This section of the Murrumbidgee River begins on the eastern boarder of the Riverina around Gundagai in Southern NSW and makes its way in a westerly direction passing through the biggest inland NSW city of Wagga Wagga, then Narrandera, Darlington Point, Hay and Balranald as the last township along its journey.
The terrain that this section of the Murrumbidgee River cuts itself through is mostly flat clay terrain with red gum forests lining the banks in certain areas. Across the Hay plains the river is the only break in the harsh flat landscape of nothing more than a few saltbushes. Between Gundagai and Wagga Wagga is the only section in which the backdrop is undulating rocky hills. The rest of the river west of Wagga Wagga flows through almost a dead flat landscape, far from the rocky steep terrain of the Upper Murrumbidgee.
The lower section of the Murrumbidgee is the longest of the four different sections as from the Gundagai region onwards the river is fairly similar and the same tactics for catching fish apply the whole way down to Boundary Bend. Also the river is easily accessible by a boat below Gundagai. Upstream from here the water becomes fast, rocky and skinny making it difficult for boat access.
Downstream of Gundagai the Murrumbidgee is a large Murray Darling Basin river, which can be summed up as a conventional western flowing Murray Cod river. It runs across the clay landscape which it has carved itself into overtime. The river bed and banks consist of mostly clay and mud which therefore results in a dirty to stained water colour year round, except in the heart of winter. There are patches of sand which shows up in piles on many inside bends as well as a few rock ledges, rock walls, rock bars and stone rapids, which are most prevalent between Gundagai and Wagga Wagga. The river is also littered with masses of timber, especially big, old river redgums which create the majority of the homes for the native species. Some sections of the river have been de-snagged to make way for the old river boats which use to travel the river. This has destroyed the habitat for native fish and the river has felt the impact in reduced numbers in these areas.
The flow rate along the Murrumbidgee River changes dramatically as it is regulated by both Burrinjuck and Blowering Dams. Due to the need for water during irrigation season the river flows higher during the summer months and come winter the river can be reduced to a trickle. This is the norm although during years of drought the river barley gets above one metre and at the other end of the scale during the floods the water was flowing at incredible speeds with heights of between 3-5 metres year round. The average height is between 1.5-2.8m depending on how the water is being released and also depending on what section along the Murrumbidgee you are taking your reading. At the most western reaches of the Murrumbidgee around Balranald the river always looks deprived and unhealthy. Usually by the time the water reaches its end the irrigators have pumped the majority of the water from the river.
The depth, flow rates and width of the river also vary on either side of the weirs. Above any weir the water is backed up, slow deep and wide. Below the weir is usually shallow, skinny and flows with pace. Berembed, Yanco and Gogeldire Weir are perfect examples of this along the Murrumbidgee River. Overall the river is ever changing throughout its journey and every bend of the river different from the one above.
There are an array of lagoons, creeks and anabranches that connect to the Murrumbidgee between Gundagai and its junction to the Murray River. Tarcutta Creek, Old Man Creek, Bundigerry Canal and Lachlan River are just a few of the tributaries that connect to the Murrumbidgee River.
The Murrumbidgee River was the name given by the Aboriginals which translates to ‘Big Water’. This river was the lifeblood for the native Wiradjuri tribe that lived throughout the area. It provided them with a source of food, water and other resources that they needed for survival.
In 1821 Charles Thorsby came across the iconic river and by 1830 settlements began for farming areas. From then on the Riverina region around Wagga Wagga has become a huge agricultural and farming area, all due to the water source that runs its way through the heart of the region.
The Murrumbidgee River is known for its numbers of Murray Cod that are found throughout the entire lower section. The cod are healthy and in good numbers. There average size is around the 45-55cm mark and there are lots of them at this size (this is the average size of the cod that get caught). There are good numbers of more solid fish around the 60-65cm size that show up every now and then in a day’s outing.
Murray cod above the 70cm size are much rarer and they do show up eventually with a bit of hard work. Even though the average size is small there are some absolute monsters that call this waterway home. There are big fish all along the river that crack the magic metre mark, in saying this they aren’t easy to catch. Fish have been talked about up around the 140cm size hiding in there somewhere, amongst the underwater red gum forests.
The Golden Perch are another species with a solid stronghold of numbers in the Murrumbidgee, although the distribution of this fish is very odd. In some sections they flourish, whereas in others they are a rarity. Between Gundagai and Wagga there is a good population of Goldens. From Wagga down past Narrandera they seem to disappear. They are there as we catch maybe 1 golden to every 20 cod, but there isn’t many there. Down around Yanco and Gogeldrie Weir again there are good numbers of Goldens. Then down through the Maude region and way out west they are everywhere.
The average size is only small as they are a river fish, between the 35-45cm size, with the odd bigger one getting around. They can be targeted by bait fisherman, by using the correct bait and fishing in the right areas, although lure fisherman seem to target cod and catch the yellowbelly as a by catch.
The endangered Trout Cod is a precious and somewhat unknown species to the Australian angling community, unless you fish areas in which they live. Restocking programs throughout sections of the Murrumbidgee River have seen them begin to grow in numbers. There are still minimal Trout Cod compared to Murray Cod, although to an angler it sometimes feels like there are more Trout Cod lurking about. The reason for high numbers of Trout Cod being caught is because of their extremely aggressive nature. They will attack lures and baits with much more aggression and much more often than a Murray Cod would.
Trout Cod look very similar to Murray Cod which can make telling them apart a difficult task. Ensuring that you know the difference between the species is vital to ensure that all Trout Cod are released back into the water unharmed. These are the few features that can distinguish the two species apart:
Unfortunately the European Carp are in huge numbers throughout the Murrumbidgee River just like other waterways. In saying this they are good fun when fishing with kids and are usually one of the first fish that young country kids will catch. They are great to help teach the skill of angling and gives kids plenty of practise.
Techniques and Tactics
The Murrumbidgee River overall is a brilliant Murray Cod fishery and especially this lower section. Throughout the lower section (Gundagai to Balranald) the same techniques and tactics apply no matter what part you fish. As you venture further upstream a different approach is needed.
The Murrumbidgee is such a versatile waterway in terms of the fishing approach you take or what style of fishing you prefer, it caters for all.
The size of the river allows for anglers to fish from boats up to 4-5m in length with ease. It also caters for bank fisherman with the numerous amounts of reserves that allow for successful bank angling. You can spend a relaxing day on the water under a shaded tree soaking a bait or you could be a diehard lure fisherman who casts to timber all day long.
Bait fishing would be the preferred technique to use in the Murrumbidgee by most anglers. It’s easy, enjoyable and relaxing. The standard bait fishing techniques you would use anywhere, applys to this waterway as well.
The Murrumbidgee River has some exceptional lure fishing to offer, it’s a lure fisherman’s paradise. With the masses of timber that cover the banks, it enables anglers to both cast and troll successfully for cod and golden’s.
Casting is the preferred method due to the large amounts of bankside structure. Casting spinnerbaits is by far the most used and most successful technique, as you can let the lure sink down in against the structure. The Murrumbidgee River is used for irrigation so majority of the time the water is flowing with pace so most of your hook ups will come close in against the bank and this is why the spinnerbaits work so well.
When the river runs low between 0.8m-1.5m there is masses of snags protruding everywhere. Slow current makes for the best casting opportunities. When the water runs above 2.5m most of the logs are covered and the current flows quickly. This makes lure fishing a little more difficult, but it is still successful with a slightly different approach. You have to target any log that is sitting up against the bank in slow enough water to enable your lure to get down. It is all about precision casting right into the log where the fish is hiding. If the cast is too short the current will pick it up and sweep it away.
If you want to have fun and catch a heap of small to average sized cod for the day, I would recommend casting at small to medium sized snags and log jams. If you are after an above average fish of 70cm+ I would concentrate your efforts on big and old red gum logs, they are home to the monster fish. The problem is, you don’t come across big fish very often.
Now surface fishing is overlooked in this section of the Murrumbidgee, as the water is too quick, wide and deep. This doesn’t stop the waterway from producing some brilliant surface action as it can do a certain times. It would have to be the most exciting way to catch a cod and it does work in the Murrumbidgee if the correct approach is taken. Any sized surface lure from 50-120mm will work, the most important aspect is to ensure it makes as much noise and water disturbance as possible. The Gobsmacked surface lure range is by far the preferred choice as they have a huge variety and size in the range. Target areas that are shallow, slow current and tight up against the snags. You will be surprised how many cod will actually come to the surface to take your lure.
Another successful lure fishing technique used in the Murrumbidgee River is trolling diving hard body lures over submerged timber. This technique works exceptionally well when the water is low as the chances are higher of getting large cod.
When it comes to trolling the river there are a few things to look out for when choosing your run. Rule of thumb is to troll in tight against the banks and not down the middle of the river. The edge of the river is where all the fish hold and the middle of the river is much too fast. Down towards the western end of the river where it becomes more deprived of water and has much less flow, trolling down the middle is possible.
First ensure that it is ‘physically’ possible to troll the bank. By this I mean make sure there are no above water trees that make it impossible to get through with a boat. Banks with huge newly fallen trees that cover the water column are almost impossible to troll over.
The next most important part is to find a bank that is loaded with masses of submerged timber (a sounder will make this task simple), especially big old red gum logs, they hold the best numbers and quality of natives. The best types of banks are; straight banks and deep outside bends, although when the water is high and flowing quick, try to find trolling runs that are in the least current. The current of most outside bends when the water is up will be much too quick for tolling, although when the water is low they are perfect locations to concentrate your efforts. It just depends on the time of year.
Now the best depth to be trolling at can vary depending on the height of the water, try to find areas of at least 2.2m and anything deeper the better. Try finding the deepest parts of the river and this is where the monsters will be holding up. When trolling ensure that the lure is making it down into the underwater forest and staying down within 50cm of the bottom.
Trolling speed can vary and many times it will depend on the current. Rule of thumb is to ensure your lure is working with a proper action (most of the time the lure will be working due to the quick currents). If you come across a good trolling run with all the desired features, make sure you work the bank about 5-10 times (depending on how good it is), you will find that it could take many runs before the fish actually takes your lure.
This Murrumbidgee River is a popular waterway for all kind of anglers throughout the Riverina. It is a magnificent waterway with many different options to suit everyone. You can bait fish for carp pretty much anywhere along the river or you could be a keen angler and love targeting Murray Cod on spinnerbaits. If you have never been to this beautiful part of the world I recommend heading down to the river. I hope this overview of the river will help you find success on your next Murrumbidgee River visit.