Lake Mulwala separates the Victorian and NSW towns of Yarrawonga and Mulwala. It is a little over three hours’ drive from Melbourne and is popular with anglers seeking native fish such as Murray cod and yellowbelly.
The lake dates back to 1937, when the Murray River was dammed to create a large body of water for irrigation. However, the lake is more than irrigation storage; it is a major drawcard and largely responsible for the booming tourism industry – particularly anglers – in Yarrawonga–Mulwala. The Cod Classic is held here every December to mark the opening of Murray cod season, and it regularly attracts more than 2500 anglers and their families, making it by far the biggest freshwater fishing competition in Australia.
Lake Mulwala is about 12 km long and 4 km wide. The Murray and Ovens rivers join at the east end of the lake at Bundalong, and the Murray River bed passes through the southern shore, which at about 14 m is the deepest part of the lake. Anglers fishing here require a NSW recreational fishing licence.
The lake is particularly attractive to anglers because the red gum forest wasn’t completely cleared before the lake was created. In 1937, the River Murray Commission refused to undertake the tree- clearing program proposed by the citizens of Yarrawonga–Mulwala, so the following year some of the locals began felling the trees themselves. Only a few were cut down and those that were toppled were never removed. The result is a lake full of structure, with ideal habitat for species such as cod and yellowbelly.
The standing timber is also popular with nesting cockatoos. It seems cod have difficulty distinguishing between eggs cast out of their nests by cockatoos, and stray golf balls landing in the lake. Many cod have been found with golf balls in their stomachs.
The lake has long been highly regarded for the quantity and quality of the fish that can be caught. Many anglers and fisheries people rate the lake as the nation’s most productive Murray cod water. While most cod are in the 2–3 kg range, captures of 20 kg and bigger are also possible. Yellowbelly are prolific, and European carp are everywhere.
You don’t need a boat to catch fish in the lake, although it helps. Plenty of cod, yellowbelly, redfin and carp are caught from shore, and sometimes even trout that have strayed down the Ovens River.