Category: High Risk
A LOT of estuary cod are caught accidentally by anglers seeking mangrove jack and barramundi in creeks or emperor over inshore reefs, but very few target cod intentionally. Those who do praise both their fighting ability and eating quality. In other parts of the world estuary cod go by the slightly grander description of grouper. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve raised my hopes when feeling the powerful surge of an estuary cod with my lure in its mouth. Visions of a big barra or mangrove jack gracing me with its presence fade to brown – specifically the brown mottled markings of an estuary cod sitting boatside with its mouth open.
Typically cod shaped, the estuary cod’s colouration varies with its habitat but is generally brown in colour with oblique bands on its sides and reddish brown spots.
In WA waters estuary cod are usually caught up to five kilos, but they are known to reach 25 kilos. A three-kilo fish would be considered sizable in our mangrove creeks.
The range of the estuary cod is from Shark Bay northwards, with Kimberley creeks and inshore reefs holding the biggest populations. Although most commonly associated with estuaries, creeks and inshore reefs they are also known to live in depths to 100 metres.
Breeding and migration
The estuary cod is yet another tropical species that is a protogynous hermaphrodite – that is, cod function first as female and second as male. The species is considered to be an open water spawner with pelagic (floating) eggs. Little is known about the breeding and migration of estuary cod, but it is likely to become a valuable aquaculture species because it is highly valued in Asia.
The degradation of mangroves and inshore trawling present the biggest threats to estuary cod.
Tackle and bait
Nine-kilo braid should do the job in mangrove creeks, but go for 13kg braid when fishing offshore reefs. That should cover various fishing conditions and fish sizes. Baitcaster reels and rods around 2m are a popular choice. If you opt for a spinning reel, be sure it has a smooth drag. The rod should have plenty of “come here” strength in the butt with an eight-kilo rating a good starting point. A near locked drag is essential when fishing near the snags and reefs these tough fish love to frequent. Any small live bait is acceptable and will soon be taken if a cod is around. Almost as good are dead whole fish baits such as whiting, garfish and mulie, and whole crab or fish fillet. Use extra strong hooks such as Mustad Tarpons in sizes 5/0-10/0 with crushed barbs for a better chance of survival of released fish.
In the mangroves, find a likely ambush point such as a creek mouth junction on a falling tide. Berleying can drive these sometimes docile creatures into a feeding frenzy. Cast as close as practicable to the mangroves and be prepared for a lightning strike and a bulldozing run – always straight into the mangrove roots! If you don’t turn the fish quickly, it’s pretty much game over. Estuary cod will also take a minnow lure cast or trolled close (about a metre) to the mangroves. For most systems a lure depth of about 1.5m should be right. The outer reefs and deeper offshore channels of places like Shark Bay can hold some real horses up to 25kg that wreak havoc on the local reef fish populations. Wrecks are another place to seek estuary cod. At times when fishing on reefs, these bigger cod can take more of your table fish than sharks on the way up. Note that any fish over 1.2m must be released by law.
References: Kailola, Williams, Stewart, Reichelt, McNee and Grieve Australian Fisheries Resources 1993. Hutchins and Swainston Sea Fishes of Southern Australia 1986. Compiled with the assistance of the Marine Research Branch of the West Australian Department of Fisheries.