Join us as we journey through another collection of newspaper articles, oral histories and photos from True Tales of the Trout Cod: River Histories of the Murray-Darling Basin that tell the story of the Central Murray Catchment.
Due to the length of the Murray River, the Sustainable Rivers Audit divided the river into three separate catchments. The Central Murray catchment was nominated as the area existing downstream of the wall of Lake Hume, encompassing the River and its anabranches to Lock 10 near Wentworth.
History of Fish in the Murray River Catchment
Cod were originally abundant in the upper central Murray River and supported a significant commercial fishery. Near West Wodonga cod were the type of fish most frequently taken by anglers (McFarlane, OH 53), and at Wahgunyah the Murray River was described as being ‘literally alive with codfish, bream [and] perch…’. According to a 1928 survey, ‘almost every day numerous Murray cod and Trout cod’ were captured.
Aboriginal people along the central Murray recognised that there were two types of cod and used different names for them. In the Wemba Wemba language of the Swan Hill area, the Murray cod was known as ‘Pandyil’ and very large specimens as ‘Kurrumerruck’, while the ‘Murray trout’ were referred to as ‘Ngumel’.
Macquarie perch were described as ‘plentiful’, Golden perch were recorded as being caught ‘at intervals’, while there were daily catches of up to 11 Silver perch.
This 1913 Argus newspaper article provides a beautiful picture of fishing in the region…
It was on my great day that I paddled, or rather drifted, down the Murray one mild, cool January morning. Above me an opal sky, below the rushing stream, there brawling over a shoal, here crisping to a vagrant breeze, there running smooth as glass over a deep pool, never still, never silent, always sucking and gurgling, bubbling and sighing, whispering its messages to the vacant fancy.
It was a voyage of discovery. Never before had I wetted a line in the reaches I was about to fish. I was breaking ground for a friend who was to join me a few days later on. The river, low and clear, served my purpose well….Every quarter-mile or so was a long hold, 50 yards by 10…I anchor, and from one of these holes I take a couple of clean run Murray trout, averaging about 5lb., good fellows to fight, and the very best size for the table.
Changes to fish distribution and abundance
Newspaper accounts suggest that there was a reduction in fish stocks between Wodonga and Yarrawonga by the early 20th century, with concern expressed about the effects of overfishing and pollution at Rutherglen and Corowa.
After the fish kills that occurred between 1929 and 1934 due to copper sulphate treatment of the Hume Weir, native fish were very rare near Wodonga. By 1935 at Barnawartha, Golden perch and Catfish had completely disappeared, juvenile native fish were absent, and only a few cod were taken. In 1937, anglers between Albury and Corowa reported the catch rate of cod to have dramatically fallen to one a month.
With the construction of the Yarrawonga Weir in 1939, native fish populations upstream became isolated, and by 1950 only the two cod species were found in any quantity above that point, with the river and lagoons being dominated by Redfin perch, goldfish, trout and tench.
Oral History from Hugh Dick of Tocumwal
The biggest Trout cod I ever saw back then was 11 pound. The other fish that was there was the tench, particularly in the creeks. I can go back 60 to 65 years, back to the ’50s. In those days you could use the mussels. The fish won’t touch the mussels now, nothing will, it might be the pollution in them. The biggest change I have seen is the ribbon weed disappearing, and the slime. The carp at the weed. The big fellas used to live under the weed, the cod.
The Current Situation
While the central Murray is considered by many anglers to be a good fishery, particularly for Murray Cod, the Sustainable Rivers Audit reported that three large native fish species had not been detected during recent surveys. These fish are River blackfish, Catfish and Macquarie perch.
With the disappearance of Trout cod populations in the Murrumbidgee and Ovens catchments by the 1980s, the Murray River between Yarrawonga and Cobram contain the last remaining wild population of the species. Trout cod are now abundant down to Barmah with anglers recently confirming captures near Torrumbarry, Murrabit and Swan Hill.
The central Murray River in the Barmah area has been the focus of research on the biology of native fish, with investigations into floodplain inundation and larval fish recruitment to develop protocols for environmental flows. In 2001, the Sea to Hume Dam Fishway Program was initiated with the goal of restoring continuity of fish passage upstream over man-made barriers, including locks and weirs, from the Hume Dam downstream to the Murray River mouth.
Central Murray Catchment Videos
The map below shows the location of the Central Murray Catchment, including major waterways and key localities.