The initial greeting as a large Murray cod engulfs your lure can best be described as sudden, violent and often very destructive. Cod are a strong, powerful fish capable of delivering a strike factor that has few equals. For want of better words, before the dust settles any weak links in your techniques and tackle will be revealed very quickly. If you encounter enough big fish, you will find that for every problem solved you will encounter another. While most are within your control, the fish gods in their infinite wisdom will introduce others. Broken bibs, straightened hooks and the occasional smashed lure are par for the course. All this turmoil takes place at just one end of the line. In between are a host of other problems including knots, drag settings and the unknown reaction of an angler that’s about to experience an adrenaline rush that in freshwater fishing has few equals.
Let’s begin at the lure and work our way back to the angler. It’s an unfortunate fact that very few lures produced come fitted with the correct running gear to handle big fish consistently. For most lures, trebles are an afterthought. It’s up to the angler to upgrade in both size and quality. On our cod lures, the front treble is upsized by at least one size, more if it doesn’t interfere with the lure’s running action. There are several quality trebles available to suit most lure sizes that are both sharp and sturdy. The Owner range fit the bill just fine, not only are they tough, they are also the sharpest we’ve come across. If the original rear treble is of suitable size and quality it is generally left as is. Most solid hook-ups are made on the front treble, the eyes of a baitfish or in this case, a lure, are the kill zone and large predatory fish like Murray cod know this all too well.
It would be a fair assumption that the majority of anglers out there targeting Murray cod would use a snap of some description to connect their lure to the main line. After all, it’s nothing to change a dozen or more lures in a day on the water. It’s fast, simple and at very least a disaster waiting to happen. Over the years I have seen more snaps bent, broken, straightened, opened and twisted than you could poke a long stick at, put simply they are not worth the risk.
Let’s look at the bigger picture; you’ve just spent a small fortune on the perfect rod, reel and line not to mention shelling out for a swag of lures. On the other end of this outfit you hope to connect that giant cod maybe the fish of a lifetime, yet you knowingly allow it all to swing in the balance of a fifty-cent snap. Over the years, I have lost a host of large fish in both salt and fresh to a variety of and quote, ‘these snaps are the best on the market’ kind of snaps. Never again, knots are far more reliable and while they may be a little more time consuming, they are one less weak link between you and what could be the fish of a lifetime.
Suitable knots and rigs for big Murray cod are many, as are the lines and materials to tie them. Always be sure to constantly check them for nicks and abrasions throughout the day, as any line, regardless of the brand or price, is prone to damage when working heavy structure. This should also be done after every fish either caught or lost during the fight. The rasping teeth on a Murray cod do significant damage to leader material especially when the lure is taken deep. It goes without saying that most line or leader materials are affected by extended periods of exposure to direct sunlight. While we can do very little about this when we are out on the water, proper storage indoors between trips will see line integrity last much longer. Leaders should be re-tied after every session, if you begin this way you will be aware of any instances that may cause potential damage. If you so much as even pause to inspect either the main line or leader because something catches your eye or you’re a little unsure, change it.
We connect all our lures using a loop knot on a 60lb nylon leader of approximately 1.5 metres. The leader is connected to a double on the braid main line using an improvised version of the braided leader knot. The tag on the leader itself is pinched between thumb and forefinger and melted with a lighter then flattened with your finger. If for some reason the leader was to slip the flattened end acts as a stopper preventing the leader from pulling. If you are confident in your knots this last step is unnecessary.
Rod weights should be adequate to dictate the fight so as not to stress the fish. During the warmer months when a cod’s metabolism is at its peak you can expect a large fish to fight hard and long. Rod weights in the 6-8kg ranges are more than adequate when used correctly. Don’t be afraid to apply maximum pressure after the initial strike, as turning the head on a large fish is often the difference between landing it or being skull dragged through the timber. Get too know your rod and understand just how much pressure can be applied before explosion point is reached. Large Murray cod don’t give a hoot about how much pressure they apply you need to be aware and prepared for that style of fight. Later in the season when water temperatures drop and with it the fish’s metabolism, lighter outfits can be utilised to the same effect, if you are game.
Over the years I have come to notice many anglers, especially those who do a lot of trolling, set their drags very lightly in order to avoid burying their lures into snags.
If you stop and think about this, it also has the same effect when a fish strikes the lure. If your reel gives line on the strike, then the hooks are not being set as they should. We fish our drags in fighting mode at a pressure of around a quarter to one third of the rod rating. This is set by feel something that has installed itself over a period of time, if you are unsure use a set of scales to do the same job. On the initial strike there should be very little if any give from the drag. Once the hooks are set, a large cod will pull line freely from the reel even under a heavy setting. The down side, if any, is that occasionally the hooks bend or pull, the strike to hook up ratio more than compensates these minor shortfalls.
If you have experienced the thrill of a giant cod before then you will realise that after the rod shattering strike, for a few brief seconds there is little you can do, and yes, the reel is meant to yield line. It should be compulsory to have detachable thumbs when you hook your very first large Murray cod. If this were the case, there would be fewer bust-offs, as the offending appendage could not be used as a breaking mechanism in a fit of panic. I have seen seasoned anglers clamp down the first time a giant green fish smashes their lure. The exact reason for the slip of the thumb is unclear and most will confess to slight embarrassment for losing control. If you are in tune with your equipment and the need arises you can buffer a snag-bound fish with a little thumb influence when required.
None of us can predict the exact moment it will happen, but if you fish for cod it’s only a matter of time. A simple rule of thumb rings true to most cod waters—if there are small cod where you are fishing then no doubt there will be a few giants too.
My old man had a saying that most often followed a belt behind the ear. It went along the lines of ‘expect it when you least expect it.’ I guess this can be likened to cod fishing. If you are ready for that which has not yet happened, when it does come, it won’t be a surprise.