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An Early Cod Fishing Trip

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An Early Cod Fishing Trip

I can remember as a teenager being taken on a cod fishing trip out west by some older blokes, one of them I worked for and when he asked if I was interested I leapt at the chance. I was to be the camp labrador or gopher in exchange for being taken "fishing". When we  arrived at Goondiwindi, I met the blokes we were going "fishing" fish, one was a local council road works foreman. He had arranged for his team to pump a couple of water holes dry and then harvest the little carp out, the perks of being a council foreman I guess. These carp were to be used as live bait for cod, I had no idea how these carp were going to catch cod, but was keen to find out. In all I saw some 2000 odd little carp get loaded into bath tubs that were mounted on the back of Tojos with air pumps running in them to keep the fish kicking. Early next morning we set off over the border to a river around Collerenebri.

Every time I see one of these movies of security teams in some middle eastern country where a convoy of cars seem to roll so close to each other it's so obvious there's something to protect (or hide), I think back to that trip & the interstate carp smuggling run. The itinerant carp seemed to be given first class treatment being checked on regularly on the road, even though I had to sit on the back of the ute toe keep an eye on them all the way and tap on the roof if there seemed to be anything going wrong.

Camp was set up and sufficient wood collected for a couple of days worth of foot warming and cooking, the tinnie hauled down off the roof racks, the rattily little outboard clamped on and off the old fellas went. They returned regularly for me to haul more bucket fulls' of little carp down the river bank from the ute-mounted bath tubs strategically parked in the shade of a larger than average ballah tree, the hum of an air pump ever present.

Wire tow cables were strung across the river with a dropper line of 6 or 8 mm braided rope every 10 feet or so, then every snag had a set line hung off it complete with car tyre inner tubes for springers and hooks that seemed, to a pimple faced teenager, more suited to a Vic Hislop monster of the deep than any fish that could possibly live in a small muddy river out west. The whole affair took close to a day for the old fellas to tie off cables, rig set lines, bait up the carp, and discuss tactics before cracking a bottle of Johnny Walker Black label to settle in to a few days in the bush.

After a breakfast of lamb shanks, bacon and eggs (a couple needed panadol as well) the old fellas fired up smokey to go check the hundreds of precious carp, hooks carefully pinned through their backs. They came back with nothing.
Boredom hits teenagers pretty quick so shanks’ ponies ended up taking me miles along the river pegging a whopping great aeroplane spinner off a hand line loaded with what seemed to be 100lb whipper snipper chord like an aboriginal brave swinging a bull roar; the old blokes could hear me for quiet a ways.

Much to the annoyance of the old fellas, my COOEING dragged them out of their lazy chairs and away from their scotches down to the river to investigate all the noise just as the mother of all cod had near pulled my skinny 60 kilos into the river, my Bludstones gaining little grasp on the steep black soil river banks, whipper snipper chord wrapped around my waist to free up my hands in some stupid attempt to climb back out of the water. I had almost got the fish to my feet after a crunching initial strike that caught me way unprepared for anything remotely like it. Recovering quickly the fish seemed to just be happy to be hauled towards me until it got close to the bank before in what I was to later learn typical cod fashion hit the after burners in one of those often short but almost unstoppable bursts of power. This was on a scale I had neither the strength, balance nor foot hold to slow, but I didn’t let go, hence the mud slide down the river bank.
Not so much as a word was uttered to check I was ok as it appeared a football scrum had just packed and I was the ball. I was picked up and unceremoniously carried back up the bank where the line could be unwrapped from around the tangle of waist, arms and legs. I watched on as a bloody great cod that seemed almost as big as me was skull dragged by hands strong from years of hard work, after one last lunge for freedom that moved enough water to have snags on the other side of the river rocking.

Before I knew it, this magnificent green fish was hanging off a set of butchers scales under a river gum at camp, gutted and gilled before I even got the mud washed off and did the barefoot tip toe back to camp. The scales were pulled down to 36kg....
Being the first cod caught for the trip, I was informed, that the first cod always goes to the property owner, so it was the freezer for this fella. To say I was devastated to see this magnificent fish gutted and gilled is an understatement.
A late afternoon run saw the old fellas return with "only one four wheel drive" (turtle) so Johnny Walker was again called on to give these "fishos" a reason to smile.

Day 3 dawned and the old fellas seemed a bit more encouraged that more jolly green giants were to be had. Smokie was fired up for the last time, and the old fellas seemed to be taking forever to come back from the downstream section of the river, they must have something good on board for sure I was thinking... It turned out that it takes a lot longer to pull cables, droppers and set lines down than it is to set them back up; no more cod were sacrificed that day.

Those precious little carp that were treated as VIPs were now of little value, and as such had their bath tubs simply tipped off the side of the utes, water flooding around the back wheels turning soil to slop and even carrying far enough down the river bank that some of those carp managed to flap their way down to the water and freedom.

On the way back to Gundi (still on the back of the Tojo) I thought well if that's cod fishing, I don't want to do it again, but something inside me was pretty excited when I got to thinking about catching another green giant like the one that near pulled me into the river. Thanks to fishing magazines I soon learnt that was how cod fishing is done by dumb ass rednecks...the magazines mentioned things like Stumpjumpers and Darts which were quickly acquired. Since then, and much to my disappointment, I've been trying to catch a cod that big again. Maybe one day I will..... 

This one was 72lb but very skinny.  I'm the shortest person in the pic, so it was a while ago.  Dad got it on a Green Flopy in Punt Creek which runs between the Ovens and the Murray Rivers at Bundalong.  That's how it was back then, catching a fish meant food on the table.  I never saw Dad set a line or a square hook (gill net) but there were plenty around who did back then.

A Marshall:
A great yarn Fitzy, takes me back to my childhood, going on fishing adventures with dad & uncles to Bogabilla & more local Stanthorpe spots. Days spent planning & bait collecting, then camping under canvas tarps, with carbide lamps for light & urea & water mix to cool the beers.

Cheers Andrew

A great story, well told.

And without a doubt there's still people that go "fishing" as described above.... On the up side, most of them are old and hopefully their methods die with them.  :walkplank


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