The mighty Murray River runs for a total length of 2520 kilometres, from its source in the Snowy Mountains region of New South Wales to its mouth in South Australia’s Goolwa area. Able to be navigated for 1986 kilometres of its length, it is the third longest navigable river in the world. It is also home to a wide variety of Australian native and introduced fish species, with a large number of anglers travelling to various sections of the Murray throughout the year to enjoy fishing in idyllic bushland locations while targeting classic Australian fish. The Mulwala region is synonymous with freshwater fishing in Australia, having a reputation of holding a good population of Australia’s most sought after freshwater species.
Murray River Fish Species
Murray River Cod
Fish species found in the freshwater sections of the Murray include the iconic Murray cod – the largest native freshwater species in Australia. Capable of reaching over 1.5 metres in length and 80kg, Murray cod have a groper-like appearance with a deep, thick body, strong tail wrist and powerful tail. A huge bucket mouth is used to forage through underwater structure, and launch surprise attacks on unsuspecting prey from under logs, snags and rocks. Murray cod feed on a wide variety of river life including fish, crustaceans, frogs, lizards, snakes, birds and even possums or rabbits that find their way into the water.
Murray Golden Perch
Besides Murray cod, the Mulwala area has a strong population of golden perch (or yellowbelly), another fun native species to catch on lures or bait. Capable of exceeding 5kg, they are mostly found in the 500g – 2.5kg range. Golden perch are at times aggressive feeders, making for exciting times when an active school is located. They will readily take lures or bait, and are mostly caught in the lower sections of the water column on or near the bottom.
This introduced northern hemisphere species has thrived to the point of being a threat to native species, and for that reason must not be returned to the water when caught, in many areas, so check the regulations relevant to the area being fished. They do grow quickly, but rarely exceed more than 1.5kg. Redfin are aggressive feeders and can be targeted very well on lures, while also being partial to fresh and live baits such as grubs, insects or worms. They have grown a reputation as a great light tackle sports fish, hitting lures readily and fighting well on light lines. With good eating qualities they are also targeted by anglers looking for a quality, easily caught table fish.
Murray River Carp
A noxious introduced species, carp have flourished in the Murray river system and most of Australia’s inland waterways. If caught, they must be disposed of and not returned to the water. While maligned by many anglers for their destructive feeding habits and aggressive breeding, carp are nonetheless easy and fun to catch on baits, and lure anglers are now finding them to be a willing, hard fighting adversary on light tackle. Carp are generally not regarded as a good table fish, however some adventurous cooks are finding ways to use them in certain dishes.
The Murray River, particularly around the Mulwala region, is one of Australia’s most iconic and desired freshwater lure fishing locations. The chance to tangle with a metre-plus Murray cod amongst snags and underwater structure sees anglers travel from all over the country to this revered area. Besides the cod, large populations of golden perch and redfin provide plenty of exciting lure fishing opportunities, while carp are becoming a regular target for lure anglers looking for some fun on light tackle.
Lure Fishing Gear
To handle most lure work in the Mulwala region, a 3-6kg 7’ spin rod matched to a 20-30 size spin reel is ideal. Spool up with a quality monofilament or braided line of 3-8kg breaking strain, and you will comfortably manage the yellowbelly, carp or redfin encountered.
For anglers focussing on chasing larger Murray cod, a spin or baitcast combination rated from 8kg up to and beyond 15kg is a good starting point, matched to 15-30kg braided line. Using a good fluorocarbon leader material adds another advantage, as it absorbs shocks and resists abrasion while being harder for fish to detect.
Experienced anglers can also have plenty of fun luring redfin, yellowbelly and carp on lighter finesse gear – a 1-3kg spin rod, 2000 class spin reel spooled with 2-4kg braided line is ideal for casting light lures.
What lures to Use
A wide variety of lures will be attractive in different situations on the Murray. There are a few basic groups they fall into, each having different advantages.
Using soft lures at different depths is one of the most consistent approaches to lure fishing in the Murray. The huge range of tail styles, sizes and colours available from companies like ZMan Fishing makes it possible to tailor the right size/weight/depth combination to suit a particular scenario.
Of the styles of tails available, curl tails such as ZMan GrubZ make a great starting point. The feature a long, loopy tail that vibrates and ‘swims’ with any movement, sending out plenty of vibration to attract attention. With sizes from 2.5” that suit carp, redfin and yellowbelly, right up to large 9” models to attract big Murray cod, curl tails cover a wide variety of fish species and sizes.
Paddle tails are a more traditional fish profile soft lure, mimicking the shape and size of smaller baitfish. A large tail pulses and gives the lure action when retrieved. Lures such as the ZMan 3” MinnowZ, and larger 5” DieZel MinnowZ are good examples that work well. Big swimbaits like the ZMan 7” DieZel MinnowZ also make excellent options when anglers are focussing their efforts on catching large Murray cod.
Creature baits are hybrid soft plastics with appendages and bodies that reflect those of various aquatic creatures like insects and small crustaceans. Working very well on Redfin, models such as ZMan’s 2.5” TRD CrawZ and 3” TRD HogZ are a versatile option fished close to the bottom.
Consisting of a soft silicone ‘skirt’, flashing blades and often a soft plastic trailer, spinnerbaits account for plenty of Murray cod and yellowbelly. They are ideal for casting into and around snags, as they can be retrieved through structure where fish sit and wait to ambush prey, with less chance of snagging up. Murray cod, in particular, are fond of spinnerbaits, and it’s often the larger, louder lures such as a TT Lures Tornado or FroggerZ Senior attracting the larger fish.
Floating surface lures are generally more effective in low light conditions or at night time, when Murray cod actively search the surface for struggling prey such as small birds, insects, frogs and lizards. Examples of effective topwater lures are soft baits such as the ZMan 2.75” Finesse FrogZ, and 4” Pop FrogZ. Hard body lures that pop and splash on the surface are another great option, with some craft lure makers putting out incredible lizard, bird and rodent-shaped lures that work well on large cod.
Hard Body Lures
Diving hard lures in smaller sizes will attract the attention of redfin and yellowbelly. Retrieving or trolling a deep diver like the Bagley Deep Diving Shad past snags and structure will regularly see Murray cod and yellowbelly strike out.
Tip – Go Big!
Some Murray cod anglers are now casting extra large hard and soft lures, specifically designed to appeal to the biggest cod. Lures up to and over 20cm in length are not uncommon. While the strike rate is often diminished, it’s the adrenalin of hooking a cod over 10kg that makes it worth the time and effort.
Working sections of the river from a boat or the bank with bait is an effective, simple way to connect with a few fish in the Murray River. Basic rigs with light sinkers will do the trick in most situations, and fresh baits are readily available from both the surrounding bush and bait /tackle stores in the region.
Bait Fishing Gear and Rigs
In terms of outfits, for smaller species a 3-6kg, 6-7’ spin rod and reel will cover plenty of situations, and lines of 4-8kg will handle most fish encountered. However if you plan to chase larger Murray cod, a spin or baitcaster outfit with a heavier action is advised. Rods rated from 8-15kg and reels spooled with at least 10kg braid are a good starting point, with a strong leader material of 15-30kg as a minimum. Anglers chasing true trophy-size Murray cod will often fish as heavy as 20-35kg main line and 40-50kg leader, as these powerful fish need to be turned quickly to avoid being buried in a snag.
Setting up to fish baits in the freshwater can be as easy as a small ball sinker, running directly above the hook. This simple rig puts the bait down on the bottom where many freshwater species forage for food. As the waters of the Murray are generally quite turbid or coloured, this easy to use bait rig is often all that’s required.
When live baits such as insects or nippers are being used, a leader of 30-60cm under a swivel allows the bait to drift up off the bottom and remain active to attract fish.
In sections where snags and underwater structure is present, using a float can help drift the baits into the paths of fish without snagging up.
You can find some excellent tips on rigging for freshwater baits here.
Baits to Use
Worms are one of the most readily available and consistent freshwater baits an angler can use. Plain old earthworms can be located in and amongst just about any vegetation. Dig around garden beds, grass and plant roots, and you’re sure to come across a few. Store them in a small container of damp soil, and try to make as little disturbance to the vegetation as possible.
You can add a bit of fun to your fishing adventure by foraging for you own Bardi grubs in and around the river banks of the Murray River. Under exposed tree roots, old logs and grass clumps are where they will be found. Be careful though, as they will be found in the same place as some nasties such as spiders or even snakes. They can also be bought readily from local tackle stores. Bardi grubs are an excellent bait, appealing to Murray cod and yellowbelly especially.
Grasshoppers / Mud Eye / Crickets
Large insects are another excellent freshwater bait, particularly when rigged live. Again these can be caught in the local bushland, or sourced from tackle stores or bait suppliers in the area.
– Any of the native crustacean species of the Murray river are a prime bait for chasing larger fish. Pinned through the tail, a live yabbie or shrimp attracts plenty of attention when they kick and move. Crustaceans can be caught in small dedicated traps along the river bank, or sourced from local bait suppliers.
A lump of bread or cheese moulded around the hook is a surprisingly effective freshwater bait. A great tip is to dowse the bait with a small splash of bite stimulant such as Pro-Cure to add further attractive qualities.
Particularly useful on carp, loading a hook with 5-8 corn kernels is a cheap and easy way to connect to a few fish for fun.
Tip – mix it up! Combining any of the baits mentioned above on a single hook will also work well.
Remember to check local rules and regulations relating to the collection and use of relevant live and dead baits.
What to look for and when to fish
Finding fish-holding structure is important, and anglers should look for deeper sections of water with drowned trees and foliage as a starting point. Although it can be frustrating to get the odd snag, placing baits and lures close to underwater features usually results in more strikes than fishing open flat sections of river.
Drowned grass and weed edges are also well-known fish hot spots, particularly after rain or when water levels have risen. Fish will move in and forage for stranded insects and small creatures, often pushing up into very shallow water to do so.
Fishing during the first and last periods of daylight are good times to try, as fish will move about and feed under the cover of low light conditions. Anglers will still find fish through the day, however moving to deeper water is often more effective as the sun marches across the sky.
Targeting Murray cod on the surface at night is an incredibly exciting way to fish. Cast surface lures deep into drowned trees and work them slowly with plenty of splashes, and you just may get to witness the explosive power of a Murray cod devouring a surface lure and diving for cover. You’ll have to hold on tight and have lightning reflexes to avoid being wrapped around the closest snag! It’s exciting fishing and plenty of anglers have been left shaking after a night time surface encounter with a big Murray cod.
Have a Fish and Make the Most of Mulwala
If you are keen to catch some of Australia’s favourite freshwater species, the waters in and around Mulwala offer ample opportunities to do so in idyllic bush surroundings. So why not pack a few rods for your next visit, relax and enjoy fishing in this beautiful spot on the iconic Murray River.
Your next fishing getaway awaits
Located directly opposite the pristine Lake Mulwala, BIG4 NRMA Yarrawonga Mulwala Holiday Park is the perfect spot to stay and soak up the beauty of the Murray River region.Check availability