What’s it like to be a catch-and-release carp angler living in Australia?
Michael Leeming left behind quill floats and crucian carp when he emigrated from Essex in 1970, but has kept his passion for carp alive in a very different environment.
In this illuminating postcard from Down Under, he explores the trials and tribulations of chasing a species officially classed as a pest.
It’s not clear when cyprinus carpio were first brought to Australia. Records claim there were introductions into Sydney waters in 1850, and fish were definitely stocked into Prospect Reservoir, a source of Sydney water supply, in 1907-08.
The waterway is strictly off limits to all fishing and the mind boggles as to the potential size of some of these fish, which have become known as the Prospect Strain.
During the 1940s and 1950s, fish were discovered in irrigation channels of the Murrumbidgee River, and these carp later became known as the Yanco Strain.
Since introduction, conditions have allowed the fish to prosper in numbers and thrive in the conditions here. They have spread along the eastern areas of New South Wales, out into the central west, south to Victoria and South Australia. Western Australia holds numbers of koi and koi/carp hybrids.
The largest fish I have seen in the last six months is a magnificent specimen of 48lb.
Each state has its own rules and regulations regarding the capture, release and transportation of the species. It is illegal to return live fish into Victorian and South Australian waterways. Fines apply and the penalties for the transportation and relocation of wild fish are huge.
In NSW, carp are currently listed as a ‘Class 3 noxious pest’ under the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994. However, you can return the fish at the venue of capture legally with no repercussions.
Sadly, carp have obtained a bad reputation in Australia due to a lot of bias, misinformation and hysteria. Labelled the 'golden bone’ or 'mud marlin', many fish perish on the bank and are left to rot.
There are no specific tackle shops that deal solely in carp tackle over here, but a few anglers import some gear from outlets in the UK and supply fishermen in some of the carp groups that have popped up in Australia. The advent of online shopping has also meant suitable gear is available at the press of a button.
It is not a disputed fact that carp are a problem in Australia and their management is in the hands of the respective state and federal governments. Usually carp are taken as a bi-catch by anglers targeting freshwater mullet on bread and corn, or a worm presented to other native fish such as murray cod and callop (yellowbelly).
Certainly the ex-pat Brits have adopted and brought to Australia many of the new carp techniques and all have their good results on given days, as in all forms of fishing. It appears that bait technology is a big part of UK carp fishing, whereas down here we have anglers who experiment with baits, making their own special-recipe boilies that work.
It seems that bread baits, along with sweetcorn, are the go-to item. I think it is just a matter of switching the carp to boilies by introducing them at regular intervals until they recognise and appreciate that they are food.
There are no commercial fisheries in Australia for carp fishing and I can’t see any opening. Investors would be reluctant to put money into a venture so strangled by fishery regulations.
I normally fish smaller venues, dams, impoundments and stormwater run-off dams. Recently I have discovered the slow-flowing tidal Hunter River in NSW. The preferred stretch is 40km as the crow flies from where the river discharges into the ocean.
The flow is not that fast and allows the use of a suitably weighted method feeder, straight lead or pva bag.
This area seems to hold larger fish with no small specimens. My theory being that the larger fish can withstand a larger content of salt than the small fish that tend to stay more on the boundary of the fresh and brackish water. All of this is dependent on floods pushing down the system, or drought and lack of water. The saltwater species are happy to venture up into the fresh water, feeding along with the carp.
A small group of anglers fish the Hunter regularly for carp, and good fish up to 25lb have been taken. I am convinced a 30 is not far away. Bait varies, but the reliable bread, corn and worms take the fish.
The main channel of the river is only 4ft deep at low tide and hugs the town’s levee wall. Maitland has experienced huge floods over the years, so had to construct large levees. The fish seem to graze in this zone and pick up bait and crustaceans along the riverbed, which is a light mud with weed cover.
In short, the British carp hunter who has chosen to come to Australia and start a new life has the opportunity to catch specimen fish and bag up! Tight lines from Down Under!