In my early teens I lived in Wagga Wagga for about three years and spent many hours fishing from a kayak on the Murrumbidgee and at Lake Albert. The river held excellent numbers of redfin, and they were of good size, so this species was the focus of my fishing.
Murrumbidgee is a Wiradjuri word meaning ‘big water,’ and my memories of the Murrumbidgee are exactly that: a big, fast-flowing river, flanked by eucalypts and flood plains. Sadly, 30 years on, a word for ‘low water’ would be more apt.
On a recent trip I fished with local lure maker, Jason Mullavey of Muldoon Lures, who had warned me there was little water in the river and that he might have difficulty launching his boat, a 4 m Quintrex Hornet Trophy, from the usual boat ramps.
With this in mind we drove to nearby Wiradjuri Reserve in north Wagga Wagga. A shallow stretch of river with a firm sand and stone beach, it seemed an unlikely place to launch a boat. Jason was driving a fairly new 4WD and had no qualms about reversing car and trailer more than 20 m into the river. Even then the water was so shallow that I wondered if he should back further.
Leaving the reserve, we motored upstream for a couple of kilometres to Hampden Bridge. The river has gouged a channel close to shore, and there are some heavy-duty snags and rock bars midstream. Overhanging willow trees add to the available cover for native fish such as Murray cod and yellowbelly.
Jason put the 30-horsepower outboard into a little bit better than idle and we trolled our lures along the strike zones of snags and drop-offs. In some areas, we drifted and cast to indentations along the riverbank, allowing the lures to sit for a couple of seconds before starting the slow retrieve. We worked the fringes with our lures for several hours to no avail. Other boats stopped to check that we weren’t catching any and offered similar tales of piscine woe. The river is low and dirty, and the drought on land has extended beneath the surface.
River fishing for native species can be like that. Sometimes all it takes to bring the fish on is an upstream rise in water levels, or a barometric shift. Jason assured me that Murray cod to about 10 kg are caught along this stretch of river, and he knew of a 35 kg cod being caught nearby. This stretch also produces yellowbelly to 2.8 kg, redfin to 2 kg, silver perch, river blackfish and eel-tailed catfish – albeit not on this day.
While most anglers fish the river from shallow-draught tinnies, I remembered the advantages of using a kayak in my youth. It allowed me to go under overhanging willow trees to fish dark, sheltered areas where boat anglers often could not go.