Toody Cook was just eight years old when his father introduced him to what would become a life-long passion: fishing. For seven decades he has been casting a line in search of that ever-elusive next big catch.
Toody – a nickname which stuck when his siblings couldn’t pronounce their newborn brother Theodore’s name – has lived just minutes from the Broken River in Shepparton East since he was five years old.
The river has been a constant presence in his life and the scene of many adventures which Toody regales with glee.
“An old retired cop used to fish along the river and he’d shoo me away when I was a kid,” he recalls
“One day I was at the market with a mate looking to buy some ferrets when I spotted the old guy. He was selling a 40-pound Murray Cod. I put two and two together pretty quick that there was some good catching to be had in the Broken River.”
“Fishing on the river have been some of the happiest times of my life. Times as a child, with my mates and later with my wife Elsie and our kids and even my grandchildren.”
But sadly Toody hasn’t gone fishing in the Broken River for almost 20 years, and instead has to travel further afield for a good catch.
Toody remembers separate seasons in the river – milky water in the spring followed by crystal clear summer water before the river turned darker – and adjusted his fishing to suit the conditions.
“The river is always murky and muddy nowadays and there’s nowhere near the number or variety of animals around.”
Toody is indebted to the farmers who permitted him access to the river through their properties to fish to fish: “Gee they were nice people; ever so good to me,” he recalls
Get Toody talking about the wildlife he used to spot and the list goes on: platypus, turtles, wombats, the odd echidna, and the most beautiful birds including the curlew whose mournful cry would fill the air just before the rains came.
“I was always fascinated by the water rats. These amazing creatures would pull mussels from the river and leave the shells on logs to dry. They knew if they were patient the shells would open up in the sun and there’d be a good feed to be had.”
Toody sees the river is suffering from a number of problems such as weeds, European carp and lack of water. But from a fisherman’s perspective, one of the worst things to happen to the river was when concerns over flooding resulted in the removal of logs and vegetation from the river.
“The fish needed them for a place to hide and breed. Once they were all pulled out the gentle flows were gone and you could hear the river roaring through. That killed my fishing days on the river. Of course now there’s barely any water at all, and not much chance of a flood.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever get the river back to the way it was – but it could be a lot better than it is now. But we need to start putting the needs of the river first, not last.”
Story by Tracey Cheeseman