Fishing the Murray river

The River Murray

Fishing the Murray River

By Jamie Crawford

Jamie Crawford header image for article

The Murray Darling Basin is the lifeblood of many regional towns throughout SA, Vic and inland NSW. The towns and supporting communities rely on the catchment basin for local industry and economy, encompassing agriculture, viticulture and tourism. 

I remember having regular family camping trips along the Murray when I was growing up. It was a time of exploring the river and its backwaters and of appreciating the wildlife and unique surroundings. As a family we would often tow our little boat to the river and pitch camp for a few nights, and then spend the time fishing and yabbying.

We would cook food on the open camp fire, and then have possums raid the campsite for food scraps of a night time. We would catch live shrimps and yabbies from the river, and use these on the local golden perch. For me these camping trips to the Murray were important family time without the distraction of modern living.

Wind the clock forward some 20 years, and my wife and I are now taking our own kids to the Murray for camping trips. After a couple years of good inland rains, the flow has returned and the river has been topped up with a healthy volume of water.

It’s great to see life rebounding along the Murray after a few years of inactivity and low flows. The majority of backwaters have largely re-filled and the river has been flowing at a steady rate, which is a stark contrast to the drought conditions seen just a few years ago. Granted the river is not out of danger by any stretch of the imagination, but it is showing encouraging signs of life. 

We fished the River Murray recently on a camping trip with our kids. It’s cool to see our 3 young ones enjoying the same camping and fishing that we enjoyed when we were kids.

Bait fishing is still our preferred option in the river, especially given the flowing and stirred-up water as seen over the last few years. We will drop some shrimp traps around the shallow reed-lined banks, using fish frames or red meat for bait.

Nothing beats local live baits like shrimp, small yabbies and bardi grubs. We usually take our boat up the river, but we also do a bit of bank-based fishing as well. The beauty of fishing the Murray is you needn’t cast far from the bank to be in with a shot of landing a good golden perch as the tapered bank and near-shore snags hold native fish within a short distance from shore.

Also, fishing the Murray can be as relaxed as you would like it to be. Setting a couple of rods in front of your campsite with tip-bells is simple and easy, and the kids get pretty excited when the bells start ringing. Make sure you back the drag off though, as large carp can easily pull your favourite rod and reel into the river if the drag is set too tight.

When we are actively chasing natives from the boat, we stock up on fresh baits, and set out for the day on the water. Use your sounder to pinpoint likely fish holding structure along the bank side if you are planning to fish baits. Anywhere from 2 to 5m is fine, so long as the bank isn’t on the outside corner of a prominent bend. Native fish aren’t the strongest of swimmers and will always prefer the lower-flow side of the river, or lee-side of a snag to conserve energy.

Once we have found a likely snag or hole, we will tie the boat up to a nearby overhanging branch, or to the snag itself if it protrudes from the water. We will fish two rods each, and will stagger the depth of each outfit to cover all bases. Golden perch (aka callop or yellowbelly) will often hold mid-depth in the water column if there is adequate structure. When fishing baits on the bottom, you will often pick up catfish (which are still protected in SA waters). It is great to see the Tandanus catfish making a comeback in the River Murray, especially upstream of Lock 6 in SA.

When bait fishing we use a standard paternoster rig with a 1oz sinker on the bottom, and two droppers with size 1 or 2 baitholder hooks along the trace line. As golden perch have a habit of inhaling the bait, you don’t want to use a hook too small as you will end up damaging smaller fish. 

When the river has slowed in flow, the water will slowly settle and visibility will improve, making the conditions better for lure fishing. Within the SA length of the Murray, you are allowed to actively cast lures for cod and golden perch, but no trolling. Cod are still protected in SA waters so must be released immediately.

For casting lures, we like using Spanyid Blades and Stiffy Devilfish Vibes in the 5 to 10g size range, and also the 3.9cm Deep Crank minnows for golden perch. Large spinnerbaits are also effective on both cod and golden perch. Redfin are still active within the river, and will swipe these above lures quite readily. Redfin, like carp, cannot be returned to the river (which is fine for reddies as they are pretty tasty on the plate). 

When fishing in the River Murray, my outfit of choice is the T-Curve Spin 722 at 3 – 6kg matched with a Shimano Biomaster 4000 with 15lb Power Pro. Due to the many underwater snags, expect some tackle losses, so come prepared with some rigs pre-tied. 

The fishing in River Murray may not be as productive as it once was, but it is still a special and very relaxing river to visit in my opinion. I enjoy spending time on the Murray, and am looking forward to our next visit! 

By Jamie Crawford

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