A gauge of an animal’s popularity and standing are the stories and jokes about it. When it comes to Murray cod, the storybook is a tome.
Story By Steve Cooper
Camps along the Murray River are one of the true joys of Australia. Motor along the Murray any time from December 1 – when the season for Murray cod opens – until Easter, and you will come across campers. Some will be sophisticated, with caravans and outside showers, while others are more rudimentary, comprising canvas shelters, swags and a few foldaway chairs.
The campers are invariably anglers. For many people, camping along the banks of the Murray River is an annual event that goes back two, and sometimes even three, generations.
A tradition among anglers who camp along riverbanks is to gather around and spin a good yarn. And when it comes to tall stories, few tales rival those associated with Australia’s biggest freshwater fish, the mighty Murray cod.
One Aboriginal term for Murray cod is ‘Ponde’. The name originates from the belief that the Murray River was formed by the tracks of a great ancestor pursuing a gigantic Murray cod named Ponde from the headwaters to the mouth of the Murray-Darling Basin. Other names include goodoo and greenfish.
Cod anglers are passionate about their fish and hold little regard for imports such as trout, which many call “speckled cod lollies”. Cod opening-weekend competitions, such as the Cod Classic at Lake Mulwala, can attract more than 2500 anglers.
Another gauge to a species’ popularity and standing are the stories and jokes. When it comes to Murray cod, the storybook is a tome. No one belittles Murray cod. However, anglers have been known to stretch the truth and cod tales and jokes are definitive bush humour: a mixture of folklore with a modicum of fact.
There are tales aplenty of cod so big that they had gravel rash on their bellies and sunburnt backs; that the river level dropped when they were landed and their scales were such that just three of them made a new roof for the backyard dunny.
There is a story about the angler who had to follow his fish all the way to the junction of the Ovens and Murray rivers to find a place wide enough to turn it around. It took two frames to get that cod in a photograph, and although the angler forgot the actual weight of the fish, he recalled that the photo weighed two kilograms.
Tales are told that when it comes to a hot bite, things are not like they used to be: “Well,” Old Jack says, “If it’s fishin’ you want, the Murrumbidgee’s the place for big-’uns.”
“Do they bite well there?” a mate asks.
“Bite well! Listen, I’ve seen the time when you had to hide behind a tree to bait your flaming hook!”
Murray cod have a set of serious teeth, so you need a glove to handle them if you pick one up by the mouth. Adult fish are carnivorous and will eat just about anything they can inhale including large freshwater mussels, birds, fish, amphibians, and occasionally reptiles. A friend tells of finding shags and turtles in cod, and mate Gus Storer watched a cod take out three ducklings swimming behind their mother.
Favourite bait sought by anglers is a large white grub that lives underground called a bardi grub. During autumn, the grubs hatch into moths with bodies as big as young field mice. At night these moths sometimes land on the water and you can hear a sound like a shotgun going off as the cod “boof” them off the surface.
The fish has a well-documented liking for golf balls at Lake Mulwala. Cockatoos push dead eggs out from their nests, which the cod eat. A golf ball landing on the water from a mistimed shot is mistaken for a bird egg. Freshwater mussels are also swallowed – the shell opens when the mussel dies and the cod’s digestive juices take the meat and the shell is disgorged.
This story excerpt is from Issue #68
Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2010