Biggest Murray cod ever caught: fact or fiction?

Bob McDowall’s Freshwater Fishes of South-Eastern Australia (1996), Gerry Allen and coauthors’ Freshwater Fishes of Australia (2002), Mark Lintermans’ Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin (2007) and many other freshwater fish ‘bibles’ claim that the biggest Murray cod every caught weighed 113.6 kg, and was 1800 mm long. They usually, however, don’t go into any detail.  In fact, the ‘record’ is based on a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 6th of October 1955 from a Mr Noble, who claimed to remember a 250-pound Murray Cod being caught in the Barwon River in 1902 just outside Walgett, north-western New South Wales. It was displayed, according to Noble, in a marquee, and raised £20 for the local hospital. But did it ever actually exist or was Mr Noble’s memory playing tricks on him?

See below for the actual newspaper clipping.

This particular fish is included in many, many scientific texts as the biggest Murray Cod ever caught and it is possible that Murray cod can actually get that big, if one extrapolates from length-age records in scientific papers (Anderson, J.R., Morison, A.K. and Ray, D.J. 1992, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 43(5) 983 – 1013).

Noble was a mounted trooper in the early 1900s in Walgett and I have verified this from newspaper reports at the time.

Being a fish ecologist and interested in history, I have attempted to verify the existence of this monstrous fish by trawling through copies of the Walgett Spectator between 1900 and 1905, but to no avail.  There was no mention that I could find.  There was also no mention of a donation of £20 to the Walgett Hospital from those associated with the fish.  This is despite the hospital acknowledging many much smaller donations during the same period.

I visited Walgett in July 2005 and met with various people, including members of the Historical Society.  They were very helpful and kind, and I would especially like to thank Noreen and Darcy Dunn for their time and patience. Although most people I talked to had heard of the big cod, and some even remember seeing a picture, no one has come up with any hard evidence of the fish having existed.

Did it ever really exist? Or was it an exaggerated memory from a half-century before? It would be great to find out, not least to verify for scientific purposes. Should we be using this record in our textbooks, since it comes from such an unauthenticated source? Surely, unless it can be verified, it should be treated with caution.  Scientists are usually wary of such things, but here, we seem to be ready to accept a letter to a newspaper, based on a memory from 50 years previously, as reliable evidence.

I, for one, would love to believe the story.  It is also interesting because it could tell us something about the potential of this wonderful species to reach truly remarkable sizes.  Where there was one monster, there were bound to be others.  And there may be again….if we just treat our rivers and fish with the respect that they deserve.

If anyone who might know something of the fish (or might have some clue where to look). I can be contacted at the email address at the top of the home page or leave a comment on this blog. And if you are interested in helping find stuffed Murray cod in pubs, as part of an ongoing project, have a look at this post.

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29 Responses to Biggest Murray cod ever caught: fact or fiction?

  1. Pingback: Meandering about the Murray Part 3: Echuca to Swan Hill | the GREEN spot

  2. Heath says:

    I remember a picture hanging in the Nevertire hotel around 2006 2007 that was of a huge Murray Cod hanging from what looks like a small crane, the cod towered over the men by a metre or more. I can’t remember the size written on the photo but it was huge! If your looking for photo evidence you might want to start there, I’ve since moved from the area and don’t know if it still hangs on the wall though it will always be in my memory being an avid fisherman myself.

    • Thanks Heath. Some of the really big ‘cod’ end up being marine. I have one in my possession that superficially looks like a Murray cod, but is in fact a groper or similar. I will perhaps contact the Nevertire Hotel and see if they can send me a photo of the photo.
      Cheers, Paul

    • DATO says:

      I remember a cutting from an old newspaper at a pub in Temora NSW, with two old moustache-y fellas and cod on a crane that was as tall as them, written “estimated 400 plus pounds”

  3. Ken Smith says:

    Gilbert Whitley , former Curator of Fishes at the Australia Museum , Sydney had a record of that fish !

    • Hi Ken,

      I’d be interested to know where you have seen that. And whether the record had and tangible proof.
      Cheers, Paul

      • Ken Smith says:

        Hi Paul page 389 Jack Pollard’s Australian Fishing ISBN 0 207 15161 x
        Personally I would be checking with the Australian Museum , should still have it on record if it was when Gilbert Whitley was Curator ! Cheers Ken

  4. Wilko says:

    I have a photo of a cod that says it weighs 247 pounds that was caught in 1908 near wagga

  5. Philip says:

    Yes I do have a photo of that murry cod inbrown and white

  6. Philip says:

    For more details -0417077463

  7. steve says:

    hi philip when i was younger i think i seen a photo of that exact photo on the internet and it got me loving fish especialy the cod. i havent seen it around the internet anyware anymore but it does exist even tho i cant find it now would i be able to get a copy of that photo just a scan or sumthing an amazing fish

  8. jamie says:

    Hey mate a tackle and hunting shop on west side of warrick qld has a black and white pic of a monter cod next to a man I could track down the name of the store if youre still looking 0425341817 jamie

  9. Matt says:

    Murray Cod were introduced into the Yarra River in Victoria many years ago and seem to be doing very well, I have heard of several surface takings of water fowl by large fish witnessed by work colleagues. Also as part of our work we would often work around a reservoir that feeds the Yarra in a closed catchment that has had no fishing pressure being a Melbourne water supply. It is obvious that there are Trout and Redfin in the reservoir and the river that feeds it seen swimming and leaping. What intrigued me was the stories of divers doing repairs on the inside of the dam wall reporting seeing fish “the size of small cars” down there. Now Cod are in the Yarra and Trout and Redfin are in the reservoir so an introduction of Cod at the same time makes sense. It’s a cold water skinny river that feeds this reservoir and deep cold water these Cod may be living in? can they get to such sizes here? There is obviously an abundance of food options and it has not been fished for a long if at all from reports? Would appreciate some feedback, cheers.

    • HI Matt, that is very interesting what you say about huge cod in reservoirs closed to fishing. There are other examples that I have heard of just like that. There is a PhD student who might be interested in this. He is looking at the effects of reservoirs vs rivers on morphology and life history of fish. He was going to look at Murray cod, but needed a number of comparable, paired sites. He is now looking at Australian smelt. I can put you on to him if you like. Regards, Paul

  10. Pingback: Stuffed Murray cod in pubs | River Ecology and Research

  11. Brad Smith says:

    Phillip, I remember a picture behind the bar at a Pub in Mansfield on a trip up to Buller, from my recollection it looked to be over 1.5m hanging from a tree with who I guess was the angler standing alongside. Over here in Perth we have recently had 15kg specimens removed from suburban ornamental lakes. I also have heard stories from locals around Albany WA of very large fish being caught in rivers out of town. Apparently in the early 1900’s an attempt was made to establish the species in the area, one can only hope the stories are true.

  12. Jim Fisher says:

    Is it correct that Murray cod—or any cod I guess– grow at a rate of one pound a year? Someone told me that years back and I’ve always wondered… if correct it would make these bigguns pretty ancient indeed. It sounds improbable. My earlier posting of my 140lb-er…see below… would make my catch about 130 years older than I was at the time. I should have left the venerable grey-scale at peace.
    ” Interesting story on the Walgett 250 lb-er. Towing a barge does indeed seem a little doubtful. When I was a lad living on my family’s property between Brewarrina and Bourke on the Darling river in the mid 1950’s I caught a Murray cod that weighed in at 140 lbs…got it on a spinner from a boat. Biggest thing I’d ever seen. It put up no kind of fight, in fact I thought I’d snagged a heavy log till its giant head poked up through the surface. We were shearing at the time and all the shearers came down to carry the monster up to the meat scale….140 lbs! It was my Moment Of Glory, the high point of my nine years. Sadly all the Box Brownie snaps are long gone now, all I have are my memories of that shining day. Jim

    Note: The shearers ate the entire thing. Then complained it was tough.”
    Reply

    Leave a Reply

  13. Jim Baker. says:

    I have a photo of what I believe is the MONSTER Cod in question.
    It was caught at Echuca during 1909.
    If you send me an email, I will attach the picture in a reply email.

    Cheers….Jim Baker. (Mannum).

  14. Jim Baker says:

    Re the MONSTER cod photo, the moderator of these pages can email me at pondejim@aussiebb.com.au
    I can not see a way to post the picture here.
    I can only describe the size of this fish to be unbelievable.

  15. Jim Baker says:

    I have been contacted and have emailed the picture of the MONSTER Cod.
    The following is the text of my email that accompanied the picture.

    I photographed the Monster Cod photo hanging on a wall in the Mannum dentist’s waiting room about 18 months ago.
    The frame is inscribed something like “caught at Echuca 1909”.
    The photo on the wall is a sepia colour. I cropped the frame out of my picture and made it black and white for better definition.

    I don’t know where the fish monger shop was located.
    I did not keep the original, but I can photograph it again, if it is still there.

    I have heard stories of people dangling their legs in the River Murray being dragged
    in by the feet by very large cod.

    About 48 years ago when fishing from a canoe in the River Murray very near to where the Katarapko Creek connects, I hooked a huge cod. I hauled it to the side of the canoe when it slowly turned over to show its huge yellow belly and did a depth dive, tipping me out of the canoe. I let out all the line, but I had to let the thick hand line go, when it started pulling me through the water towards the middle of the river.
    That “one that got away” was over a metre long.

    Cheers….Jim Baker.

  16. Graham Winslade says:

    Hi, in the early 1970’s while on a family houseboat holiday near Renmark, I was in a 10ft dingy with my father & brothers, when we saw a large dead fish floating down the river, we dragged it to a sand bar, it looked very much like a Murray Cod, it was longer than the 10ft dingy, the length would have been between 10 & 12ft. 8mm movie film was taken at the time showing the dead fish along side the dingy. I still have the film in my old film & photo storage at home, which I hope to locate soon.
    Cheers….Graham

  17. rodsrambles says:

    You’ll find a pretty big one in a photo The Age are trying to get further info about amongst others at http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/who-is-the-boy-on-the-giant-fish-help-us-solve-the-mystery-of-the-missing-photo-captions-20151018-gkbvkh.html Not quite a 250 pounder, but it sure isn’t a sardine! Maybe 1.3 metres. The vehicles suggest late 1960s early 1970s to me..

  18. rodsrambles says:

    Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the fish the boy is standing on. I mean the one being carried along a country town street.

  19. John Murrell says:

    In the late seventies I remember a newspaper cutting being displayed in the (Corner ?) hotel in Tocumwal, the article was from some years earlier and was Called “The Biggest Murray Cod Ever caught” it was caught in the public toilets at the caravan park, following a flood, The local council workers were starting the clean up and heard a splashing in the toilets, on investigation an extremely large cod was found to be trapped in the public toilet when the flood waters receded,
    I do not have any photos or details of this article other than my memory.

  20. alan says:

    there was a photo of a hugh munges cod caught in murray darling years ago i seen the photo on the fishing wall at the Australian hotel in st George QLD it was hanging up and it was bigger than the two men standing either side of it. it read that it weight in at 450 pounds it was a paper clipping from a paper it was on the wall for all to see until some smart ass decided they wanted it for them selves and stole it never seen that clipping again

  21. Stephen says:

    My mates uncle had a 3 acre dam stocked with yabbies and trout + eels! He put 10 Murray cod juveniles in ! 10 years later the dam was a ghost town ! He hired long nets and finally found the reason for the no ducks’snakes’fish and yabbies! 1 Murray bohemeth cod! It was over 2 metres long and took 3 blokes to drag it up!!!

  22. Stephen says:

    My mates uncle had a 3 acre dam! He had heaps of fish and crayfish! Ducks and snakes! He put 10 Murray cod in and 10 years later he had a ghost dam! Couldn’t catch shit! No ducks no snakes even! Netted it and one cod survived ! It was well over 2 metres long!

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