Hook, Line and Sinker At Deniliquin
Mention the town Deniliquin and most people will ask … where’s that?
Some will know that’s where they hold the Deni Ute Muster … the largest gathering of utilities and of people wearing blue shearer’s singlets in the world.
All in the same place, all at the same time.
It’s held in late September and is a festival to celebrate the country lifestyle.
There’s a lot more to it than classic utes, blue singlets and big hats. It runs over three days with something for all the family.
Yet on this road trip we were out to find what else this town in the Riverina region of southern New South Wales had to offer.
About three hours drive up from Melbourne and twice that time from Sydney, it sits on the Edward River.
The Edward is an ana branch of the Murray River that forms the border between Victoria and New South Wales. That is it branches off from the main river and rejoins it further downstream.
There’s a lot of grain and grazing here. Wheat and rice, sheep and beef.
They also love their fishing … and boating on the river.
Speed boats or kayaks, party boats or tinnies.
February is the Deni Fishing Classic time.
I’m not a fisherman and don’t mind admitting it. My father was a keen angler and both my younger brothers followed in his footsteps.
They loved throwing a line in – any where, any time.
Yet I was quite happy cleaning then cooking the catch.
Not that I haven’t experienced the thrill of hooking a near two-pound bream, or getting two good-sized flathead on the one line.
That is why I am kayaking down the Edward River. It’s a magnificent way to understand more about the stream that is the lifeblood of the Deniliquin area.
Things take on a different perspective from the water. It’s a relaxed way to get a feel for the place, learn about the history of the region and the environment we are gliding through.
Peaceful, serene. Just the gentle splash of the paddle into the water.
Along the banks, camps are being set up for the fishing classic.
Held in February, it’s a catch-and-release contest with about $80,000 in prizes up for grabs.
That’s as well as the thrill of catching a good-sized Murray cod, the fish that can grow to amazing sizes around here.
The Edward River lost a lot of cod a few years back when it flooded. Then there was a black water event in which the leaf litter from the flooded forests took the oxygen out of the water.
That also had a big impact on fish numbers.
Yet the people of Deni worked with Commonweatlh Water, the body that holds ownership of the environmental water that is stored in dams and decides when to release it into specific areas.
There is still some carp problems with the introduced species muddying the water and upsetting cod breeding.
But the river and the fish numbers are a lot healthier.
The quality of the water has also been improved by better farming practices.
Irrigation is used, especially for the rice crops. Nowadays the water has to stay on the property.
Farmers need to recycle it. The water cannot go back into the river system.
Big cod, I’m told, tend to be territorial and lazy. They won’t move up and down the river.
So local knowledge or the ability to look, listen and learn play a big part in fishing the Edward.
This year the Ironjack and Trelly’s Boats And More Fishing Classic runs from Friday, February 15, to Sunday, February 17.
The launch evening is held at the Deni RSL and the final party at the Edward River Oval.
RSL chairman John Jansen told me they now expect close to 2000 anglers to take part.
On top of that you have families and friends helping set up and camp on the river banks or at the caravan parks for the weekend.
As well as trying to catch the $20,000 prized tagged cod, there is the chance to win thousands of dollars worth of items in raffles and draws at the fishing classic launch party – including four fishing boats.
There’s a boat for the early bird registrations, then everyone who registers for the classic earns a ticket, there’s a junior boat and a major prize boat.
Once the contest gets under way at 6am on Saturday there are prizes for a variety of fish categories, as well as ages of anglers taking part.
There is a draw for early-bird entries in which those that register before the event can win a boat without even catching a fish. They close on Monday, February 11, at 6pm.
For the fishing classic, competitors are issued with a brag mat for measuring their catch. They need to photograph it on the mat and submit it.
Paddling down the river I see good mates working as a team, men with just the company of their dog, fathers showing their daughters how to rig a line, mothers watching their young sons with rod and reel on the water’s edge.
At night there’s the chance to sit around the camp fire and swap yarns about the big one they caught … or the even bigger one that got away.
The final party sees competitors, friends, family and the Deniliquin community getting together to look back on a great weekend.
There’s music, food … even yabbie races in which the fresh-water crustaceans are auctioned off and the winner takes all.
Last year the RSL put more than $250,000 back into the community from the various events it is involved in.
So there really is more to fishing than meets the eye.
Yet I will always be reminded of US stand-up comedian Steven Wright’s quote: There’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore looking like an idiot.
Maybe I’m the idiot for not trying harder.
Rob Mullally @robmulally