by Stephen Booth •
Lake Mulwala, on the border towns of Yarrawonga (Vic) and Mulwala (NSW) is considered by many as the sacred heart of cod fishing in Australia.
For me, Mulwala is the place I visit when I have 5-10 days of freedom from work and family commitments. I’m not quite sure why this is… it’s a mixture of the place, the fish, the way we fish and, most importantly, the people I fish with. Over 30 years of fishing the pond has given us a lot to talk about around a campfire, and we’ve come up with some ideas and methods that will give you the best chance to make the most of this fishery. So let’s get on with my list of things you can do, as a beginner lure fisher at Mulwala, to catch a fish.
Mulwala is 20-odd kilometres long and is riddled with timber. Fed by the Murray River, which is highly regulated out of Lake Hume at Albury/Woodonga, and the Ovens River, one of the few unregulated rivers left in the entire Murray-Darling system, Mulwala is largely used as an irrigation storage to service a massive area.
Two major irrigation outlets empty out of the lake, and of course the mighty Murray is released at the Yarrawonga weir. This means that in irrigation season a lot of water moves into and out of Lake Mulwala – an important point that we will discuss a little later.
The main target species is Murray cod, however the lake has heaps of golden perch, uncountable numbers of carp and the occasional redfin that anglers catch. Other species are caught once every five or so years, but they’re so rare it’s just not worth talking about.
Murray cod are not stocked in Mulwala. This is because the cod population is so healthy and with access to an unregulated Ovens River, the cod can usually breed every season.
On the other side of the coin, golden perch are stocked into the lake, and these hard-hitting fish are a welcome catch on lures.
Mulwala is open to fishing year round, however during the cod closed season, anglers should downsize their lures if they are looking for golden perch. This is a hotly debated topic locally and regionally, as many believe the lake should be closed to all fishing during the cod closed season. I’m a bit both ways. I’ve fished a golden perch comp during the closed season and the biggest lure we used was a No. 2 StumpJumper. We fished only my favourite golden perch snags but landed seven cod and only one golden perch for the day! That was enough for me to give away fishing the lake in the closed season, but I do live 1800km away! I still get to fish goldens in other, much closer lakes at that time of year.
Legally you can chase goldens, carp, redfin and more, so I have no problem with people fishing the lake at this time of year. Just reduce your lure size and do not target cod. I don’t care who you are, if you’re chucking a 1/2oz or bigger spinnerbait or a swimbait in Mulwala in the closed season, you are probably not chasing goldens and if you think you are, you need to learn a bit more about fishing.
I am going to give you the five things we tick off the list when we are fishing in Mulwala. If you’re new to the lake, you can follow these five tips (which are listed in no particular order) and put yourself in the best position to catch a cod or a golden, regardless of when you are visiting the lake.
If you are unable to follow one or more of these tips, all is not lost – you can still catch a fish. One way to look at it is if you are baking a cake. The cake turns out much nicer with all five ingredients than it does with a couple of ingredients missing.
Water flow is one of the key elements to fishing Mulwala. It pushes baitfish around, it allows predators to sit in the perfect ambush position and it can bring a welcome relief to high water temperatures during the summer months.
Finding flow is not hard in Mulwala, and the closer you are to the two inflowing systems and the three outflowing channels, the easier it is to find. For me that means fishing the top third of the lake, say from Skilands (on the Victorian side of the lake) up to and above Bundalong. Alternatively, fishing from Kyffins Reserve (NSW side) and Hogans Road Ramp (Vic side) down to the Weir wall is also a good place to find current in high flows. The Mulwala irrigation channel leaves the lake just to the east of the main Mulwala township, while the Yarrawonga irrigation channel departs the lake between the weir wall and the main road bridge.
Towards the weir walling the lake it’s easiest to find flow on the Mulwala side as there are flats nearby with plenty of trees where you can easily see the tell-tale swirls and eddies indicating water movement.
Up around Bundalong and Skilands, it can seem like the whole waterway is moving and, truth be told, it probably is all moving. This means you can fish almost anywhere and be in with a shot at a fish. One tip in this area is to find sharp corners in the main river that lead onto heavily timbered flats. While a lot of water turns to follow the main river, a fair bit of water pushes up onto the flat, creating some beautiful current to fish.
The simplest way to explain lure choice is to choose lures that run to the depth you are fishing. For example, if I am fishing a flat that is 1.8m deep with hardbodied divers, a StumpJumper size 2 is perfect, as is a Custom Crafted Extractor or a Kuttafurra Mud Honey 75. If the water depth then shallows up and I am fishing 1.2-1.5m, I’ll go a Gidgee Fatty Junior or a Mudeye Happy. If the water depth deepens off to 2.1-2.4m, I’m looking at the Zerek Giant Ruby or a Kuttafurra Mud Honey 100 or even a Custom Crafted Fish Stik.
These choices and need for change are almost made redundant if you are fishing a lipless crankbait, swimbait or spinnerbait as you can allow these lures to sink to the right retrieve depth or retrieve a little quicker in shallower water.
If I was asked to simply catch a cod in Mulwala, I’d use a 1/2oz spinnerbait because I can fish it in 1.2m of water right down to 4m of water on the river edges. They are extremely versatile and catch fish after fish.
While I will fish lures for certain depths, most of the time I am looking for a particular depth and that is 1.5-2.1m of water.
This depth is easily fished, allows you to make out most of the snags and laydowns, and holds plenty of fish. There are plenty of monster cod caught in 2m of water every year, especially on swimbaits and surface lures, so don’t go into these waters thinking you’re only chasing smaller fish.
A lot of the flats in the lake are within this depth range, especially the top two-thirds of the lake. This depth range is also found in the Everglades area, around Skilands and there is a lot of it around Bundalong and in all the run through creeks and channels.
My biggest Mulwala cod came from 1.5m of water on a spinnerbait fished along a massive laydown. We’d only ever caught fish up to about 80cm in that area and I was practising for the Freshwater Masters event to be held two months later. It was December, a couple of days after the Cod Opening Classic and I was fishing stupidly light with 10lb braid and a 20lb leader. Sometimes you’re lucky but I stress this is not the way to go about chasing big fish in Mulwala – it was just dumb luck the fish didn’t find a snag to bury me in!
Regardless, it does show that a big fish can turn up at any time in what many would believe is water too shallow for their bulk.
It’s a pointless exercise going to Mulwala and thinking you can fish all of the well known spots in one trip. The sheer size of the lake means it’s a long way from the top of the lake to the bottom so you need to concentrate on an area.
Luckily there are many boat ramps (of varying quality) that give access to Lake Mulwala. This means you can launch relatively close to the area you want to target.
Public boat ramps are found on the Victorian side at Bundalong, Majors Creek, Hogans Road and the Yacht Club. On the NSW side there are public ramps at Drain Lane, Kyffins Reserve, and three ramps from the eastern extremity of Mulwala right into the town proper. There’s also a number of private ramps, generally associated with accommodation venues that visitors to these places can access. Lake Mulwala Ski Club is one of these with excellent ramps and facilities, so access to your chosen location is usually not a problem.
It’s difficult for me to say which location to go to at any given time because every year is different and every day is different, so the best advice is to pick a location and stick to it for the day. For example, a good starting point for many is Kyffins. This area has stacks of laydown timber, lots of flats and is one of the areas that holds big fish.
Another good starting area is Majors Creek. The ramp here has just been upgraded and is a very easy to use ramp. The only issue is that they forgot to upsize the parking options and it can fill up very quickly on weekends.
When I first visited Mulwala we spent a lot of time fishing from Hogans down towards the weir wall in a place called The Willows. Since that time I’ve spent years camping up at Bundalong, using the Bundalong and Majors Creek ramps, but more recently I’ve spent a lot of time camped out at Mulwala fishing and getting to know the areas around the Pumping Station, Kyffins and Hogans a lot better. The reason for the change has been attendance at comps such as The Australian Freshwater Masters, Cod Opening Classic and the Lake Mulwala Cod Nationals, which are all held from Mulwala rather than Bundalong.
It’s a never ending story of learning and getting to know the place, but please don’t go there thinking you can cover the whole lake in a trip – it’s just too hard.
The Aussie term for timber in waterways, snags are the foundation of any fishing trip to Mulwala, but where do you start in the lake of two million trees?
If you get your location fundamentals sorted, such as current, depth and location, then you can narrow down your search quite significantly. For example, if you are fishing out of Majors, you can go in any direction from the ramp, pop up onto a flat and start your search for the best snags.
The best snags have current across or along them, are either laydown snags that are off the bottom and not buried, or a large tree with a big root ball that is scoured out. If you think about my two favourite snags, they both provide one important thing: a roof over the cod’s or golden’s head. I am firm in my belief that when resting, native fish like a roof over their head. It protects them from predation from above, and also creates shadows that the fish can use to launch ambush attacks on their prey.
These snags are also an ideal main home from which native fish, especially cod, can wander around on the hunt. Some of the weedy flats where really big fish are caught every year have some of the most amazing laydown snags that I bet these fish call home. When they are caught out in the open, they are on the hunt, actively chasing a feed. But when they are done feeding, I bet they go and lay up on a good snag.
This doesn’t mean you can’t catch fish from smaller stand-up snags because you can. The last fish of the 2017/18 Freshwater Masters that secured our victory came from an area we call the small sticks. It’s an area where you can usually pick up a fish or two that is actively on the hunt, but it’s dead water when the fish are off and resting as there are no larger snags for the fish to rest up in.
Mulwala is not like shelling peas, she can be a very tough mistress at times and when you think you have a clue, it’s donut day!
Following some of the advice above puts you in the best position to get yourself a fish, and make the most of those bite windows when they come around.
Certainly there are 20 or more other factors that influence the fishing at Mulwala such as barometer, moon phase, wind direction and strength, time of day and year, and even where the baitfish concentrations are found. However, if you are visiting Mulwala for the first time, or you’re struggling, just go fishing.
Keep your area small, concentrate on finding the right type of spots, and success will be yours in no time at all.
• Best time: April May
• The perfect spot: 1.5-1.8m of water with current running alongside a laydown with a lot of horizontal structure off the bottom and nearby weed.
• Best outfit: 4-6kg baitcaster outfit, 30lb braid, 40lb leader
• Top 5 lure colours: Purple, black, olive, redfin, yellow/black stripes
• Top 5 diving lures: StumpJumper No. 2, Gidgee Fatty Junior, Zerek Giant Ruby, Custom Crafted Extractor, Kuttafurra Mud Honey 75
• Top 5 lipless lures: Jackall TN70, Zerek Weedless Fish Trap, Jackall Doozer, TD Woofer, Zerek Maniac Vibe
• Top 5 swim/glidebait: Jackall Gantarel, Zerek Live Swimbait, Jackall Gigantarel, Bone Focus, Zerek Flat Shad 7”
• 5 other must-have lures: 1/2oz Bassman Codman, AC Invader 90, Mudeye Rattle Snake, Kuttafurra Creeper, Pimp Daddy
• If I had one outfit rigged with one lure it would be a Venom 6kg 7ft baitcast rod matched to an ATC Combat Plus 200 reel loaded with 30lb braid and topped with a 40lb fluorocarbon leader. To this I would tie a 1/2oz Bassman Codman in colour 7.