Carp hit the top
  |  First Published: March 2010

Carp are much-despised fish, with similar eating qualities to a decaying wombat, but at this time of the year many anglers deliberately fish for them and even treat them as serious quarries.

That's because these omnivorous predators have eaten much of the available bottom and mid-water food and are looking for free food at the surface – where they can provide a lot of fun.

You can tell just how much of the food in the system has been eaten by looking, say, at any of the big pools in the Murrumbidgee River. You will notice that much of the normally obvious algae and weed have disappeared and the bottom is bare.

Piles of finely sifted soil and pebbles show where the carp have sucked all the goodies out of the system, leaving it largely free of edible organic matter.

Only the strongest of the weed has survived but the system is otherwise so bare of food you wonder how the other resident fish, Murray cod and golden perch, survive.

So the carp turn to the surface and it is surprising just how much tucker is available to them there.

First there are the grasshoppers, which are about in millions at the moment. They are now mature enough to fly and many end up in the water, fatigued or blown off course. Carp love them and devour them in great numbers, obviously making up for the lack of other food.

The second big dietary item is the poor old cicada.

It can have a bugger of a life. It lives for up to 10 years underground, sucking on plant roots, then hatches, climbs up a tree seeking a mate and possibly a naughty, then drops dead.

That's unless it falls into the water first, when its frantic wing beats attract carp in a few seconds. I have watched six or seven big carp racing to get to a fallen cicada and it has no chance in most waterways around here.

Then there are the myriad moths and beetles that lob into the water. The bogong moths have mostly passed through Canberra by his time but there are still stragglers and there are plenty of other moths to add to the diet.

Beetles, too, the most abundant of all the larger insects, are in big numbers. They commonly hatch or emerge just on dark and can carpet the water with a rich smorgasbord for carp patrolling the next morning.

If you want to catch a carp, it is simple. Just chuck out a lure or fly that remotely resembles a moth, cicada, grasshopper or other large insect, give it a few wiggles and watch the carp come racing in. And if you like a hard-fighting, tough-pulling fish, then this is the one for you.


Carp will take a remarkable range of lures at this time of year. I have caught them on deep-divers intended for Murray cod and golden perch, sometimes in running water below rapids but at other times in deep, open water.

I once unthinkingly chucked a Heddon Tiny Tad at a group of carp in the Murrumbidgee and spent the next 15 minutes hooked into a 12kg torpedo that took me so far downriver I thought I was going to lose my precious lure.

As I stumbled, scratched and waded along the riverbank trying to keep pace with the fish, I wondered who labelled them as ‘fat and lazy’. I landed the fish, learning a harsh lesson: Never chuck a Tiny Tad on 3kg line anywhere near a hungry carp.

I've seen plenty of other examples of surprised anglers. One chap trolling a large deep-diver 12m down in Wyangala Dam hooked up on what he thought was a cod, which turned out to be a huge carp. Although disappointed, he was astounded at how powerful the fish had been.

A Lake Burley Griffin regular, Chris, who trolls each day in his little blow-up boat, recently hooked up something powerful on a frog pattern deep-diver. It pulled his boat all over the place before he finally netted a hefty carp just 53cm long – short but strong.

Fly fishers have developed a great respect for the cunning and power of carp. Many have targeted them with small nymphs, Glo Bugs, beetles and chironomids as well as larger mudeye patterns, cicadas and floating bread flies and been delighted with their pulling power.

They may not have the excitement, acrobatics or eating qualities of trout but they can still strip a fly line and a lot of backing off a reel in a few seconds – enough to stir the passion in even the most complacent fly fisher.


On a more worrying note, there is increasing evidence of the carp's predatory nature towards other fish and last month we wrote of carp eating small redfin in Lake Burley Griffin.

Local angler Matt Sosenko caught a 10kg carp in another suburban lake, Gungahlin, and found it stuffed with fresh Murray cod fingerlings. The ACT Government had only just stocked the lake with cod fingerlings and it is distressing to see them going down the hatch as carp fodder.

Carp may be fun to catch as a novelty but they hardly compare with a good old Australian native Murray cod.

There are other species to hunt for. The water in all local lakes is warm and has stayed reasonably clear so flies, lures and bait have been successful.

Redfin have been the main target in all five urban lakes because of their numbers and the ease with which they can be caught. They take scrub worms and tiger worms avidly and can be caught from the shore or from a boat.

They are even more fun with lures, taking almost anything that moves. Favourites include Celtas and other spinning blades, jig spinners, spoons, small minnows and myriad small soft plastics. Atomic 2” grubs and Prongs are among the favourites but a lot of others are equally effective.

Golden perch can be suckers for lures, especially spinnerbaits and small to medium divers, but can be frustratingly hard to find at times.

Lately the best fish have shown up just before dark on lures, and after dark on their two favourite baits, scrub worms and yabbies.

They have become favoured quarries of the growing band of kayak and canoe anglers in the region who have discovered them under overhanging trees, along formal rock walls and near steep drop-offs on the edges of weed beds.


Cod also have been a favoured target and the trick with these great fish seems to be to fish with outsized lures during the day or a yabby, scrub worm or bardi grub at night.

Best lures have been the largest models of AC Invader, Custom Craft, StumpJumper and others, or super-sized spinnerbaits.

More recently, one colleague has been very successful chucking extra-large Jitterbugs around at night. They make one heck of a splash when chugged the right way and very quickly arouse the predatory instincts in the cod.

It's a nice new trend to keep an eye on.

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