Kurt Mitchell officially has the biggest bragging rights in Canberra.
The fridge repairer by day and hobby fisher every other time hauled a 93-centimetre Murray Cod from Lake Burley Griffin this month, breaking a record set just over a year ago.
In late February 2022, Luke Dal Pozzo set a record for the annual fishing competition “Canberra on the Water” with his 82 cm Murray Cod, which broke the previous 10-year-old record of 80 cm. Now Kurt has done even better.
“I’d just purchased a new boat and it was my first time putting it out,” he says. “Normally I’d just be walking and fishing along the bank.
“That paid for itself.”
In the competition, Canberra’s keen anglers compete for $1000 in cash across three categories by fishing for Murray Cod, Yellow Belly and Redfin in Lake Burley Griffin over seven weeks. The bigger the fish, and the more of them, the more points.
On this particular evening, Kurt had only snagged three Redfins when darkness began to set in.
“I didn’t have my headlamp or any lighting with me but my phone, so I thought I’d start making my way back to the boat ramp,” he says.
“I had my rod set up for a big fish, if one ever came along, so I was just trawling back.”
At about 8:30 pm, he was in six to eight metres of water when all of sudden the rod slumped towards the water.
“I just knew it was a big fish straight away. It was very difficult to get it up for a while there and once it came up, I was lucky enough to net it by myself.”
Kurt has been fishing as long as he can remember, starting near his family home in Swan Hill in Victoria. He still goes back there, ostensibly to visit family, but his favourite Canberra spot is Lake Ginninderra.
He entered the Canberra on the Water competition for the first time last year after years of wanting to “get around to entering”, drawn by the social aspect.
In keeping with the competition rules, he wrestled the fish onto the measuring mat and took a photo to prove its length. Even if the fish broke the mat in the process.
“It was just a big ball of muscle,” he says.
“You have to be very careful how you handle their mouth because they can definitely take the skin off your fingers – they’ve got some serious raspy teeth.”
It’s not the biggest fish Kurt has caught. He recalls using a surface lure to catch another Murray Cod in the Murrumbidgee River near Canberra which measured 110 cm from mouth to tail.
It’s not the biggest fish ever caught in Lake Burley Griffin either. In July last year, Marie and Tom Haalebos cast their lures near Parliament House to hook a mammoth 130 cm, 70 kg Murray Cod.
“There are definitely some big fish in there, but catching them is a different story,” Kurt says.
All importantly, it was a sound 10 cm bigger than last year’s record, so enough to score him a $100 gift card to Wheelers Fishing ‘N Outdoors in Queanbeyan.
“Friends are definitely really excited and proud for me,” he says.
“You put a lot of hours into fishing and you’re always trying, because if you not trying, you’re not going to catch any fish. You can’t just go out there once or twice and think it’s going to happen.”
The competition itself was founded by Adam Samios and his partner Sasha Booker about 12 years ago. Avid outdoors enthusiast Adam was about to film a series of pilot films about camping, fishing and 4WD-ing for sale to the Seven Network when he was involved in a serious car accident.
“I decided to start a fishing competition so I could still be involved with the fishing community,” he says.
“It’s a catch-and-release competition. The anglers are given a measuring mat and told to take a photo of the biggest fish they catch in each of the three categories. Your points accumulate over six weeks and the top 25 anglers then move forward to the final.”
This one is an individual event – they have the Big Burley Bash for teams – with plans for another large-scale fishing competition in the works.
Adam says not only does Kurt get the bragging rights and gift voucher, he’s also well on his way to be crowned the winner of the Canberra on the Water Cup for 2023, when the competition wraps up at the end of March.
“He’s still sitting on top of the scoreboard, even if he doesn’t catch anything in the last week.”