseshoe Bend, also referred to as Merbein Common was once the site of the original pump that serviced the Merbein irrigation area. Located 10km northwest of Mildura on the Old Wentworth Road, the common has a concrete boat ramp and bank camping available. The pump hole has produced numerous big cod over the years.
Curlwaa is an irrigation settlement about 4km east of Wentworth on the Silver City Highway in southern New South Wales. There is a caravan park adjacent to the river and a good concrete ramp just a short drive up the road. The Abbotsford road bridge spans the Murray providing access to a gravel boat ramp and several kilometres of camping downstream.
Wentworth marks the junction where the Murray and Darling Rivers combine. The local caravan park is set on the banks of the Darling River with a concrete boat ramp just upstream. The Darling water is often dirty and better fished with bait. The Murray downstream is deep pool water, generally clear enough to fish lures. Wentworth was the largest inland port in Australia for the 400 boats that carried goods along both the Murray and Darling Rivers. The Fort Courage Caravan Park, situated 18km from Wentworth on the Old Renmark Road, is the ideal base to fish the Murray River, Frenchman’s Creek, Rufus River, Darling Anabranch and Deadmans Creek. It is serviced and run by the Wentworth angling club and has all your usual amenities including a concrete boat ramp.
Another lake we hear little about is Lake Cullulleraine. Just 40ha in size, it is situated 75km east of Mildura in Victoria on the Sturt Highway. This man-made lake is surrounded by red sand hills and has a flat sand bottom. Bank fishing is possible, but boat fishing opens up more opportunities. There is a boat ramp sign posted off the highway. Lakeside accommodation is available at the local caravan park where cod have been caught from the bank in excess of 10kg. The turn off to Lock 9 on the Murray River is about 1km past Lake Cullulleraine towards Renmark. The 10km drive will take you directly to the lock at the end of a gravel road. Camping is available with a concrete boat ramp about 200m downstream of the lock.
Another spot worth trying is the Old Mail Route Road. This dirt track runs from Lock 9, almost through to Paringa near Renmark on the South Australian Border. A dry weather road only, its flood plain flats bog up pretty quickly after rain. Along its course are numerous access points to the river that provide camping and bush-style boat ramps. Lindsay Island is about 72km west of Wentworth on the Sturt Highway in the Murray-Sunset National Park. Lindsay Island provides excellent cod fishing in several waters, and these include the Mullaroo Creek, Lindsay and Murray Rivers. You can fish from the water’s edge or launch a small boat from one of the numerous bush ramps. There is ample bush camping and dry weather entry only. A Victorian fishing licence is required to fish both the Lindsay River and Mullaroo Creek.
Renmark is situated just over the border on the banks of the Murray River. Several caravan parks provide boat ramps and riverside accommodation. The water is often dirty, and bait fishing is the best method. Berri has numerous fishing and camping spots with bank launches available to smaller boats. Martin Bend Reserve is a short distance from the centre of Berri and is a popular destination with riverside barbeques and a concrete boat ramp. Katarapko Creek is located 14km southwest of Berri in South Australia. An anabranch of the Murray River, it has good stocks of Murray cod and golden perch. Riverside camping and fishing are available along much of its course with bush styled launches for smaller boats.
Located 79km east of Renmark on the river is Waikerie, which has several concrete boat ramps and ample bank fishing. Holder Bend Reserve is a free camping area east of Waikerie off Holder Bottom Rd. At its height, Morgan was one of the busiest ports along the Murray River. Situated 43km northwest of Waikerie, its banks are lined with towering limestone cliffs. Accommodation is available at the local caravan park providing access to a concrete boat ramp just upstream of the ferry. Camping is also available on the opposite side of the river in a reserve that travels for several kilometres upstream. Swan Reach, about 120km northeast of Adelaide, was one of the first riverboat ports in South Australia. It has a single caravan park that overlooks the Murray River. A concrete boat ramp is situated directly behind the park. A small camping area is available on the opposite bank just upstream of where the ferry docks. Good access to bank fishing is available on either side.
The Garden State has not been as hard hit by drought as NSW and Queensland. That isn’t to say everything is fine, however, there are places to go which will produce good catches. Lake Eildon, located about 160km northeast of Melbourne, is perhaps the best of them. This is big water. At full capacity, the lake has about 515 km of shoreline; at just 20 per cent full the distance from end to end is 35km, and as I write the lake is well above that level.
Lake Eildon is a major waterway for fish. Over recent years the lake has been stocked with brown trout, yellowbelly and more than one million Murray cod. The lake also holds big numbers of redfin. And something to keep in mind is that there is no closed season for Murray cod. Eildon is quickly growing in stature as Victoria’s premier cod fishery. Bonnie Doon on the northern side of the lake is a noted big cod haunt. Accommodation includes caravan parks, on site units and camping. There are numerous boat ramps and ample opportunities for shore-based anglers. Boat ramps are located at Peppin Point near Bonnie Doon, Coller Bay, Jerusalem Creek, Jamieson, Howqua, Macs Cove, Goughs Bay, and the Eildon Boat Harbour. Jerusalem Creek is always available, but some ramps are not when water levels are below 25 per cent, particularly at the Howqua and Bonnie Doon ends.
Best of the baits for native fish include bardi grubs, scrubworms, shrimp and cheese. Trolling is productive method. Top lures for native fish are Stumpjumpers and spinnerbaits. If trout or redfin are your preference then try scrubworms, maggots, pilchard strips, Powerbait and mudeyes, while Clown pattern and pink 13g-26g Tassie Devils account for many trout.