By former Murray River fisheries officer TREVOR SIMMONDS
The lower section of the Murray River (often called “River Murray” in SA) has been a place of habitat, worship, hunting and gathering since before recorded time.
Tying up a houseboat to the bank on a secluded part of the river is still one of the state’s most enjoyable fishing experiences.
However, fishermen usually go to the back of the boat and cast to the other side of the river.
The middle of the river is basically a desert.
You may catch a fish, but will have more chance if you place shrimp pots and baits in water near the river bank.
Take your rod to the front of the houseboat, which should be bow in to the shore and stern out.
Drop the rig into the water and slowly walk to the back of the houseboat, bouncing the sinker off the river bed until you must let out 1-3 metres of line.
What you have found is the drop-off used by fish.
A dinghy or canoe provides a great way to explore the creek and river systems.
Echo sounders help when trolling deep lures along cliff-face drop-offs in search of murray cod and callop.
Look for snags or fallen rocks.
Bait fishing is the preferred method for me but lures are popular.
Fish snags in deep water with deep-diving lures.
Fishing in the lakes that follow the river can be productive.
The state has become reliant on Murray water, and decision-makers have allowed many changes to the river.
The initiatives have left a lot to be desired from a habitat perspective, and some of the problems created will never be rectified.
Some of the man-made changes that are significant include:
1. Locks and weirs
2. European carp
3. Redfin perch
4. Gambusia (locally called a guppy or mosquito fish)
5. English willow
6. Agriculture (irrigation)
7. Desnagging the river for vessel traffic
8. Domestic water use
9. Commercial and amateur fishing pressure
Many fishermen will be surprised to learn that on average 80 per cent of water was historically taken from the river.
Also, because of the six locks located along the South Australian section of the river, man has created six pools of water and eliminated the previously free-flowing river.
Free-flowing water is important to native fish as it acts as a trigger mechanism to induce spawning.
This is important in flood seasons as the native fish use the floodplain to lay eggs and the flooded plains provide the much needed predator protection and food sources for juvenile fish.
Negatives aside, the Murray River is still one of my favourite fishing destinations.
What other place can you sit on the river bank, catch your bait in the same place as your fish, and observe the wildlife.
I recommend the associated creek systems, where you can watch spoonbills catch yabbies and then fly up to their nest and feed their young. All this while kangaroos, cockatoos and other wildlife come down to the river to drink.
Murray River species
The Murray cod (Maccullochella peeli) is the river’s largest fish.
This was once the dominant species in the river, but was soon fished down, and not long after white settlement fishermen started expressing concern about the quantity of cod in South Australia.
There was a marked decrease in the number of small cod between the 1kg to 10kg range, although cod from 10kg to 30kg were relatively plentiful, with some magnificent specimens of 40kg to 50kg.
Fortunately, due to a fisheries management plan, the number of smaller cod has since increased.
Cod like large snags and they readily take lures. They should be released.
Callop, also known as yellowbelly or golden perch (Macquaria ambigua), are the most prolific native freshwater fish for the SA angler.
These and cod were historically the main target of the commercial fishing industry, with annual callop captures ranging from about 40 tonnes to 150 tonnes, depending on river conditions.
Silver perch (Bidyanus bidyanus) are found throughout the river system, although there has long been a concern that their numbers are falling.
They are usually caught as an incidental catch for the angler when fishing for callop.
Silver perch are fully protected and must be returned to the water.
The eel-tail catfish (Tandanus tandanus) is unfortunately struggling.
This great table fish is one of the casualties of the carp introduction.
The catfish builds nests to breed and rear their young, but faced the ground-disturbing feeding habits of carp.
Although some catfish are caught while fishing for callop they are no longer a target species, and are fully protected.
Bony bream (Nematalosa erebi) are very common throughout the river system. It does not take a baited hook readily. They are able to live in brackish water and stay alive for a long time on a hook, making them useful as bait for murray cod, and in the saltwater Coorong area for mulloway.
Large numbers of bony bream are seen by tourists floating dead in the river with a cotton-like substance or red mark on their side. This is a natural occurrence.
Trout (brown and rainbow) are a rare catch in the Murray but one of the only introduced fish in the river not to be regarded as noxious.
The Murray River crayfish (Euastacus armatus) was once plentiful throughout the system (mainly in the upper reaches of South Australia), but has suffered a massive decline in numbers.
It was thought the crayfish was extinct in South Australia.
However many local fishermen have illegally transferred crayfish from interstate and deposited them in the river.
The locations are a well kept secret, but to my knowledge the crayfish are thriving and reproducing in some areas. The crayfish is only active during the cold months. They are fully protected.
The yabbie (Cherax destructor), unlike the crayfish, is a summer catch.
Yabbies are very common throughout the river system, providing a food source for people and fish.
Fortunately for the angler, they are very easily caught using baited drop nets and yabbie traps.
The best time to catch yabbies is just after a flood in summer as the water level starts to fall. Most are caught on inundated floodplains, billabongs and creeks.
Carp (Cyprinus carpio) are a noxious feral fish that have taken over much of the river.
Many fishermen believe European carp are not worth catching, but it must be said that a 5kg carp hooked in shallow water on 6kg line puts up a struggle worthy of any sportfish.
Carp must be killed when caught.
Redfin perch (Perca fluviatilis) were introduced by English fishermen and though a feral pest they are a well-regarded as a sport and table fish.
They are mainly caught below Mannum and in Lake Alexandrina.
It is illegal to return redfin to the water.
Another introduced species is the tench (Tinca tinca), a revered fish in Europe, but not much regarded in Australia.
The tench takes baits in quiet backwater areas and fights quite well.
The tiny mosquito fish is usually caught in shrimp traps.
It is illegal to return mosquito fish to the water alive.
Murray River fishing spots, South Australia
1. Renmark to the NSW border, including lock six. The Murray River National Park exists in this region. Boat ramps at Headings cliff and Renmark. A myriad of creeks and numerous lakes and billabongs exists throughout this area. Whilst Chowilla Creek is the most popular it branches into the Monoman Creek that, although not navigable all year, produces callop and yabbies. The best spot is in the area around the second bridge that enters lock six on Chowilla Creek and the upstream and downstream ends of Monoman Creek where it enters Chowilla Creek. A bank launch is possible. Also downstream is the Headings Cliff boat ramp. Most houseboats moor at the entrance of Chowilla Creek and travel upstream by tinnie. Lake Littra and Lake Limbra are in this area and access is only by the old Wentworth Road. Hunchie Creek is located on the northern area of Headings Cliff. Tinnie access for callop and yabbies. Lake Merriti is in this area and on a falling river it is very productive for yabbies. It contains the largest ibis rookery in the Southern Hemisphere. Contact National Parks before entering this area. The most productive area is the southern end of the lake and the creek that enters the Hunchie creek. Ral Ral creek that enters the main river at Renmark will produce callop, cod and yabbies. It is also worth travelling above lock six and fish the creeks that enter the river, particularly on the northern side. Remember if you travel beyond the border into NSW then their laws apply.
2. Paringa – including lock five. Good boat ramp. Good fishing below the lock on the western side of the main river. Numerous small creeks flow off the main river and are very popular for callop and yabbies. A tinnie launch site is located below Salora off the Loxton to Paringa road. Bank fishing on the northern side upstream from Lyrup is popular.
3. Lyrup – good boat ramp. Gurra Gurra Lakes are productive for big carp particularly in the shallow water and some callop in the area of the Bookpurnong Bridge on the Loxton to Berri road. About 2k downstream from Lyrup is a large sweeping bend and some cliffs in an just above Wilabalangaloo. This area is renowned for large cod and callop.
4. Berri – well situated on the river with a good boat ramp. The other side of Berri has a ramp at Bookpurnong Cliffs. Lock four is located between Berri and Loxton. It seems best to travel downstream from Berri to the Bookpurnong cliff area and further to lock four. A camping area and bank launch exists below the cliffs on the Loxton side of the river. The road to Kataraptko Creek is located near Berri. This will enter a national park so please ring NPWS for any regulations. This is a great spot for family camping and bank launching is possible. A track will also take you to the western bank at lock four. Depending on the road conditions a 4WD may be essential.
5. Loxton – a historical town with great launching facilities. It is also close to the famous Kataraptko creek. The river immediately below Loxton near the caravan park produces some big callop and this area is used for the Loxton Apex Club Fisherama each year in January. Numerous sandbars exist above Loxton and are very popular with locals and the house boaters. Look for a deep channel for your callop. Fishing below lock four is very productive with the best areas immediately below the lock outside the restricted boundary and an area within 200m upstream from the upstream entrance of Kataraptko Creek. Within 5km downstream from Loxton is the famous Kataraptko Creek. On a falling river the “Kat” is very productive for yabbies. All year callop are taken from either bank (via Berri) or by boat (via Loxton) Boats can also be launched at the ramp area situated about 8km between Loxton and Morook.
6. Moorook and New Residence – good launching facilities. Launching at Moorook will give boat access to the main river and the shallow lagoons upstream. Although large carp exist in the lagoon it appears that the main stream in this area is the most productive for callop. Access to the Black Fella Creek area is achieved by boat at high flood or by vehicle from Barmera and Cobdogla. This would have to be one of the most popular yabbie areas during falling river conditions. Fishing the bank immediately in front of Moorook is definitely worth a try.
7. Barmera – a lake off the main river good fishing and great launching facilities. The area of Lake Bonney can at times produce very good catches of callop and some redfin. Bank fishing is productive however using a tinnie among the dead gum trees is more productive. Although depth sounders are not readily used in this area I would suggest they should be as most callop are among the snags. Chambers Creek bridge is worth fishing for callop and is easily accessible at both ends at Lake Bonney and Kingston. Cobdogla area is a good camping area with many callop caught from the bank.
8. Kingston on Murray – a ramp exists and is located just above lock 3. Kingston on Murray produces good callop upstream and from the bank, however most fishing is done below lock three situated just downstream. Access to bank fishing is via the lock three road between Barmera and Waikerie on the northern side of the river. Good yabbies are taken in the area between Overland Corner and Lock 3 on a falling river. Bank launching and cod and callop fishing is at Overland Corner.
9. Waikerie – good launching facilities. Lock two is located downstream. The main river between lock two (below Waikerie ) and Overland Corner upstream is very productive for callop, carp, cod and yabbies. Access is available for bank fishing along many tracks that branch from the main road between Kingston on Murray to Waikerie. Good fishing can be had from the bank in the township although within 2km upstream is preferred, fishing close to the bank. Telegraph Cliffs further upstream is definitely worth a try for cod and callop, although a boat is necessary.
Downstream from Waikerie on the floodplain there is a bank launch on the first big bend and this will be one of the closest approaches to fish an area called Broken Cliff which is a popular spot for callop. For the bank fishermen there is also an opportunity to fish Broken Cliff as it is accessible by crossing the ferry and following the road on the northern side of the river. Boat launch is also possible in this area during the summer months. Further downstream is lock 2, and the angler should fish for about 1km downstream as this area is definitely one of the most popular and productive areas on the river.
10. Hogwash Bend – bank launching. Hogwash Bend is accessible by road along the Waikerie-Cadell road. A very popular spot for camping and an easy spot to bank launch your boat. The many creeks upstream and downstream are productive for yabbies in the summer months particularly during a falling river. Callop are also in good numbers in this area.
11. Morgan – historic town with good launching facilities. Now we are getting closer to Adelaide and you will find it more difficult to have a piece of river to yourself. The historical township of Morgan including the Cadell area are productive for the angler as callop are in good numbers both upstream and downstream and yabbies are in numbers during the summer months, particularly in the small creeks that enter the main stream. Downstream from Morgan as you approach Blanchetown there are numerous lagoons and billabongs these are definitely worth a fish especially if you can locate some submerged snags.
12. Blanchetown – lock one and good launching facilities. Great place for the day tripper. This area features lock one and good fishing for callop and carp can be had from the bank immediately below the lock boundary. The river downstream from Blanchetown is very attractive with spectacular cliffs and good callop fishing. Further downstream is a good spot for callop in the area of Stockwell Pump. Vehicle access, bank launching and camping is achieved along the Blanchetown Swan Reach road to an area immediately opposite the pumping station.
13. Swan Reach – great launching facilities. Swan Reach is within an easy drive from Adelaide for a day trip or extended holiday. Fishing at Swan Reach can be productive for callop and carp, but upstream fishing is preferred.
14. Walkers Flat – good launching facilities. Nildotte is a small town that should not be overlooked. It has good launching facilities and this area can produce callop. The lagoons across the river produce bag limit yabbies, especially during summer after a flood on a falling river.
15. Mannum – great launching facilities. The historic town of Mannum is a tourist mecca, however for the angler callop catches are not as plentiful as upstream. Although this area can produce callop, and occasional redfin perch and yabbies, it is unfortunate that the river banks from Walkers Flat downstream are plagued by the introduced willow tree. There is some good fishing for the boat owner among the willows, mainly when these trees have full foliage in summer. Unfortunately, bank access is restricted.
16. Murray Bridge – great launching facilities. The lagoons in the area are a good place for catching carp. This area is a great area for a day fishing trip from Adelaide. Carp are plentiful, with the occasional callop and redfin. Willow trees are again a problem. Almost all fish from Murray Bridge downstream to the lakes have a yellow tinge and the red on a redfin perch can at times appear almost non existent. As carp are so readily caught, there is always a chance for the family to have fun.
17. Tailem Bend and Wellington – both have good launching facilities. Wellington is the gateway to Lake Alexandrina. Both towns are carp central.
18. Meningie – the heart of the Coorong on Lake Albert. Good launching facilities. Also carp central, with occasional redfin.
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Some external videos filmed on the Murray River are featured below.