Copeton dam is a destination any keen cod angler will know about. Its hard not to have heard of the iconic location with photos streaming daily across social media of happy anglers encountering the huge cod that inhabit the lake.
You’ll either be one of two people when it comes to Copeton, someone who’s been there and experienced it or someone who wants to. I was in the latter camp and when I saw that a couple of mates John Cahill and Andy Smith were heading up with their good friend Sean Farmer, I convinced (pleaded) them that they needed a “decent photographer’ to document the journey. With no argument, it wasn’t long before I found myself with boat in-tow, following the boys north to where the big cod bite.
Sitting some 1200kms north of Melbourne, its a big journey for Southerners, the sort of drive that should really be done over a couple of days but with time-off precious and hungry cod waiting we pushed hard and arrived at around 10:30pm after a 4:30am start.
Usually when rolling into an unfamiliar location in the middle of the night its not until the first rays of light the next morning you get to see what is before you, however on this occasion the making full moon beamed from the sky and gave a great lay of the land. Expansive bays, points and the big white granite boulders which make the landscape so iconic illuminated under the big bright light in the sky almost as if it was daylight. We all quickly rolled out the swags, well those of us that remembered to bring them, (cold night Andy ?) and got in a quick night sleep before an early start the next morning.
As I mentioned earlier the main draw card for so many anglers, is the size of fish in this lake. Fish over the magical meter mark are a common occurrence, with specimens in the 120cm and 130cm mark not out of the question. Coupled with the size of the fish is also their willingness to eat surface lures in some very shallow water. I don’t think I know one cod angler that doesn’t get excited by the thought of a boof from a cod regardless of size, so its quite easy to see the mass appeal of a place like Copeton.
We all came on the trip with different expectations and goals, for me the task was quite simple. Catch a fish, my first fish in the prestigious meter plus category. The sum total of all my years cod fishing (be it not that many) have only resulted in a personal best of 90cms.
Our first morning started very early, with the moon set and the sun not to come up for another few hours, we all set off from the ramp in near total darkness. John and Sean have fished the lake previous, so after picking their brain for a few pointers in what to look for Andy and myself headed out in one direction whilst the other boys headed the opposite.
We started working along a rockwall fringed with standing timber, both choosing to fish surface lures. Casting in the dark cold hours of the morning, it was a long and tedious wait for the first glimpse of light on the horizon, however as soon as it appeared the action heated up. We came to the end of the rockwall when my lure got slammed after no more than two cranks of the handle, I came up tight, but unfortunately pulled the hooks not long after. We worked our way around the corner, positioning the boat a cast away from the bank and casting our lures almost to the edge before slowly retrieving them back. I’m not sure if Andy was still half asleep at the time but one wayward cast missed the water entirely and ended up on the bank. Fishing a Mudeye snake, we joked about how he was going for the “natural presentation” of a snake entering the water, he said watch this “BOOF”, and not a second later a fish came out of nowhere and hammered his lure. Both in hysterics we managed to compose ourselves and get the fish into the boat. A healthy 82cm Copeton surface cod to open the account for our trip.
We continued to work the rest of the bank, missing a much larger fish which boiled my surface paddler without committing. As the sun grew higher, we decided to explore the lake and get a bit of a feel of the place, motoring around marking likely looking areas to comeback to over the next few days under the cover of darkness.There’s no shortage of things to cast at.
The next few days saw us work out somewhat of a pattern. The fish seemed to be much more active during the morning, with peak bite times varying each day usually an hour either side of sunrise. These bite times would usually only last half an hour to an hour, where activity would come thick and fast, so positioning yourself in the right place at the right time was paramount for success (a task much easier said than done on a new body of water).
While throwing surface lures is great fun and a very visual form of fishing, its not always the most productive. We encounter many fish that would boof, swipe or boil a surface lure, only to miss the hooks, both an exciting but equally frustrating occurrence. A different tactic was required.
If you have spent any time on social media, you would have noticed the uprising of swimbaits amongst the cod fishing fraternity in recent years. With most swimbaits designed to catch XL Largemouth Bass in the US and Japan, more and more Aussie anglers are discovering the potential these lures have for our iconic aussie sportsfish.
Now swimbaiting isn’t for the faint hearted. These lures are usually large is size and heavy in weight. Big bait, big fish is definitely the name of the game here, and with some of these lures weighing in at over 6,7,8oz, some serious tackle is required to throw these big baits. We used a range of rods from GLoomis and MARS aswell as some new prototype blanks from Murasame which all handled the task with ease. A dedicated swim bait rod is usually much longer in length 7’6″ – 9ft” and designed to cast much larger weights than conventional “cod rods”.
With the exception of Sean we were all relatively new to the Swimbait game. Having purchased a variety of cod worthy offerings in preparation for the trip we were all excited to give them a go.How big is too big? The Balam 300 is 300mm long and this fish had the entire lure down its throat! Sean with a sizeable specimen taken on the 8″ Spro BBZ-1 The finch carp was demolished by this feisty cod (Photo: Andy Smith)
We found success on a variety of both soft and hard swimbaits. Hard swimbaits from Spro, Jackall, Finch and Madness all proved successful, however the soft body Megabass Magdraft in both 8 & 10inchs proved a standout when the fish were holding that little bit deeper.John with one of the few fish we managed to pull in the afternoon.
Swimbaits proved to be much more successful when it came to bite-to-hookup ratio. As these baits swim subsurface it gives the cod a much greater opportunity to inhale the lures and this usually occurs with far more accuracy than a surface take.
The Long Road
Now remember when I said this article would have been much different if I had written it at the start of the week? Well after only a few missed opportunities, I had personally had very little success, playing spectator to most of the captures. My first fish came on day 3. A somewhat amusing catch, I had finished my retrieve and had the lure dangling in the water boatside whilst I decided on where to cast next. As I lifted the rod for my next cast a cheeky cod jumped out of nowhere and attached itself to my Gigantarel, it was hardly the fish I had come to Copeton for though….
I tried to stay positive. I was staying on much longer than the other boys who soon had to return home for work, so I had time up my sleeve, but needed a much needed boost in confidence.
My last session while the boys were still here was fishing with John. We worked a bay he had much success in the previous few days, so I was keen to get on the water. Casting around a shallow bay in darkness for over an hour we had very little action, then like clockwork as the first glimpse of light appeared over the horizon the action started, my surface lure was the first to get eaten, but once again failed to hook up. John was next up, hooking a nice fishing in the mid 70s on the 10″ pink magdraft we nicknamed “the fleshlight edition” (I’m sure you can work out why)
We continued to work the bank, moving around a grassy point with the occasional boulder and sparse shrub. John switched to the 8″ Magdraft and found near instant success. This time with a fish in mid to high 80s.
It was hard to get angry with quality fish coming into the boat but to say I was getting a little frustrated that none were connected to my line would be a bit of an understatement.
The sun had now popped its head over the horizon and based on previous days experience once this occurred the bite practically stopped.
I was now just going through the motions, casting without much hope, actually thinking I should write an article about how much cod fishing sucks, when all of a sudden my lure stopped in its tracks mid retrieve, the rod buckled over and the water erupted as the fish thrashed around. Moments of elevation quickly turned to concern, with my sole focus on keeping the hooks in this fish. Thankfully John was quick on the net and the heavy swim bait tackle made short work of the fight. My first decent Copeton cod was on the deck and it was Hi-fives all round. How good is cod fishing!Sweet relief as the fish hits the deck! 95cms of Gigantarel crunching cod.
A quick measure on the brag mat revealed whilst not the holy grail I was chasing, a new PB of 95cms lay before me and I couldn’t be happier. This fish came at exactly the right time and really boosted the spirits moving into the next few days.
The session ended on a high and we returned back to camp to pack up the gear and send the boys on the long journey back to normality.
Solo Sessions & A Ring In
With the others now well into their journey back and the bite slow, the afternoon light got the better of the photographer in me and I spent that afternoon taking in the beauty of the location and the species that it called home (of the non finned variety).
A few weeks earlier I had organised to meet up with another friend who now lives in Queensland, Spiro Spyropoulos who was to head down after work for a couple of quick days fishing. I wasn’t expecting him till the following afternoon, so I returned to get an early night ready for fresh start in the morning.
The next day saw me working over the same stretch of bank of the previous days success. I fished surrounding areas first to be on the prime position as the light changed.
Fishing alone has its pros and cons. Solo fishing allows you the freedom to work an area at your own pace and cast to all the likely looking spots without the worry of cutting off your fellow co angler. A definite con is having no one around when a fish hits your lure and you have nothing prepared, which is exactly what happened next.
Working around the same point as the previous days, my rod loaded up and I was fighting a much more energetic fish. This day was little windier than previous days, and trying to control the boat, whilst fighting the fish and assembling the landing net all at once was certainly a challenge, I ended up drifting off the bank quite away whilst the fish slugged it out in the deep, taking several runs around the boat. I eventually got the net under her. With two quality fish in two days and this one coming on a new technique (more on that later) spirits were at an all time high. A quick measure on the mat and a few photos and she was off.
After the mornings action subsided, I went for a look down the river end of the lake. For someone from down South used to fishing our local lakes there is nothing that comes close to the landscape in this part of the lake. Huge boulders, the size of cars, buses and even houses litter the bank and are quite a sight to see, let alone to fish amongst. I slowly motored my way up river, exploring the surroundings whilst fishing big plastics and chatterbaits in and amongst the rock crevices and likely looking ambush points. I pushed up as far as I could go to where the river shallowed right out and traversing via boat was no longer an option. I would have loved to park it up and go and explore the upper reaches on foot, but with Spiro not far away I will have to save that adventure for another day.
I met up with Spiro that afternoon and after a quick catch up we set off to explore a different section of the dam, we fished well into the night hoping to get a bite but knew our best shot would be the following morning.
Unconventional Tactics & Pay Day
I figured our best chance at getting Spiro onto a fish was to return once again to the same area, where the fish had been holding the previous days. However upon arriving at the ramp, we realized we were not the only ones who wanted to fish that part of the lake. Two other boats were approaching my favoured point, and with daylight fast approaching, I made the bold move to leave the fish I knew and approach an entirely new stretch of bank uninhibited by fellow fisherman.
As we approached this new bank, it had much more standing timber, which made casting in the dark a little challenging. After retrieving a few wayward casts from trees and over logs, the sky finally began to lighten. Bait started to flicker all around us, then the sound of a huge surface boof reverberated from 50m up the bank, a clear sign an unlucky bait-fish had made a wrong move and met the inside of a cods cavernous mouth and near certain death. Everything felt right, and I was sure we were going to get a bite.
Now remember that new technique I was talking about? As well as casting a swimbait, I also ran one short out the back, letting it drag behind the boat. I nicknamed this “the sleeper”, all it did was lie out the back of the boat on the surface, occasionally getting tweaked along whilst moving from spot to spot.
There was a few things that made me try this technique. The first being I was doubling my chances. Two lures in the water has got to give you a better odds than one right? The second was that almost all the fish that had been caught over the last 5 days had come from the back half of the boat, I’m not sure if that was due to all my friends being more skilled anglers than myself or whether there was something more too it but I needed to investigate. I cast a Jackall Gantia out 15m from the back of the boat and put the rod in the rod holder and resumed casting.
Spiro was first up among the action getting a small tap on his plastic as it sank through the water column. An encouraging sign but then all seemed to go quiet. For a morning that looked so promising it was turning out to be the worst yet.
We continued to work around the bay and its series of smaller points. The sun now poking its head through the clouds we were running out of time. I peppered casts towards the bank in every which direction, when I heard an unusual sound. I looked down to see the rod in the rod holder bouncing around as line peeled off the reel. It was another chaotic moment as I launched towards the rod, hoping the hooks would hold long enough to get control over the fish, thankfully Spiro was on board to assist with the net but I still had the Minn Kota controls around my neck and trying to stay in contact with the fish, whilst turning the boat around to un-weave it from the stands of timber took some skilful co-ordination with a hint of luck on my side. The fish surfaced from the deep with its mouth wide open shaking its head. I’m not sure if it had any idea what was going on at this stage as it was quite docile. Not yet ready with the net, the fish woke up and took off. It was another tense couple of minutes as I played the fish on the lightest rod in the boat an 8-12lb Gloomis spinnerbait rod, hardly designed to be the giant tamer I needed at that moment. After a brief glimpse of the fish, I was near certain that this was the one that I had come to catch. The sheer size across its shoulders put it in a class above everything else I had seen for the week. I followed the fish around the bow of the boat, dodging the electric motor whilst trying to raise the head of the beast. The feeling of relief when the fish finally powered its way into the net was overwhelming.
I normally take photos then do a quick measure before release on most fish, but on this fish I couldn’t wait to find out. I knew it was big but was it big enough? I dunked the brag mat in the water and unrolled it across the deck, gently pulling the fish from the net, I nestled its nose against the start of the mat. 102cms! After 6 days fishing in arguably one of the best cod dams in Australia, I had finally done what I came to achieve.It feels like this moment has been a long time in the making.
With Spiro having to get back for work we returned to shore, head held high. I was once again left fishing solo for the last day of the trip.
The last morning had a much more relaxed feel to it, after playing the percentage game for most of the week with swimbaits, I opted to spend the last day throwing top water for a bit of fun, I raised 4 fish and managed to convert two finishing the trip off with a 75 and 84 both taken on the Mudeye Rattle snake. This brought my total for the trip to 6 with a combined group total of 21 fish.
An amazing week in an incredible location. It will be a trip that I will remember for a while and I cant wait for my return visit, whenever that may be.
A huge thanks to Sean and the Ebb tide boys John and Andy for letting me tag along and Spiro for making the journey down to share such a momentous occasion.