Fly fishing for carp

Living in Canberra, I’ve always been happy with the sport-fishing options close at hand. I can drive for 10 minutes down to Lake Burley Griffin and target yellowbelly, cod and redfin, 25 minutes to Googong for the same, or make the 45 minute drive up to the Goodradigbee or Cotter Rivers for trout. The guys at fishinginsoutheastaustralia have enjoyed success at all of these places. Sometimes it’s hit or miss, but you can usually find a fish or two, particularly in the warmer months.

I’ve also targeted carp. Historically, carp fishing for me has been far-removed from the usual ‘sport-fishing’ I enjoy. A few beers, maybe two rods, some chips and good company, and I’m quite happy to dangle some lightly weighted bread or corn in the lake for a few hours, contemplating life, the universe and of course, my navel.

However, this formerly accessible avenue for relaxation is no longer. Since taking up flyfishing, I see carp as a wily, intelligent and valuable adversary. A challenge; a goal; a necessity. I lie in bed at night thinking ‘why didn’t that 3 kg albino mirror carp, who came up to inspect a white feather on the surface, take my slowly sinking bread fly?’. ‘What if I use a buoyant bread fly on the surface, and a suspended emerger below?’. ‘When do I strike? At the slightest movement, or when the line actually moves away?’.

I’ve had some success, the majority of which can be measured by opportunities to catch fish, rather than catching fish themselves. As an aside, a good fishing session is more about these opportunities than whether or not you catch anything…I think. At least it’s better than not having any opportunities at all! Anyway, here’s how my carpin’ obsession has developed:

My first session was spent casting floating and sinking bread flies at jumping fish. The water was muddy, so I was only able to blind cast or at fish that had just jumped. No action. The second session was far more exciting. I could see bubble trails and actual fish cruising around in front of me. I was fishing in about 0.5-1m depth, with about 40cm visibility.

The carp were frisky; jumping, feeding and cruising. Conditions were perfect. I had a few takes…the line would twitch, move away slowly, or the fly would stop sinking. I tried bread flies, a variety of nymphs, wooly buggers and a whole bunch of miscellaneous self-tied flies that I haven’t named because they haven’t caught fish, but no hookups! I saw one fish, literally at my feet, inspect a sinking bread fly, before casually sucking it in. I struck, felt nothing, and the fish didn’t even bat an eyelid. He continued on his merry way, rooting around in amongst the rocks and mud.

The third session was a different story altogether. I arrived at one of my favourite spots; down near Yarralumla on Lake Burley Griffin. There was a warm nor-wester, and as I arrived, I spotted some enticing bubble trails. I tied on a pheasant tail nymph and started casting away into the breeze. To my left, I noticed movement in the water. Standing ultra-still, I turned my head to see a large carp rooting around in the mud, only 2 metres from the bank and about three metres from where I was standing. Then I noticed another fish about a metre from him, then another! Three fish, within four metres.

I hauled a bit of line off my last cast and flicked one over. The fly landed gracefully, followed by a heap of heavy line. I had cast too far…the nymph was still at least a metre from the closest fish. I took a long haul on the line and let it sink seductively, right in between the three fish. As the nymph dropped out of view in the muddy water, I watched the fly line for any sign of movement. Nothing. I decided to give the nymph a small twitch, but felt resistance. A slow, deliberate strike, and I was on!

The fish took off on a spirited run; the thick flyline screaming through my fingers. Eventually, it tired, then took off again, then tired again. Feeling the flyline getting stripped from between my fingers was an exciting experience. Meanwhile two college girls had emerged behind me and  decided to become an audience, and I explained to them that this was my first carp on fly and that one of them would need to take a photo of me with my prize. I was convinced I’d jinxed myself, but persistently and slowly fought the fish. Whenever it saw me or the bank, it would take off again. Nervous moments…

After what felt like at least 5 minutes, the fish was finally subdued and I reached into the water to pull him out. Needless to say, I was pretty chuffed, and my audience, who happened to be almost as attractive as the carp I was connected to, seemed pretty impressed too! A quick photo, and the fish (and eventually my audience) were on their way.

My first carp on fly, and my third fish on fly! This fish put up a much better fight than tiny mullet #1 and #2.

The next ‘highlight’ left me a bit deflated, to be honest. I was happily casting away to mooching fish, when a rotund fellow from the National Capital Authority drove up in his ute and informed me that there’d been a sewerage leak nearby. Smiling, I told him ‘that’s the reason all the carp are here’, to which he replied, ‘we haven’t closed the lake yet, but I wouldn’t be sticking my hand in there if I were you’. Well I’m not him and I’d just stuck my hand in the lake, which I didn’t admit at the time. I had a few more ‘reluctant’ casts and pondered my options as the real possibility of E. coli poisoning started to eat its way into my conscience, and possibly my stomach.

I decided to head around the corner and fish the small bay near the Yarralumla nursery. On arrival, I walked past a small stagnant dam that isn’t connected to the lake, and spotted a large, silvery mirror carp cruising near the surface. The fish turned away from me, and I had the perfect opportunity for a cast. However, I was almost directly behind the fish, and my cast fell directly in line with it. The heavy line caused one-too-many ripples on the water, and I watched the fish descend slowly but deliberately into the green, murky depths.

Next I turned my attention to the lake itself. I fossicked around for a while in the sun, but the wind was not in my favour, blowing into me from my left (I’m a left-handed fly caster). This means danger….a few flies singing precariously past my head, and I decided to head to the opposite bank to have a look in the shadows. I’d just heard and then seen a fish jump, so I knew they were there. On the way around the willow-lined bay, I spotted another fish mooching around. A dark specimen around the two kilo mark, sitting near some snags in about 0.5 metres of water. One day, I might be able to cast to it, but this fish was obscured by all sorts of bankside obstacles and I gave it a miss.

I found the next access point and started casting blind. I didn’t need to wait long before a fish appeared; a healthy carp of about 4 pounds. He swam along in front of me, before being joined by another fish, this one about 6 pounds, coming from the other direction. They swirled around in front of me as I placed a cast right in the middle. The line twitched, I did nothing. No strike. I’m not sure why. It was just so exciting to see these two fish right there in front of me. I suppose I just wasn’t ready for it…

I moved along a few metres to the next access point, and immediately spotted a small fish feeding in less than 40cm of water. The first cast was way off to the right, and the second cast was a bit short, landing about 60cm in front of him. However, he’d seen the commotion and the slowly sinking nymph, and came over for a look. I watched him, no more than 3 metres in front of me, start sucking and sucking as he approached the fly. One more suck and the line moved. I struck firmly, and was on! This small fish put up a spirited fight, and almost had me down to the backing at one stage. After a few minutes he was landed.

My second carp on fly. The first one was hooked in the nose, so I wasn’t sure whether it was a fluke or not. To see the take, then have the evidence of a fly in the fishes mouth, was immensely satisfying.

Another shot of the second fish. A stout little thing…possibly a female? If anyone can tell me the difference between male/female, asian/european, I’d be very pleased!

The next, and final, fish of the session, was one of those fish I’ll probably always remember. No sooner had I released the second fish, I went back to the first access point and saw at least six carp schooling on the surface. They were coming straight towards me, and sucking at the surface as they went. I placed a cast about a metre in front of them, and the leading fish swam over, gulped a few times and I was on.

The third fish. A slender specimen that put up a great fight.

It felt bizarre to be a recent flyfishing convert, have had two blank sessions, then two fish, and then this experience. I’m addicted.

Needless to say, carping is hard, but challenging fishing is what it’s all about. Waving the wand around in the warm spring sun can be quite meditative and mesmerising. If you’re into flyfishing or want to challenge yourself in the Canberra region, there are plenty of opportunities…potentially millions of them. What better way to deal with an invasive species than to treat it as a resource?

I’m hoping to get out again this weekend, so will try to let you know how I go. I’ll probably be a bit light on the posting over the next few months…getting married in November, trying to buy a house, and just got evicted from my rental as the owner is returning. Sorry kids, but SHIT! Wish me luck. As long as I can get a few sessions in, I’ll be ok. Fishing’ll fix what ails ya.

P.S. Hamish and I had a brief but interesting conversation about stress. Physiologically, sightcasting at cruising carp is probably the same as that feeling you get when your life is falling apart, but psychologically, one is beneficial and the other isn’t. I think there’s a lesson in here somewhere. Not entirely sure what it is yet. Something about turning problems into challenges, and challenges into opportunities.