The Murray River

At the present time, the whole of the Murray River is within New South Wales, therefore New South Wales regulations apply. A NSW fishing licence is required when fishing in the river, even if the angler is standing on the Victorian bank. A Victorian Recreational Fishing Licence is not valid for angling in the Murray River with the exception of Lake Hume. The Victorian Fisheries Authority manages recreational fishing in Lake Hume while the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries manages recreational fishing in Lake Mulwala.

The 'Aquatic Ecological Community' in the Murray River downstream of Lake Hume, is listed as an endangered ecological community. It now gives all native fish and aquatic invertebrates, protected status of endangered species. However, arrangements are in place to allow continued recreational fishing for several popular native species: silver perch (within Lake Mulwala only), Murray cod, golden perch, yabbies, Murray spiny crayfish, two species of freshwater shrimps and freshwater prawns. All existing fishery regulations apply to these species. It is illegal to possess any other native aquatic species without specific approval.

Anglers should check the latest NSW Fishing Regulations before angling as there have been recent changes to the regulations.

For up-to-date information on NSW regulations, please refer to the NSW Fisheries website at Anglers can also contact NSW Fisheries, Albury, (02 6042 4228) or 1300 550 474 for current regulations.

The Murray River rises as three springs at Forest Hill (40 km south of Mt Kosciusko) in rugged mountains (1,800 m altitude) then flows for 305 km to Lake Hume, mostly through undulating farmland or open country and several areas of mixed low forest. It then flows for another 2,225 km to South Australia and the sea. Flow downstream of Albury is regulated by releases from Lake Hume, which receives water from Lake Dartmouth, on the Mitta Mitta River. Downstream of Hume Lake the river flows through a section of low hills in the Kiewa Basin then through flat terrain to South Australia. Numerous dams and weirs along the river, also affect the flow.

The land adjacent to the river is all cleared farmland apart from two extensive areas of red gum woodlands around Barmah (Broken River Basin) and Koondrook to Murrabit (North Loddon Basin). Bank erosion is common because of the frequent changes in flow and therefore water level. Assessments by DSE found that 16% to 61% of the total bank length in different localities from the upper Murray to Mildura, showed signs of erosion such as undercut banks. However there is little sedimentation in the channel. Fishing is greatly influenced by the fluctuations in flow and resulting changes in water level.

There has been a significant increase in the numbers of Murray cod in the Murray River and the Murray Darling Basin in recent years. Anglers report excellent fishing with consistent catches of all sizes of fish. They are considered to be a relatively easy fish to catch with the right gear, and when water conditions are suitable.

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission is carrying out numerous activities to improve environmental conditions in the Murray River floodplain.

Description of the River


Upstream of Lake Hume

The upper reaches rise in forest but most of the river flows through cleared open country then through farmland downstream of Towong. Access is good in the lower section and there is good camping along the river. Riparian vegetation is scattered red gums, grass and willows. The river is 40-50 m wide, with most pools 2 m deep although there are some reaches with pools 4-5 m deep. The banks are generally stable with no serious bank erosion or instream sedimentation occurring.

Downstream of Lake Hume to Yarrawonga

Downstream of Lake Hume to Yarrawonga, the river flows in a 50 m wide channel. The banks are 3-5 m high and there is a continuous line of riparian vegetation of mostly mature red gums along both banks. There is a scarcity of instream snags, which reduces its value as habitat for Murray cod and golden perch. Substrate is predominantly clay with patches of gravel.

A major activity of the Murray-Darling Basin Native Fish Strategy has been the establishment of a 'Demonstration Reach' in the section of river from Howlong downstream to Lake Mulwala at Yarrawonga. This will show by example, the need for river rehabilitation and demonstrate the benefits of various improvements to the channel. There has been resnagging, improvement in fish passage, restoration of banks and bank vegetation, mitigation of high water temperatures and control of undesirable fish species.

The movement of radio tagged Murray cod is also being monitored by the Freshwater Ecology Group, Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE).

Yarrawonga to Torrumbarry


Water depth from Yarrawonga to Torrumbarry averages 3 m with numerous deeper pools or holes averaging 4 m with some 6-8 m deep. Channel width can be up to 100 m and bank height varies from 3-5 m. There is an abundance of snags in the river downstream of Yarrawonga with logs exposed along the edges at low flows. There are extensive large sandy beaches along the edges of the river. Riparian vegetation is a continuous line of mature red gums.

Three hundred pieces of timber (snags) have been placed into 30 kms of the river (Yarrawonga to Barmah) to provide habitat for fish as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission Native Fish Strategy. The result has been a large increase in the numbers of trout cod in this section of the river.

The movement, growth rate and mortality rates of tagged Murray cod, in the section of river downstream from Lake Mulwala to Cobram, is being monitored by the Freshwater Ecology Group, DSE.

Torrumbarry to Mildura

The river structure downstream of Torrumbarry to Mildura is similar to upstream but there is an area of shallower water (1-3 m) with some deeper holes for a distance of 100 km downstream of Torrumbarry.

Fishways have been or are being installed on most barriers in this reach of river.

Fishing the Murray River


Only a very brief outline of fishing opportunities, are discussed. Vehicle access to the river is excellent except in the section Tocumwal to Barmah. There are numerous boat ramps although not all are concrete or stabilised with rock. Although bank fishing is quite possible and rewarding, the best fishing is from a boat, which enables access to midwater snags and the use of trolled lures which are very successful in taking Murray cod and golden perch.

The best fishing appears to be during a period of stable flow after an increase in flow. Murray cod and golden perch (yellowbelly) are the main target species of most anglers. Other species often taken are European carp, redfin and Murray spiny crayfish. There is extreme variation in fishing success at different times and locations. Anglers are therefore advised to obtain more detailed information from angling publications, local fishermen and detailed maps which show access roads and launching spots. Only the common species likely to be taken by anglers are mentioned in fishing in the various reaches of the river.

Note that silver perch, trout cod, Macquarie perch, river blackfish, two-spine blackfish and freshwater catfish may not be taken from the Murray River.

Upstream of Lake Hume (Upper Murray Basin)

Carries brown trout and rainbow trout to 1.5 kg. Murray cod 2-6 kg extend upstream as far as Towong Upper but are more abundant upstream to Walwa. Fishing for Murray cod in this area is best in spring and early summer. Redfin to 1.3 kg are common upstream to Walwa. Some goldfish and tench can be taken in slow flowing areas. Murray spiny crayfish are present on the mud bottom. The Murray River upstream of Tintaldra is generally considered as a trout water. For regulations, see the NSW Fisheries website.

Downstream of Lake Hume to Yarrawonga (Lake Mulwala) (Kiewa Basin and Ovens Basin)

There is a total closure to all fishing methods in the 130 m section of the river downstream from the Hume Weir dam wall.

The main difference in this section of the river, compared to further downstream, is the scarcity of snags on the substrate. This together with the colder water released from Lake Hume has resulted in fewer Murray cod, compared to downstream of Yarrawonga, although some fish to 30 kg are caught. The section of river below Hume Lake provides good fishing in the spring for brown trout to 4 kg. Other larger fish present are a small resident population of Murray cod, small numbers of trout cod, golden perch, silver perch and European carp. DSE has determined that catch-per-unit effort for fish is low compared with other sections of the Murray River.

Yarrawonga to Barmah (Broken Basin)


The section from Yarrawonga Weir, downstream to the Newell highway bridge at Tocumwal is closed to all forms of fishing from 1 September to 30 November (inclusive).

The section of river downstream to Cobram carries mostly small (3 kg) Murray cod and some very large fish over 30 kg. Surveys by DSE have found a lack of fish between these sizes. Further downstream large (30 kg) Murray cod are common. Other fish are European carp, redfin, Murray spiny crayfish, golden perch, silver perch and freshwater catfish. This section also contains large numbers of trout cod but these must be released alive if accidently caught. A well-known and popular fishing area is the 'Black Hole' just downstream from Yarrawonga, where good catches of golden perch have been made. There is a boat-launching ramp in the Yarrawonga Caravan Park.

There is a lift for fish installed on the downstream side of the weir. Fish moving upstream enter a wire cage, which is raised to the weir surface water level, allowing fish to then escape into Lake Mulwala. Fish such as Murray cod, golden perch and silver perch readily enter the cage.

This is a popular section of river for camping and boating and has excellent sandy beaches. Access is good and there are good boat ramps available. There are abundant snags and deep water (4 m) which provides good fishing for Murray cod and golden perch.

Barmah to Echuca (Goulburn Basin)

European carp and redfin to 1 kg are most abundant. There are some Murray cod to 15 kg, silver perch (protected), golden perch and good numbers of small Murray spiny crayfish. Best fishing around Barmah is during periods of stable flow. Snags are abundant and a boat makes fishing and landing fish easier.

Although this is a busy section of the river with boat traffic from Echuca there are plenty of deep water gutters and pools which provide excellent fishing. The Goulburn and Campaspe Rivers enter this section of the Murray River and fishing is good in the river mouths (golden perch at the Goulburn River mouth and redfin at the Campaspe River mouth). There are two public boat ramps, at Echuca East and Victoria Park in Echuca.

Echuca to Swan Hill (North Loddon Basin)

Fish present are, European carp, Murray cod with some fish to 45 kg, redfin and Murray spiny crayfish. Also some silver perch, freshwater catfish near Murrabit (protected), goldfish and tench. Golden perch are not as abundant as upstream. Murray cod fishing is excellent upstream of Torrumbarry (located 25 km from Echuca) with numerous deep pools and snags. There is a good boat ramp at Torrumbarry Weir. There are extensive areas of shallow water further downstream to Swan Hill but some fishing is still available in deep gutters and pools. Fishing around Swan Hill has been productive in recent years.

Swan Hill to South Australia Border (Mallee Basin)

The river becomes wider and flow becomes very slow because of the numerous lochs and weirs. Downstream from Mildura, water depth increases to an average of 5-6 m. Red gums are still present along the banks but the surrounding land is semi-arid with salt bush further downstream. There are very large Murray cod to 50 kg around Robinvale with best fishing reported to be in December. However fishing success is very dependent on water levels with little fish movement until the water level rises. Other fish are European carp, redfin to 2.5 kg, good numbers of silver perch to 5 kg (protected), freshwater catfish (protected), tench and some golden perch to 2 kg. Murray spiny crayfish are scarce. Ned's corner and Lochs 7 and 9 are popular fishing spots.

Fish Species in the Murray River

Native fish present in the middle and upper reaches of the river are Murray cod, golden perch, trout cod, silver perch, freshwater catfish, Macquarie perch, bony bream, river blackfish, two-spine blackfish, western carp gudgeon, barred galaxias, flathead galaxias, flathead gudgeon, Australian smelt, mountain galaxias, southern pygmy perch, Murray hardyhead and unspecked hardyhead, Introduced species are European carp, redfin, goldfish, oriental weatherloach and eastern gambusia. Three species of freshwater shrimp are present as well as yabbies and Murray spiny crayfish.

Murray Cod

Murray cod

Murray cod commonly range in size from 5-22 kg although fish up to 113 kg have been taken. Murray cod have increased in number in recent years with small cod abundant, indicating natural recruitment is occurring. Their preferred resting habitat is on the substrate close to snags (submerged timber/logs/branches) and particularly, large clumps of submerged snags. Research by DSE found that 80% of fish monitored with radio tracking devices were resting within one metre of a snag. Most (74%) places where Murray cod were resting had more than 50% of the area covered with snags. Murray cod use these snags to shelter from water velocities and as places from where they can ambush their prey. Murray cod can occur in shallow water areas with quite fast surface water flow, provided snags are present.

DSE found that Murray cod were most often resting in water more than 2 m deep. However they had no particular preference for the deepest holes or pools. They also found that fish tend to move closer to the banks and to utilise submerged bank vegetation for protection from high water velocities, during high flows. Murray cod are sedentary during the year but from about August to early November, (depending on seasonal flow conditions) they migrate upstream to spawn. This migration appears to be triggered by high flows or floods.

DSE has tracked fish moving up to 100 km upstream from Lake Mulwala. After spawning in the rivers, all fish move rapidly downstream, taking up residence again in the same location and even by the same snag, they had previously occupied. They recorded one fish moving 90 km in 20 days. An understanding of the types of habitat that Murray cod prefer can assist anglers in their fishing efforts. Best fishing spots are close to snags or even better, close to large clumps of snags. Most fish are taken by casting or trolling lures at a fast rate (fast walking speed).

Quite large lures can be used to catch even small Murray cod and golden perch. Most lures are 'bibbed' with a plastic plate in the front, which causes the lure to dive and also provides a particular 'action'. Bardi grubs are traditionally thought of as being the best bait, but yabbies, worms and shrimp are all effective. Some anglers find that baits are good at higher flows when the water may be discoloured and lures are more successful when the water level drops.

See the NSW Fisheries website for the Murray cod season.

Trout cod

Trout Cod

Trout cod were once scarce in the upper Murray River but numbers are now increasing, from releases in the Ovens system. They are now abundant between Yarrawonga and Tocumwal, surviving as one of only two self-sustaining populations in Australia. The other is a translocated population in Seven Creeks, Victoria. Most fish in the Murray River are 350-880 g but some fish to 5 kg have been caught. Trout cod has been listed as nationally endangered under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The possession of trout cod is prohibited and any fish caught must be returned to the water alive.

Bait fishing anglers should cut the trace above the hook and release the fish. Attempts to remove the hook can damage the fish. Trout cod can be confused with Murray cod and the following distinguishing features are provided to assist in their identification.

Distinguishing features between trout cod and Murray cod

Features for trout codFeatures for Murray cod

trout cod

  • Straight head profile
  • Overhanging upper jaw
  • Body colour is generally blue-grey on dorsal surface becoming paler, almost white on ventral surface.
  • Body has dark spots and irregular dashes or bars with few markings on forehead and snout.
  • Maximum weight: 16kg

Murray cod

  • Concave head profile
  • Jaws equal length or bottom jaw protrudes.
  • Colour pale green to creamy yellow sometimes golden on dorsal, becoming paler more creamy white on ventral surface. Larger fish can be blue-grey.
  • Body has mottled pattern extending onto forehead and snout. Large fish can be finely speckled.
  • Maximum weight: 113.5kg

Golden Perch

Golden perch
Golden perch

Golden perch (yellowbelly or callop) are common throughout the Murray River. They can reach 20 kg in weight but are usually less than 5 kg. They can tolerate water temperatures to 37oC and salinity almost that of salt water (56,000 EC). Their preferred habitat is warm, sluggish, turbid water, also shady or weedy locations, often in very shallow water. They rest among snags and also along the bank in areas of slow-flowing water out of high water velocity areas. Adult fish move long distances upstream to spawn during September-December and this is triggered by a rise in water level at the start of major flood events. Fish have been recorded moving 1,000 km within the Murray-Darling Basin.

The construction of weirs on the Murray River interrupted their spawning run resulting in a loss of fish in the Murray River and in the Ovens River upstream of Lake Mulwala. Stocks in these waters and in Lake Hume are now maintained by stocking hatchery-bred fish. Golden perch are carnivorous, taking mainly crustaceans, insects, molluscs and small fish. They can be caught on baits such as live yabbies, worms and shrimps. They also strike well at lures. Popular lures are up to 10 cm in length and coloured yellow, red or green. Inquire at the closest angling shop for local information as to the best lures to use at that time.

Silver Perch

Silver perch
Silver perch

They prefer slightly faster flowing water than Murray cod or golden perch. Any silver perch caught in the Murray River must be returned carefully to the water.In dams, they are best taken on baits such as worms and shrimps.

Freshwater Catfish

Freshwater catfish are protected and may not be taken by any methods in the Murray River and its tributaries within NSW. Any freshwater catfish caught in the Murray River must be returned carefully to the water.

Not commonly taken in the Murray River but possibly caught in billabongs and areas of sluggish or still water out of the current of the main channel. The adults are usually solitary fish whereas juveniles form loose schools. They do not migrate but remain in the same locality all their lives. They prefer a weedy area with mud substrate and live and feed on the substrate. They are most active at night.

Female Murray Cray in berry
Female Murray Cray in berry

Murray Spiny Crayfish

Murray spiny crayfish are common in the Murray River upstream of Robinvale. Best baits are meat offal or a piece of any fish. The section of river between Barmah to Echuca is reported to provide good fishing for Murray spiny crayfish. They are in best condition for eating after mid June.