The drive from the Monaro to Wagga Wagga and on to Balranald gives some idea of the Murrumbidgee’s length and also of how much a river can change over the course of its flow.
Near Balranald, the river has been slowed by irrigation infrastructure and the first obvious difference is the steep clay banks and the number of snags. Every fallen tree and log has fish-holding potential and for a relatively small river, there are some big Murray cod waiting to ambush your lures or suck in a big bardi grub.
I fished in a boat with three other anglers and our modus operandi was to motor along to a snag, then drift and cast spinnerbait lures into the timber in the hope of catching a big cod or yellowbelly. Tony Bennett cast first. As he slowly retrieved his lure, a cod followed, missing the lure but leaving a telltale swirl at the surface. Three other lures were immediately cast to the same spot, a system affectionately known as ‘seagulling’. I was in luck and about 12 kg of Murray cod was soon netted, photographed and released. We caught nine cod and a similar number of yellowbelly on a day the boys rated as slow.
About 30 km upstream from Balranald as the crow flies, there is a weir at Redbank, and further up, another weir at Maud, which is a popular fishing spot. The problem with heading upstream from Balranald is that the river is shallow and snags make navigation difficult. There are plenty of snags downstream, but the wider and deeper river makes it easier to get around. Another weir on the downstream leg is about half an hour by boat.
Anglers who achieve success in this part of the river can thank the dedicated efforts of the local angling club, which has put more than 100 000 native fish into the river. This proactive approach helps maintain the fish populations until nature provides the vital floods needed to improve numbers naturally.