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Have a go at Canberra’s Murrumbidgee River
  |  First Published: July 2017



I haven’t written a lot about my hometown of Canberra and the fishing options right in the heart of the city until now. This column has, for the most part, centred on kayak locations in NSW, which are difficult to get to and sometimes hard to fish, but worth a visit.

The fishery that best represents this idea of tough but rewarding angling from a yak in the ACT has to be the Murrumbidgee. It can be dangerous, puzzling and heart breaking, but the rewards easily outstrip the negatives.

Facilities

The Murrumbidgee runs through the outskirts of Canberra, so the facilities available to visiting anglers are the same as any medium-sized city around Australia.

There are several tackle shops where you can stock up on supplies with the standout being Otto’s Tackleworld. The brains trust of the Canberra angling scene work at the shop and will give you sound, honest advice which can be of significant help to a novice kayak angler visiting for the first time.

Don’t forget to bring a life jacket and beacon – there is no mobile reception along parts of the river. These two items are a necessity when fishing the river, as there are dangerous rapids and other issues to contend with like snakes. I have even heard stories of snakes swimming alongside kayaks and trying to get aboard for a rest. Having a beacon means that if you do get into trouble, you will be able to contact emergency services.

Pack plenty of food and lots of water. I would even recommend bringing sports drinks or Hydralyte. A big day on the river can be very draining if you aren’t properly hydrated.

Species

The Murrumbidgee is chock-full of carp and redfin. It also contains healthy populations of Murray cod and golden perch. Most yak anglers stick to the cod and goldens with a few local guns consistently producing amazing results. Michael Wilson is perhaps Canberra’s best known ‘Bidgee kayak fisho with his largest capture to date being a 116cm beast.

Techniques

It’s very important to keep it simple when fishing the river from a kayak. You’ll be contending with rapids, overhanging trees, submerged timber and large boulders, so the last thing you want to be thinking about is trying to dead stick a large vibe or punch rig a big plastic.

If targeting cod, I slow roll swimbaits through and around heavy structure. I mention ‘through,’ because sometimes I will cast a swimbait right into the overhanging willows that line the banks then retrieve. Inserting the occasional pause into the slow roll can trigger a bite, as can steadily lifting the rod tip during the retrieve to make it look like a fish fleeing towards the surface.

A slow roll retrieve also works well for surface lures cast near exposed rocks in the river. These lures do most of the work for the angler and some of the actions on these lures are incredible. I always attach a second split ring to the rear treble of all my surface lures to ensure a better hook-up rate.

When targeting goldens, I use vibes and plastics while employing a burn and kill retrieve. Cast the lure at a snag, allow the lure to sink for a few seconds then wind the lure back to your position quickly. When the lure is close to the yak, stop winding and allow the lure to sink again. This mimics a fleeing and then stunned baitfish, which drives the local yellowbelly population crazy.

The Kayak

The ‘Bidgee is no place for a cheap kayak. The rapids are nasty and the submerged rocks and timber can tear the bottom of a yak to pieces.

I use my Native Slayer Propel and it handles the conditions well. The only issue is the propel drive which has to be lifted from the water when heading up the shallower sections of the river.

Paddle yaks are more suited to fishing this river. I have witnessed my friends in Wilderness kayaks moving up the river with ease leaving me to contend with the pedal drive issue. These kayaks are also designed for standing and casting, which is perfect when you find the bigger pools and can drift and cast along the willows.

The Sounder

I use a Lowrance Series 7 Ti and though I have only been using this unit for a short time, it has dramatically improved my catch rate. Being able to read the temperature of the river as well as watch the snags below the kayak with both side scan and down scan has given me a far better understanding of how dynamic the Murrumbidgee River is and how to fish it successfully.

For instance, some pools in the middle of winter can be significantly warmer than others. Without a sounder, they can be hard to find. Likewise, the amount of snags under the surface has to be seen to be believed with many large fish holding right in the centre of the river with no visible structure on top in sight. I have also been able to plot where I have caught fish and there is a distinctive pattern that becomes so much clearer with the help of a good quality sounder.

Locations

It’s very important to launch your kayak in a public area and not on private land. Much of the river runs right through private property, which means that launching in these areas is illegal. Respecting the farmers which work the land around the river is integral to the ‘Bidgee experience.

Remember, you can stop at any of the islands located in the middle of the river but pulling up to the sides and onto private land is not advisable.

Timing

The Murrumbidgee fishes well from December 1 right through until August 31. I don’t know anyone who fishes the river during cod close, because no one wants to accidently catch a cod while targeting other species. The locals turn their attention to the lakes around Canberra during this time.

Tackle

For casting swimbaits and surface lures, I use a 7’6 swimbait rod (heavy) matched with a low profile baitcaster. This is a powerful, long rod designed for throwing big baits. Casting giant lures all day with a regular rod can be exhausting. With the proper rod it’s much easier. I run 25lb braid and 30lb leader on my reel.

For throwing plastics, vibes and small spinnerbaits, I use a 6’10 (med/light) baitcaster rod matched to a Daiwa Pixy Type R. This rod has plenty of finesse about it, but has a lot of power in the base of the rod making it perfect for tying up with big yellas. I’m also always in with a chance of landing a large cod using this combo, which is a big plus – large fish sometimes take small lures.

Conclusion

The Murrumbidgee River is an interesting proposition from a kayak. It’s dangerous, exciting, frustrating and rewarding. Finding a launch site is the first hurdle and then it’s learning to navigate the rapids. Once these issues are resolved and you spot a large cod on the sounder, the fun will begin. You’ll forget all about your wet feet and the long paddle back to your car.

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