As I stepped out of my car and onto the concrete ramp I peered across a picturesque expanse of water which was Lake Burrinjuck. It looked like a perfectly painted picture as it reflected the ambience of our beautiful environment. The lake shimmered colours of blue and green as the ripple bounced across its surface caused by the slight zephyr. It was the perfect backdrop to start of a trip I had been looking forward to for some time now.
It was our first outing for the summer of 2014 and our target was that of many freshwater Australian anglers, metre Murray Cod or also known as the ‘Magic Mark’. Many cod anglers go there whole lives dreaming about one day encountering the greenback that cracks the ton. It is the main goal in cod fishing, to land a fish that stretches the tape to the big 100. Every true Murray Cod angler knows that it is all about the ‘Magic Mark’.
The boat was organised before being freed from its bed as it touched Burrinjuck waters. As we headed across the dam we were fighting the light as it was fading behind the tree lined hills. There were only two hours of light left and our first option was to cast the rocky banks with large, almost oversized spinnerbaits. The sound of these lures hitting the water resonated down the rocky gorges, almost like massive boulders falling off the cliffs.
Tip: Selecting Spinnerbaits for Dams
The lures of choice were 2oz spinnerbaits as they would sink along the steep rocky banks quickly allowing us to cover more water. In most situations it’s best to have the spinnerbait falling slowly as to keep it in the cod’s face for longer. However this situation is different and due to the large expanse of water in dams it is best to cover more water in search of those few hungry fish, rather than covering less ground with a lighter weight spinnerbait. A 1.5oz spinnerbait would be the lure of choice when fishing a gentler slopping rocky bank.
Under a Blanket of Darkness
Three of us peppered a sheer shaly bank and I’m sure the fish knew we were there with the bomb like lures plummeting through the water’s surface. With no success in our casting attempts and less than half hour of light left we picked our trolling bank and readied ourselves for the night ahead of us. What would happen under the blanket of darkness was still totally unknown, and we had no idea how it would all unfold.
Trolling in the dark is tedious and many hours are spent for little success. On the other hand all it takes is for a bone shaking strike to run through your limbs that releases the adrenaline throughout your whole body. It’s this feeling that pushes us through the wee hours almost falling asleep, just to get a chance at that magic mark. We pulled out the tackle box of big cod lures, and you know you’re getting serious when there is nothing smaller than 100mm. Our choice of lure was easy, as the larger two sizes in the AC Invaders were selected. My choice was the biggest in the range, with a 150mm AC Invader with a 40ft+ bib in the colour black. Jack opted for a 120mm in the 30ft bib and Ryan went the same size in a 40ft bib.
Three loop knots were tied as I lined the boat up parallel with the bank. Our first choice of run was a steep and undulating rocky bank. It looked particularly good and produced a strong vibe. The sun had now dropped behind the hills and our session of night trolling had begun. I was running on the inside at a depth of around 4-6m, I find running shallower in the dark more successful as the feeding fish will be pushing up in search of a feed. As my lure has a 40ft foot bib, it was running close to the boat as to keep it off the bottom. It was only allowed to swim for less than 20mins before being crunched. The power that resonated back through the rod and into my hand was unbelievable. I leant into a solid fish that took a short sharp run. After its run I knew it wasn’t a monster and soon a chunky Burrinjuck Dam cod surfaced boat side. It was a great start to the night with a fat 75cm Murray Cod. As he took off back to the depths we looked up and realised the light had totally disappeared.
Under artificial light we resumed our trolling and continued along the same path. The rocky structure was perfect cod habitat, with steep drops and rocky outcrops we had our hopes high for another fish. Only 10 minutes had passed since the previous fish as my head torch highlighted a vast rocky point. It stuck out from the bank by an easy three metres and had deep cervices running vertically down its face, perfect cod habitat. I steered the boat close to the point to ensure that our lures would swim around tight in against the point. The sounder came up to 3.1m and I knew my lure was going to veer in even closer and therefore hit the bottom. I lifted the rod slightly as it began to grind the rock. The 150mm AC Invader was only grinding the boulder for a few moments before it awakened the beast from it lair.
“Yep, Yep, I’m on,” was my call as I turned and leant into a much bigger fish. I was gaining line as it wasn’t running but its weight was something much closer to that of a magic mark fish. I knew it was big but I didn’t call it for a metre cod as the fish still allowed me to retrieve line. Ryan had finally cleared his lure and switched on the torch, illuminating an absolute beast of the freshwater.
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“It was on the surface swimming straight at the boat, which caused me to underestimate its size, which was revaluated to well over the magic mark.”
We could not believe our eyes, as the monster finally realised it was hooked and ran for the depths. A couple of deep breaths to calm the nerves, to ensure we didn’t lose this fish, as we soaked up the feeling of meeting such a monster. I backed off the drag as we were in clear water and I didn’t want unnecessary pressure on my gear. As he rose through the clear waters we witnessed a majestic creature that we work so hard for just to get a moment in the presence of a Magic Mark Murray Cod and what a priceless moment it is.
Surprisingly for such a large fish he didn’t fight all that much and within a few short minutes we were ready to take a photo to make the memories last a lifetime. At 118cm and an estimated 80lbs it was well over the Magic Mark and into the category of massive!
What a feeling it was as we all soaked up every minute of it while I swam the big girl. You don’t actually understand how amazing these fish are until you get up close and personal. It’s then that you understand what an amazing and gigantic creature they are in all their glory and these fish deserve the greatest respect from anyone who is lucky enough to meet them. Ensuring that you handle them with the utmost care possible, to make sure they swim back as happy and healthy as they were before you caught them is paramount. I encourage everyone to look after our wonderful species so they can be around for the future. With one of the most important acts when landing such a big cod is to NEVER lift the fish by the jaw – ALWAYS support their weight, please remember this if you find one of these Aussie icons.
Back to the depths in the darkness she went as we all sat for a moment to soak up what had just happened. Jack and Ryan were now keen to get onto their first fish as I knew my luck had all been used up. I checked the time and couldn’t believe it was only 9:15pm, we still had pretty much the whole night to come. This was going to be a good night!
An hour later continuing along the same bank my rod snapped back again which saw me land a 71cm cod. The capture of this fish came at a loss of the inside run as Jack and Ryan banished me to the outside. Jack took the position of the inside as we continued into the wee hours.
Jack’s voice hit extreme decibels while he jumped to the feeling of a buckling rod. With the excitement of catching a metre cod at its highest, the devastation of the missed hit hurt more than usual. It was now 11:00pm and the next few hours were fruitless until we chose a new bank at 2:00am. It was the entrance to a river and this bank was rather gentle compared to the banks that produced the results earlier in the night. It was a much flatter and shaly bank which meant the boat was much further from the bank, so we could still run in 5 metres of water. With the sounder reading back to us a dead flat bottom with the odd rock and rise, we weren’t overly impressed with the bank. At this time of night the eyes were struggling to stay focused, although this problem was solved as my lure was hammered, waking me up in a blink of an eye. The fish stripped lines from the spool with ease, with three thumping
headshakes before the lure was let go. This is one of the most disappointing moments in fishing, when you know it is a monster that are so rare but yet so close. I didn’t realise how large the fish could have been until Jack inspected my lure which revealed a set of deep teeth marks across the entire back of the lure. It could have been another ‘Magic Mark’.
Another few hours of trolling brought us to the end of a night that we will never forget. A meeting with a Burrinjuck monster under a blanket of darkness. Off the water and asleep by 4am.
The Morning Casting
It felt like sand in my eyes as I opened them to daylight piercing through the swag. It was 6:00am as I crawled out of my swag feeling like I had only just gone to sleep. It was tough trying to wake up with less than two hours rest. We packed up camp and were on the water casting by 7:00am. The plan for the morning was to cast large spinnerbaits like the previous afternoon in against the steep banks.
After the night before we had a promising feeling about this morning’s session, as we cast to some of the best banks I’ve ever seen. I just knew they were lurking down there somewhere and only patience was going to provide us an answer. As a few hours passed the three of us faded into auto piolet, as we repeated cast after cast.
Tip: Difference between Trolling & Casting Outfits
As our tactics transitioned from casting to trolling there are a few slight variations to the setup which could make all the difference. The rod and reel outfit is the same as my heavy trolling outfit from the night before. The one component that I changed before tying my lure on was my leader. For trolling in the dark I run a 50lb Monofilament Leader. The reason you want to use Monofilament is due to its abrasion resistant properties. It has a stronger outer coating than Fluorocarbon, making it the better choice when your lure is rubbing over the unforgiving rocks all night. During the day on the other hand I change to a 30lb Fluorocarbon leader, because Monofilament is a milky colour, making it easier for the fish to spot in clear water. Whereas Fluorocarbon becomes totally transparent underwater, meaning the fish will not see your leader in the clear water. I run with 30lb as it gives me that little bit more confidence that the smart old cod won’t detect my leader.
The excitement of hurling lead weights started to fade away as the morning began to disappear. No sight of a fish and we weren’t far off packing it in as the middle of the day was fast approaching. Not far down the bank I noticed the prominent rock that is home to the monster cod I caught the previous night. We thought it was worth a quick cast as I directed the spinnerbait tight up against one of the crevices. The rock was literally vertical as the Mud Guts Spinnerbait continued to flutter into the depths. Its fall was broken by a ledge, a flick of the rod tip and the lure continued on its journey. The fall was broken again, but this time it wasn’t a rock ledge. My auto piolet was terminated by a power that is indescribable, a power that produces the most pure rush of adrenaline. In this moment I knew it was the ‘Magic Mark’, as they produce a feeling like no other.
Both Jack and Ryan could not believe I’d hooked another monster, not only on the same trip but in the exact same location. They believed it was the same fish but I knew they were wrong, the way in which it was fighting was totally different. It’s as if each fish has their own personality. After a short few minutes the beast surfaced and what a priceless moment we experienced. To see such a massive Murray Cod and to witness its power as it disappeared back to the depths is incredible. I backed off my drag slightly as we were in clear water and I just had to take it easy.
After a few more powerful runs and a tense 10 minutes we managed to jump into the water and meet this beautiful Australian icon. The feeling while in the water cradling her is something that you cannot fully understand until you are right there in that moment. It’s this short moment in time that you work so hard for but when you get there it is worth every single second. The memory of this encounter with my personal best Murray Cod of 123cm will live with me forever. The white tip at the top of her tail was the last I saw of her as she returned to her home. I stood in the Burrinjuck waters soaking up the feeling of Meeting the ‘Magic Mark’.