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Bite Times

By Stephen Booth

I don't think any of us really get the chance to fish the peak periods of any given fishery due to any number of reasons. It's unfortunate because when the fish are 'on', the fishing is brilliant. 

There is no doubt we all try to be on the water at the right time, but work, family, weather and other commitments always seem to mean you just go fishing when you can.

Evidence and anecdotal information suggests that solunar periods are important to fishing success, but the reality is, at least for me, that I don't fish enough to only concentrate on these peak periods.

When I am cod fishing, I'll fish all day, especially at a place like Mulwala or any of the rivers we fish, because I know my time is limited and I also know that I will come across a bite period during the day where the fish switch turns on. In other places where I am chasing a surface bite, I'll fish the low light periods to hopefully maximise my chances of a strike. What I'm saying is that I just go fishing when I can and make the most of the situation presented to me, and I'd bet most of you are the same.

This piece is not going to be about how you drill down into that peak period to recognise when its coming, rather it will be about making the most of that peak period when it arrives. I say this because for all the tables, charts and websites out there, none are as accurate as being on the water. As they say in the classics you can't catch a fish if your lure is not in the water.

A spark of awareness

I chat to a lot of people about fishing: The where, the how, the why and the why not. These conversations reveal little gems, confirm thoughts that solidify into a theory to be tested.

One such conversation with Lake Mulwala Cod Nationals director and organiser Tony Bennett was a real eye opener. This competition requires every angler to photograph and submit their catch to Tony immediately after capture so they can be recorded and results tallied.

While the competition is filled with exceptionally gifted cod anglers who will always get the odd fish here and there, Tony's records show that there are definite peak fishing periods where all over Lake Mulwala the teams start submitting catches.

Tony described the days of the competition by saying that he knew when it was about to get busy in regards to recording because there would be a period of the odd fish here and there, then, all of a sudden, three messages would come through in quick succession, followed by half a dozen more and eventually a small torrent. Then, slowly, everything would taper off with a couple more stragglers being registered before the fishing and messages quieten down and the pattern returns back to the odd fish. 

What really drove the point home to me was that these fish were caught all over the lake. There was no real pattern of fish being caught upstream and filtering down to the bottom of the lake. The pattern was simply that more fish were caught for an hour or two.

This conversation sparked thoughts of distant trips and the many slow periods of little action followed by periods of very quick action. On my annual week long camping trips this pattern repeats again and again but it wasn't until Tony's conversation that the penny starting dropping really quickly.

More recently we have seen the same pattern at other Murray cod rivers and lakes where, apart from the standard dawn and dusk bite periods, fish have been taken in short bursts of an hour or so.

It's a pattern that happens in many fisheries, not just cod fishing and is well worth you taking advantage.

Make the most of it

Let's assume a bite period comes along and you have recognised it. This really is the first step to making the most of a hot bite.

It sounds simple enough, but the most important thing to do is have your lure in the water for the most amount of time. Do not waste time running around all over the park looking for a better bite. Fish hard in the area you are in as the fish will be there, especially in Mulwala where it seems that every snag can hold a fish at times.

Fishing harder does not mean fishing faster. It means making the most of every cast. There is little point casting 50 more times and retrieving the lure back too quickly, at the wrong depth or even in the wrong spot. 

You are better off retrieving the lure more slowly, as it allows the lure to spend more time in the water where it'll do its job. I'll admit this is hard to do as the adrenalin of a good fish can see the best of us rushing everything, but take a deep breath, consciously slow down and return to what worked.

You'll also need to concentrate on your casts and make sure every cast is a winner. Make sure you get the boat in the right position before you cast to ensure you can run the lure in the right location. Many has been the time where an early, 'try-to-get-there-first' cast has gone horribly wrong only for the other angler to wait that extra 5 seconds and make the perfect, easy cast and snag a fish. Sometimes I feel like that kid who keeps grabbing an electric fence, just to make sure it's still on! Sometimes you never learn.

Fishing harder is a bit like the old pool jumping trick when trout fishing small streams. Yeah you can race ahead and have two casts at every pool and catch plenty of fish, but the best anglers work the right spots in each pool effectively before moving on. It's exactly the same with cod fishing when the bite is on. Fish everything to the best of your abilities.

A recent example of making the most of a bite period occurred last March when we were having a tough day with fish disinterested in our offerings. Then out of the blue we scored a cod. Two casts later another cod off the snag next to the first and the following cast a golden perch off the snag behind those two snags. 

This quick bite gave us the incentive to keep going and highlighted the fact that you need to be on the water - especially if you can't nail down when a bite period will be. And let's face it, we're all just best guessing when it comes to peak bite periods during any given day. 

Other ways to take advantage

While making the right cast and retrieving the lure correctly are important when the bite is on, there are many other things you need to have under your control as well.

When the bite is on, we'll have the net unfolded and the handle extended within easy reach. Cod and goldens are not marathon fighters and having the ability to quickly net a fish helps save precious time. It seems obvious that you'd have your net ready at all times, but the reality is that in most boats we fish from, the net simply gets in the way and is stored out of way, usually collapsed or folded, to allow us access around the boat.

You'll also need a glove or two handy to handle the fish safely, a pair of pliers and of course the camera - all ready to go. This ensures the fish can be processed quickly and efficiently, which is good for not wasting time during the bite period and also very good for the fish's overall welfare if you plan on releasing the fish.

In regards to lures, the best thing you can do is ensure your lures are in good order before you start fishing. I like to retrofit the lures for the day with chemically sharpened trebles where possible. I am a firm believer that the best trebles result in more fish being landed and that is the name of the game. I don't understand people skimping on new trebles when they've paid up to and sometimes over $80 for a lure. It makes no sense to have inferior hooks at the most important contact point. Do this before you miss that fish and before you wreck the dodgy hooks while the bite is on. Changing hooks on the water is just wasting time and something that definitely needs to be completed before the fishing starts.

Historically I have not been a big fan of snaps, with only a few making me feel comfortable. In recent times I have come to love the Mustad Fastach Clip. It has not let me down yet on cod or goldens and makes it so simple to change lures without having to retie loop knots. All these minutes saved are extra minutes fishing. 

Also, where legal, carry spare rods ready to go. There are some archaic laws in regards to rigged rods for lure fishers that are more aimed at bait fishers, but they are in place so you have to abide by them. In a perfect world you would have a couple of hardbody lure rods, a spinnerbait rod and a swimbait/surface-style rod rigged and available to use when chasing cod and goldens. The reality is lure casters can only cast one rod at a time, regardless of the number of rigged rods at the ready.

The last piece of advice is patience

If you don't know when the bite peak will be, you need to be on the water fishing. We are all on limited time frames so really, if you can be on the water casting, you probably should be on the water casting. You need to have the mental patience to see through the slow periods and be ready to take advantage of the hot periods.

There have been any number of times we've just about had enough for the session and a hot bite period has started. This period kept us on the water and, before we knew it, the day had passed and we'd fished through a couple of good bite periods with plenty of empty casts between fish.

The Mulwala Cod Nationals (and competition fishing in general) make you stay on the water and these tough tournament days really make you think about what you're doing and how you're doing it. By virtue of the fact you are compelled to be fishing, you fish through the tough times and come across the good times. 

The trick is making sure you can take advantage of the good times.

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