About The Classic

by Ashley Barber

Ashley Barber 112cm Cod

The Mulwala Classic which is held at the cod capital Lake Mulwala each year on the weekend before Easter, and would have to go down as a part of Murray Cod folk law. It’s unique and ethical approach to competition angling really started the ball rolling for catch and release in the southern parts of Australia.

Going back to 1992 regular visitors to the Lake, and avid lure anglers, Graeme Clark, Rod Clarke and David Basset decided they should have a crack at hosting a tournament. The idea was possibly the first of its kind in Australia. A Catch and release event. It was unheard of at the time. But these blokes were convinced it was the only way forward. What a way to show the ultimate respect for a sport fishing icon that they loved to chase.

So from humble beginnings - a small group of blokes sharing a passion for lure fishing, Murray cod and sustainable competition – spawned the Mulwala Classic. An incredible event that continues to have a real aura about it.

It was April 1992, when the first event was held under the banner ‘Legend Classic’. Held at the Shoreline Caravan Park, keen cod angler, manufacturer of Legend Lures and proprietor of the Shoreline at the time, Ray Broughten sponsored the event.

One has to remember just how daring and potentially challenging this first event was going to be. Catch and release was basically unheard of and as Graeme Clark informed me they copped plenty of flack and criticism. The organisers feared no one would attend as who in their right mind would spend a weekend away without the prospect of keeping the fish! 1992 Springers were well and truly seen as the norm and a cod’s capture ultimately meant it was heading for the grill.

At the time, sport fishing with lures for Murray Cod was just starting to become popular. The concept certainly wasn’t mainstream. So to build a whole competition around lure fishing was again a gamble for the organisers. Although the likes of JJ’s Stumpjumpers, Legend and Custom Crafted lures are household names today, these Aussie purpose built lure-makers had only just started filtering through to anglers back in 92.

So despite the critics and against the odds, the first event turned out to be a great success. A decent quantity of like-minded anglers attended and had an enjoyable weekend. The inaugural event was a success.

Birth of a classic

The committee decided for the sake of moving forward with the comp, changing the name from the Legend Classic to the Mulwala Classic was going to make attracting sponsors easier and the comp bigger and better.

As it still stands today the idea was to attract like-minded and keen anglers with a passion for Murray cod. The classic has always been an invitational event and numbers have always been restricted. It was basically capped at 100 blokes or 50 boats but is now around the 120 angler mark.

In its early years it attracted many guys in the fishing industry who have helped get Murray Cod the profile they have today. In fact it would have had the greatest representation of Aussie lure makers competing at the one event. Guys like Rod Harrison, Steve Starling, Rob Paxevanos (fishing Australia), Ray Broughton (legend), Rob Gaden (RMG), Jamie Flett (Mudeye), John Knol (Knols Lures), Tony Quinn (Humpback Lures), Paul Kneller (Deception), Graeme Saunders (Codger Lures), Steve Kovacs (Custom Crafted) and Freshwater Fishing’s own Bill Classon.

What makes the tournament such a great social event I believe is all the participants stay in the park together and spend their evenings at the huge Marquee tent. The event is fully catered with a buffet type set up – breakfast, dinner and a day bag are provided each day for the boat. The food has always been well received by all, and the social drinks make for great end-of-day story telling.

Entrants gather on the Thursday evening for the first feed and briefing. Up until about 10 years ago the competition ran from 7:30am to 6pm Fri, Sat and 7.30-11am on the Sunday but now it incorporates a Lowrance Dash for Cash on the Sunday morning to change it up. It also offers all participants a second chance at scoring some cracking prizes.

Another unusual but great concept has been a full boat retrieval service. All boats are parked together and boats are taken in and out by a couple of 4WDs. This is fantastic. I can tell you that it feels like you are a pig in mud with this kind of service.

Data Collection

The points scoring of the event has always been based off a length average weight formula that was gained from NSW fisheries studies in the early 90s. For example, a 60cm cod is worth 4.2kg or a 90cm model equates to 15.7kg.

Up until 3 years ago all captured cod were recorded onto a score card and ultimately ended up in the hands of NSW Fisheries. Collated data provided by the event was used as a tool by fisheries to monitor the Lake’s cod population and growth rates etc. A total of 18 years’ worth of data was collected before government cutbacks no doubt saw this initiative stopped, which is a real shame, perhaps unwise. Only time will tell what will be lost with a lack of such valuable data.


Anglers have always competed for the perpetual trophies up for grabs. The Champion Angler is the most prized and there have been many great anglers who have claimed this elusive title. The Champion Angler picks up their crown by being the highest point scorer over the two day period. The team’s event of two randomly selected boats adds another dimension to the weekend.

The highly proclaimed ‘hat rack’ is a classic trophy up for grabs. This is the one you don’t want your name on! Anglers falling over board, snapped rods, lost props, and break downs have all claimed the prize over the years. There have been so many outrageous circumstances that aren’t appropriate for print.


From 1992, a huge change occurred for the better from the way competitors have fished to the gear they are using and the boats they are fishing from.

Enter 1992, the pack mainly consisted of 12 foot V bottoms or if you were a leader of the pack at the time, a 13 foot Savage Jabiru. Trolling through the timber was what most anglers did with the stump pulling tackle. 10-20kg mono packed onto a big Abu Garcia 6500 was hi-tech.

Big stumpjumpers or legends or even the big flatfish were the go to lures of the time. One just has to go back and check out the Catching a Legend video from 1991. Talk about nostalgia!

From 96 onwards, fishing trends developed very quickly. Introduction of Gel Spun I believe provided a huge progression and made Cod fishing even more enjoyable. Bow mounted Minn Kotas further brought about positive change. Anglers now started to fully embrace this great advancement in technology and this opened up lure casting opportunities which many did with great success.

An Aussie classic the Quintrex Hornet and the now ever reliable new breed of 4 strokes were big at the Classic in the mid to late 90s. I fondly remember Dave Silva in hindsight being a bit of a trendsetter with his big green 5m Hornet with a 100 Yammy on the back. This boat was a monster rig in its day but the big flash boats were to be almost the norm circa 2010.

2010 onwards and there has been a significant shift into big boats that would have once been considered inappropriate for such snag infested waters. Skeeters, Nitros, Custom Plated with monster motors are now commonplace. Hi-tech electrics and tackle which are big on the Aussie fishing scene all make an appearance at the Classic.

And don’t forget how far the tackle has evolved. Only hi-end graphite rods and near weightless reels make the grade. Almost a 360 turn from the old barrel Abu and broomstick stump pullers of the early 90s.

One could say Spinner baits have been embraced so much that they would now be the most used lure in the comp. Japanese lipless crank baits also fill up plenty of time for the casting angler. Hard bodies are still popular but more so for the troller. AC’s and Oar Gee plows would be amongst the most popular.

A ‘Classic’ Classic

I can see the Classic being embraced for many years to come such is the camaraderie amongst competitors today. Given the event is an invitational with limited numbers it’s somewhat become a little brother to the hugely popular Cod Opening Classic that Tony Bennett has helped blossom. One could suggest the Mulwala Classic has led to other great comps based on the Catch and Release philosophy starting up. The Opening Classic now attracts over 3000 anglers each year.

Graeme Clark and committee have done a great job over the years making the comp what it has become today. Graeme, due to his work commitments handed over the reins to Dick Stanton for a few years and now Michal Bressan steers the committee. Michael has brought passion to his role and I am confident he will ensure the competition lives up to its name in the future, and remains a ‘Classic’.