The European carp was first introduced into Australia in the early 1900s for, believe it or not, food and sport. Unfortunately, during the 1970s there was extensive flooding and carp managed to get from farm dams into our waterways and we all know that from there they spread like rabbits.
Carp can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures, pH levels, salinity levels and can also breed in highly polluted, oxygen drained water. European carp are known as the rats of our waterways: they smell, are full of bones, and taste terrible (despite being a delicacy to many Europeans). The species is overlooked for its sporting abilities due to its reputation for destroying our waterways.
There have been various studies on eradicating carp, such as the daughterless carp trial which makes all offspring male, eventually wiping out the species over a number of decades. Other studies include carp-specific biocides, pheromones and sensory attractants and a Koi Herpes virus that apparently kills carp by attacking their gills and other vital organs. However, until studies are concluded and a solution found, they will keep destroying our favourite waterways.
Another problem is that hardly anyone bothers to target them these days. However, until a solution is found, carp are not going anywhere and I believe anglers should do their bit for the water systems by targeting them occasionally.
The biggest carp myth is that they can only be caught on bait, and this has caused many lure junkies to simply ignore them. However, in my experience, carp will readily take lures, often going for trolled deep divers that were intended for a cod or yella. They sometimes even hit Celtas and rooster tails intended for trout in mountain streams.
The technique I’m going to describe however requires a little more cunning, practice and precision than trolling and can work all year round with consistent results.
When choosing the type of rod and reel to use when targeting carp on lures, it really depends on personal preference. However, as we are targeting them for sport or just trying to reduce their numbers, I would advise you not to go any heavier than about 8lb main line. I use 4lb braid with 6lb leader material on a Daiwa Caldia Kix 1500 teamed with a Strudwick Sicstik Pro 1-3kg 7’0” spin stick. This also doubles as my trout set-up and has handled 15lb carp in small snaggy streams after some long and dirty fights. The other reason to use light gear is that it allows you to cast the 1-2” soft plastics on 3/16oz to 1/32oz jigheads used for this type of fishing. Also, at times carp can be very line-shy and finicky.
I use the same plastics for carp as I do for trout. Squidgies Bugs, Scrounger soft plastics with spinning jigheads and Berkley Gulp! Minnow Grubs are my favourites but I’ve caught carp on just about every brand out there and have found that the colour makes absolutely no difference but that they have a strong preference for curl-tailed plastics over paddle tails.
A pair of polarized sunglasses will help you spot the feeding carp. Although the majority of carp fishing is done in the shallows or against the bank where the fish can sometimes be spotted by the naked eye, a pair of polarized glasses helps you to detect takes for a better hook-up rate.
Spray-on or rub-on scents and attractants are also very beneficial with this type of fishing. The type of scent is not overly important, it simply needs to mask the smell of the plastic and also your hands. This is very important if you’re a smoker or have been playing with petrol or something similar.
There are three main habits exhibited by carp: cruising, circling and tailing. These habits are each very different and only one of them will cause a lure angler to start salivating.
This is what you don’t want to see as a lure angler. The fish is visible just below the water surface and looks to be cruising in between spots. It is very difficult to entice a fish that is cruising to attack a lure, regardless of whether you drag your lure right in front of their nose. In fact, this normally spooks a cruiser as they simply are not feeding. However, if there is little food and low water levels a cruiser can very occasionally spring into action and dive after your lure out of pure hunger.
You will normally hear a fish that is circling before you see it because they often jump out of the water while circling. The carp do this to stir up the bottom and dislodge any tasty critters. They can be seen rubbing themselves along the bottom in a circular motion and can get so wrapped up in what they are doing that they launch themselves out of the water, often ten or more times in a row. After carp finish their circling ritual they normally go on feeding through their mess and can then be targeted.
This is what the lure angler wants to see. Tails up in the air often breaking the water surface while the fish sucks and sieves the bottom in an active feeding state, normally thinking about nothing other than filling their bellies. These are the fish we are going to target.
This type of fishing works in creeks, rivers and impoundments but requires a bit of patience, as you have to walk the banks slowly stalking your victims looking for that telltale sign of a tailing carp. Once you have located an active feeder, take a minute to observe the direction in which the fish is feeding, then cast out about 2 metres past and in front of the carp so as not to spook it. Any closer and most of the time they will shoot away and stop feeding for some time and you might as well move on.
After your lure hits the water retrieve it back slowly along the bottom making it kick up little puffs of mud and silt as it makes its way back to the feeding carp. Take the lure to about 15-20cm in front of where the carp is feeding then dead stick it. An active hungry carp will normally notice your lure at this time and quickly move over to where your lure rests and start sucking your plastic. If they are not that hungry or haven’t noticed it yet, I like to give the rod a little twitch, just enough to move the plastic a few centimetres at a time to get the carp’s attention.
Once you have their focus on sucking your plastic, you will need to keep a good eye on your plastic or your line and set the hook as soon as you see the plastic disappear. If you can’t see your plastic, set the hook as soon as you get some slack or taught line.
If you use a strong scent like garlic juice or aniseed oil with your plastics you don’t need to worry too much about being really quick as these pigs will often completely swallow your lure and keep on feeding not realising that they have a hook, plastic and six inches of fishing line down their throat.
For those who can’t find a spray or gel, I’ve found smearing some mashed up worms and yabbies on the plastics works well and is also an awesome freshwater berley. If you don’t use scents you will still catch your share of fish but you will generally have to be a little trigger happy to hook them unless you use scented plastics like the Berkleys.
Carp have spread to just about anywhere there is freshwater of any quality, so you probably won’t have to travel too far to catch a few. In fact, it is more than likely your favourite fishing hole has a population of the great fighting vermin.
The best time of the year for carp is Summer because the water is at its warmest and the carp are more active. A couple of months either side of Summer is fine also, so this gives you about half the year to target them on plastics. They do become quite difficult to catch in the cooler months. Although you will still catch the odd carp on lures in cold water, you are probably better off using bait for bigger numbers or targeting another species until it warms up.
In my opinion, carp are one of the best fighting southern freshwater fish on light gear – they fight dirty, pull hard and are really easy to catch on bait or plastics. The fact that you are doing your dam, creek or river the world of good by targeting them and reducing their numbers can make for a satisfying fishing experience, much the same as watching a big Murray cod or trout swim away on release after a great fight. And when you consider how fun and challenging it is to catch carp on plastics and light gear, it really makes you wonder why people don’t target them more often.
1. A carp caught on a Roostertail while spinning for trout.
2. This small carp is now out of our system for good.
3. All you need for an action-packed carp on plastics session.
4. Hooking up on a carp.
5. A typical carp hole: plenty of shade and deep water for really hot days, and nice shallow edges to feed in on colder days.