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River Escapes, Ultimate Murray Cod Guiding

OK this intro is a bit of a long story, but it’s kinda necessary to set the scene… you need to meet the players first.  We first met Nate Tsao on the infamous Reef Raiders GT popping trip to No Boundaries Oman in 2017 where we had land based big Giant Trevally mayhem.  Well Nate and I have remained in solid contact and have fished together a few times since then and become great mates.  Nate is a very modest but accomplished fly caster as well as conventional lure angler and whilst he will deny it he has a fair reputation on Hawaii for his accomplishments off the rocks over there, Nate also wanted to catch a Murray cod (yep I should be able to help with that) – on fly if possible (crap, I am going to need some help here).

First on fly, welcome to the club Nate!

Cameron McGregor I also met in 2017 during a Victoria fisheries Authority initiative, the ‘Care For Cod’ campaign.  I got to fish some clear water rivers with Cam as my guide, Joshua Hutchins (Aussie Fly Fisher) as my photographer.  It was a pretty sweet deal at the time!.  I hit it off with Cam and really enjoyed his calm personality and solid guiding skills on his local rivers which I was pretty unfamiliar with, without his help I think I may have struggled to be honest.  Now Cam is a lot more than a guy who can put you on fish, he also has an extensive background in fisheries management with the qualifications to back it up, rather than misrepresent his CV, take a look at his ‘about’ section on the River Escapes web site;

Cameron McGregor
B. Environmental Management and Ecology (La Trobe University), PFIGA Fishing Guide
‘Cameron was practically raised on the rivers’ banks, and it has been his playground for most of his life. His passion for fishing has transferred into a love of all things to do with rivers and their inhabitants. He has fished for Australian natives all his life. Cameron learnt to fly fish at the age of 12, which fuelled his early interest in entomology and fly tying. During his time at university he studied macroinvertebrates and Australian native fish species such as galaxids. His research interests led him to various positions for both New South Wales and Victorian fisheries departments. Here he researched native fish species such as Murray cod, trout cod and golden perch, invasive species such as carp, and sport fish such as brown and rainbow trout. His research and personal interests have allowed Cameron to accumulate an extensive knowledge of Australia’s freshwater ecosystems, particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin. Some of Cameron’s achievements to date include the discovery of a remnant population of olive perchlets in the Lachlan River and a new species of Coloburiscoides mayfly in the Murrumbidgee River. Cameron, together with Katie, also researched a remnant population of southern pygmy perch in the Ovens River catchment, of which have now not been seen for several years. Cameron is a highly competent angler and instructor with much experience fishing around Australia and abroad’.

Hybrid from skinny water for Cam
Pre drift obligatory pose down two fly boys and me with no idea
So to round out the backstory, Nate had flown into New Zealand then Australia on a fly fishing mission that included a hunger for cod on fly  I had enlisted Cam to help on this particular mission as I know it’s his speciality.  Picking up a mate straight from Melbourne airport with the boat on the back of my ute was not a new thing for me, but I wonder how often it happens, the curb side security staff at Tullamarine didn’t seem impressed to be honest and didn’t think it was the done thing, ah well clearly they don’t fish.  Scooping up Nate and his gear we were off with a B line to the North East of Victoria to meet Cam.  Pulling in late arvo, we also got to meet Katie, Cam’s fiance and a living and breathing Murray cod encyclopedia.  Now I will never do justice to explaining Katies credentials, so this is again ripped straight from the River Escapes website, check it out;
Katie Doyle
B.Science (Hons, First Class)(Sydney University), Post.Grad.Dip River Restoration and Water Policy Management (Charles Sturt University), PhD Freshwater Ecology (University of Queensland)
‘Katie has been enthusiastic about nature all her life. This passion led her to study biological science at university, and then to specialise in her post graduate career in freshwater ecology and the management of marine and freshwater resources. Katie has recently completed her PhD on the management of invasive common carp (Cyprinus carpio) in the Murray-Darling Basin (supported by the University of Queensland and the Invasive Animals Co-operative Research Centre (IACRC)). Part of this research involved detailed studies on the diet and habitat preferences of native percichthyid fishes including Murray cod, golden perch and Australian bass. Her aquatic-based research has taken her to places such as Thailand, the South Pacific and throughout Australia. Throughout her lifetime, including her travels, experiences and university career, Katie has gained an intimate knowledge of fauna in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and has a deep appreciation of Australia’s native fauna species. She aims to communicate current scientific research to the general public in an enjoyable way in the hope to maintain and protect freshwater resources and the life they support’.
Katie clearly knows here stuff, because when she talks, Cam shuts up and pays attention, it was an absolute treat to have her with us for the 5 days.  Nate also is a marine biologist, so there was a lot of fish nerd stuff being discussed during this trip, I did a lot of listening.

Introductions over and once settled in it was time to consider some fishing.  We had pretty hot weather so wading a small river was in order and Cam took us to the first spot X, the same river he had guided me during the Care for Cod campaign, a place that looks more suited to trout than cod to be honest.  The very hot day suddenly cooled off  to a chilly windy evening and wading was not quite as much fun as we thought it might be.  Fishing for about 2 hours in gin clear water Cam and Nate both scored our first fish on fly and I blanked on conventional casting.  It was so cool to see Nate tick off the cod on fly wish so quickly, nothing left to do but upgrade!  Job done, time for a beer and perhaps a rum or two.

Smile, you’re on dome cam

Waking to a hotter than hot day, a decision was made to fish the afternoon through to dusk, after a best ever meat pie experience for Nate, we made our way to river number 2 with the River Escapes drift boat in tow with a plan to fish 8 and a half kilometers of prime clear water river, the only thing against us were slightly elevated flows.  It was invaluable to do this activity with a experienced guide for a number of reasons, firstly safety, the competent operation of a drift boat in current cannot be understated, secondly it’s a completely different style of fishing and being ‘guided’ is extremely helpful, the tweaks that Cam suggested to our approach were spot on. Real 1% adjustments that make a big difference.  Finally, talking all day about the fish’s behaviour with someone who understand them so well is a treasure, you just soak that stuff up like a sponge.

Drift boating, must be experienced!

River number 2 provided some decent shots at fish,.  Nate pinned one on fly and I also managed one on  conventional tackle, for small fish it was notable that they go so hard in the fast, clean and clear water.  We both missed chances and had follows, I briefly hooked a better fish late in the afternoon on a weedless rigged Megabass Magdraft, which is absolutely perfect for skipping under willows, but on the flip-side, can be tough to get a solid connection.  We finished the last hour of the day on foot fishing creek number 3, no fish were harmed in that process.  After a substantial drive back which included a near miss with some deer and the revelation that pineapple on pizza is in fact not a Hawaiian thing.  We fell into bed around midnight, not a beer was had we were way too weary.

Clear-water cod taking a liking to the Megabass Big M4.0 in ‘Aussie Reddie’ color
Walking banks, avoiding snakes

Rising mid morning for day 3, the plan was for a collective move to Lake Mulwala.  We had ticked off a couple of fish for Nate on fly, it was now time to set our sights on a trophy fish.  90cm’s was the bar which is a pretty lofty for the cod on fly brigade.  It was a two boat affair now, with the drift boat tucked away and the River Escapes 5.8m Action Craft and my 4.2m Mako Craft in tow.  Unfortunately it was blowy and the lake proved too difficult to fish so we opted for some shelter further up river.  I again had a missed bite flipping willows with the weedless Magdraft from an 80’s class fish which rocketed up to smash it on the splashdown.  The fish dropped the bait before I even engaged the reel in gear, it was obviously a reaction bite.  Later in the evening when the wind dropped out, Nate raised two fish on the surface but neither seemed motivated to connect.  Our first blank day for the journey, welcome to Murray cod fishing Nate!  It was  another late night.

Cool Mulwala sights, and potential cod food if they fall in
One on top on a blooping fly for Nate
Mulwala, land of many opportunities and Murray cod of all proportions

Day 4 was an early start, my favorite time to be on the water and a solid plan had been hatched with Cam to work an area that should be just right this time of year,  the two boats about 200 meters apart, we worked every laydown and stump we could see and some we could not, thank goodness for the brilliant Chartered waters Mulwala maps on the 12 inch Simrad screen, it is almost unfair!  Well it’s not,…you still need to get the fish to eat!  A few fish were raised on surface that missed and Nate scored one on top on a blooping popper fly, awesome!  I also managed one subsurface at about 60 cm that came home for a BBQ.  Nate was keen to try wild Murray cod on the plate, it did not disappoint either!  The wind came up and it was all over unfortunately, building through the day and right through the evening creating a bit of a fishing write off for the day.

Some healthy looking Mul fish at the moment
Nate on the wand
Happy days on River Escapes with Cam

Provided the wind dropped overnight, the plan for day 5 was a slightly different area.  Good news, it did!  With about a two hour window of opportunity before I had to get Nate back to the airport, it was game on!  So with our 4 a.m. start it was a quick coffee and launch.  Serious and proper cod fishing hours and routine.  Cam and Katie were working fly, with Nate and I throwing wakebaits as his casting shoulder had succumbed to the strain of the 10wt, day after day on his 20 day Down Under fishing odyssey.  Pretty soon it was obvious the fish were on the job… finally! Nate was boofed but the fish missed and in quick succession I scored a couple of nice fish all on top.  With 20 minutes to go before our designated stop fishing time and as the sun appeared over the tree line, my little Megabass I-Loud was detonated on by a clearly bigger fish… it hit like a GT!  Stripping a short amount of line very fast, I was buried under the lay down from where it had come.  It was time to get over there and stay calm!  Positioning the boat over the fish, I tried to work out how to get the line untangled as Nate prepared to dress down and jump in.  Just as it looked like he may need to get wet, my drag sprang to life and the fish powered out with the line twanging off from whatever it was hung up on,.  Line was crackling on the reel and mud and weed churning up from the bottom… we were free!  Never have I had a cod play up so much in a lake.  Showing ample power and stamina with the 20lbs flurocarbon getting a serious workout.  Nate was sure and calm on the net and the adrenaline dropped with the prize secured. YES!  It was a very happy couple of minutes with her in our company, job done at 102cm’s a new Mulwala PB for me.  Nate’s commentary was “I now get why you like these fish”, enough said.

Boom!, this fish was the cherry on top of a great trip, thanks Cam.
Off you go beautiful

To wrap up… I dropped off Nate in plenty of time.  We scored well,.  Ticked boxes.  Had a great time and got our trophy!  A true happy ending and good vibe that did an excellent job of keeping our weariness away on the drive back to Melbourne.  A final word on Cam and Katie’s River Escapes operation; if you are a new cod on fly or lure caster, book with them!  Plain and simple you will accelerate your learning at multiples you would not imagine.  Experienced anglers, I defy anyone to not still learn from these guys.  Their knowledge pool is deep and they have a calm, no pretences friendly way of imparting it to others. I highly recommend the operation and people.  Check out River Escapes on the web, Facebook and Instagram
They also fish trout, but that’s another story!

River Escapes, working the timber on the wand


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