The carp contradiction
  |  First Published: February 2010

In the aftermath of the best midsummer rain we have seen in the region for nearly 10 years and with continuing warm weather and strong insect and other fish food activity, anglers have been pretty pleased with their lot.

However, carp are at their most active at this time of the year, as are their most common predators, Murray cod and golden perch.

Carp, the universal mud marlin, have attracted their usual bunch of adherents. There are plenty of fish in rivers and lakes and despite the fact that most anglers despise them, there is still that attraction that they are fish that are meant to be tempted and caught.

Once caught, of course, there are varying views on how they should be disposed of. Some rather excited chaps prefer kicking them to death; others prefer a baseball bat or large rock.

Either way, there is an inherent savagery in their disposal that does not bode well for the gentle art of fishing. This is supposed to be about the fun and excitement of fooling a fish into taking a bait, lure or fly then playing it until the final capture.

Once caught, the prey is surely entitled to some dignified disposal, irrespective of whether it is a carp or some other species.

The simplest and swiftest way of killing a fish after capture is to give it a sharp knock on the head, preferably with a small device with a weighted end known as a priest.

They are available from tackle shops and surely offer a more acceptable disposal device than a size 12 boot, lump of basalt or handy tree branch. Use of a priest will provide an upcoming generation of young anglers a more respectful view of all fish, not just carp, than the current uncontrolled jubilation of knocking over a fish by kicking, garrotting, bayoneting, beheading, disembowelling or asphyxiation that typifies catch-and-despatch around our local waterways today.

Despite the urban myth that you have to kill a carp if you catch one, in the ACT and NSW it is perfectly legal to return carp alive to the water from which they were taken. If you think you are being helpful in killing a carp, have a think about the reproductive capacity of the fish.

Each carp can produce up to 1 million eggs per kilogram so the impact your kill will have on the total carp community immeasurably minuscule. So kill it if it makes you feel good about killing something but don't be conned into believing you are doing anything useful.

By setting a poor example of killing something just because you don't like it, you could be setting your children and those of others on a completely erroneous lifelong view of how we should be treating living animals.


Carp also can be good fun to catch, assuming you don't want to eat them. Local fly aficionado Nathan recently had an exciting session on carp in Paddys River, on the outskirts of suburban Canberra.

Working an unweighted nymph on a 5Wt fly rod, landed five big carp and described the experience in glowing terms similar to those he used to describe successful trout trips to Eucumbene in previous weeks.

Comparing carp with trout? Try it before you knock it. They need a careful approach as they have excellent eyesight, can be just as fussy about fly preference and when hooked go like the clappers.

It's just like trout fishing but with a more powerful opponent and a longer fight.

On a more serious note I have continued to sift reports that indicate that carp could be far more serious predators of other fish than is normally thought. For years we have found skeletal remains of small fish in carp stomachs that suggested predation.

Recently, however, an angler fishing Lake Burley Griffin reported seeing carp chasing and swallowing juvenile redfin in large numbers. The redfin were showing symptoms of our common Summer EHN virus, wriggling confused to the surface and floating on their side before submerging again.

The carp came up and swallowed the fish whole and then kept taking fish around 8-10cm long for at least 30 minutes.

Carp taking lures meant for natives seems to be common and may indicate a shift in carp feeding patterns, especially where other food is in short supply.


Murray cod remain the Holy Grail of native fish anglers and this is a prime time to try for them.

Most have been taken on large deep-diving lures or spinnerbaits but late at night or where the water is too discoloured for lures, anglers have preferred yabbies, bardi grubs or scrub worms.

Favoured locations have included all of the urban lakes in Canberra, Googong Reservoir (where cod fingerlings are stocked every two years) and Burrinjuck Reservoir, also regularly stocked.

It's not known how big the Googong fish have become but reports put the largest around 45kg. I've seen several over 40kg and recently an angler played one for over two-and-a-half hours before losing it on a frayed line. He saw it three times and thinks it well over 40kg.

The heaviest Burley Griffin cod to date was 46kg and I once measured one against my boat at 1.6m before letting it go and estimated it around 55kg.

Most, however, are much smaller. Most, too, I am delighted to say, are released rather than killed.

There have been a few cod surprises in the urban lakes. Several around 20kg have been taken on small soft plastics by anglers fishing for redfin. It's obvious that cod hang schools of redfin when there is a bit of a feeding frenzy going on.

Burrinjuck has been good. Local landholder, Ian, an avid cod chaser, has scored 17 since the season opened and his son Brad has 22. They, and most other anglers, use larger deep divers and spinnerbaits or yabbies off the bank at night.

Night fishing with lures is increasingly popular and recently the best time to catch a cod on a lure was between 9pm and 10pm, coinciding with the brightest phase of the moon.


Night fishing for golden perch also has been successful, but more with bait than lures.

Live yabbies lobbed off the bank at night has become a popular way of catching the larger Burrinjuck specimens reluctant to bite during the day.

One angler recently took his fish of lifetime, over 9kg, on a small live yabby on light line on a steep bank at Scrubby, a location where he has often fished in daylight but never landed a fish over 3kg.

Daylight fishing, though, is often more convenient and the usual pattern is to troll or cast deep-divers or spinnerbaits around trees, stumps, logs, rocks or other obstructions or bob yabbies or shrimps up and down flooded trees.

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