Two years fishing one pool- lessons from the “carp hole”

A carp hanging in the "carp hole"
A carp hanging in the “carp hole”

Most of the fishing we do here at the blog is catch and release. Some fish are just way to special to only catch once. Treasured, valuable trophies, be they tiny fish that one day, with a little luck will rule the river, or huge trophies, kings in the here and now, fish worth so much more alive than dead. In Australia, carp, by legislation in many states, are not those fish. I live in Victoria where its illegal to release carp. That means catch and release is off the table. I try to use and respect the fish I catch, they are noxious pests, but thats not their fault. They also make great fertiliser and grow wonderful Tamarillos and other veggies, they have their uses.

In any case, this post is about what is approaching my two years of fishing the “carp hole”. The “carp hole” is five minutes from my house. Its the place I go after work or on a whim when I have an hour to spare. A place I can go and relax and get some perspective, when further afield, more desirable locations are off the table due to time constraints. The “carp hole”, well its full of carp. Its maybe 60 or 70 meters long, maybe 10 meters across. There are some deep sections and some shallow sections. Its un-fishable for much of winter or anytime there is a fair bit of rain. It becomes a muddy, coffee coloured pool, where sight fishing is impossible. It fishes best when the weather has been stable for a while. In fact, despite being right in the middle of Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city, its often almost gin clear. The city equivalent of gin clear anyway, not NZ mountain stream gin clear. The Chinese knock off Louis Vitton of gin clear. Almost the real thing, but not really, not really at all. But if you haven’t seen the real thing for a while, you convince yourself that its so similar to the real thing, that its pretty much the real thing, only to realise the error of your ways when you actually see the real thing again. Then you realise, its not much like the real thing at all.

A carp hanging under an algal mat
A carp hanging under an algal mat

But I digress. The “carp hole”, its full of carp. Unlike many other spots in the area, the carp in the “carp hole” are “big”. This isn’t a pool for babies. In two years of fishing the hole, the average size of fish has been about 10lbs (4.5kg). When I started fishing the “carp hole”, it was absolutely chocked full of carp. Fish farm chocked. This one small pool was home to 70+ carp, almost all of them big. When it was “gin” clear, almost all of them could be seen as you walked along its edge. Carp after carp after carp. The “carp hole” holds a lot of carp.

When I first started fly fishing the hole, once I had started to get a hang of fly fishing for carp anyway, the “carp hole” produced some amazing fishing. It wasn’t uncommon to get 4 or 5 fish between 4 and 9.6 kgs in an hour or two ย (I am yet to crack the 10kg mark, I’ve been brutalised by a few fish that would have easily made it, but the light tippets needed to fool the fish and the sharp rock ledges in the pool have been my undoing time and time again). I started to fish the “carp hole” as I started to really get into fly fishing and catching loads of big, “finicky” (I thought they were finicky at the time anyway, I now know better) fish was a great way to learn. In my first year fly fishing, I learnt more fishing the “carp hole” than anywhere else. It provided the perfect learning experience. As I improved as an angler, the fish in the hole, wised up and became harder to catch. As angler and quarry respectively we evolved and grew together. Flies that once caught fish, would quickly spook fish. I’d come up with new creations, which would work and then soon after lose their effectiveness. I learnt about presentation, stealth, fighting big fish on a fly rod and a host of other things you only really pick up on the water. And without the “carp hole” I wouldn’t have been out on the water as much, not even close. The benefit of an urban fishery is that its there. Sometimes just being there means a lot. For that, for the lessons the pool has taught me, I am eternally grateful. If nothing else, it helped bring me to fly fishing and that is a wonderful gift to give anyone…

A tiny "carp hole" carp. At 7.2lbs this is the smallest fish I've caught from the pool in well over a year.
A tiny “carp hole” carp. At 7.2lbs this is the smallest fish I’ve caught from the pool in well over a year.

Fast forward to the present. Victorian legislation and the fact Carp are an invasive and destructive species in Australian waterways, mean the “carp hole” is now only home to between 30-40 fish. I know a lot of them by sight. Each Spring the winter rains bring a few new residents to the pool, fish that are super easy to catch, uneducated and happy to take any offering you put in front of them. They don’t last long. Of the fish in the pool, 4-5 are over 20lbs (I am yet to land any of the big big fish in the pool- I have landed three 20lbers, the biggest 21lbs. On that instance, I was “disappointed” that the “small” fish ate my fly- the fish next to it was bigger. One day), 5-6 in the 15-20lb bracket, 10-12 in the 10-15lb bracket, with maybe 10-15 fish under 10lbs. The remaining fish are smart, proper smart, the harvard professors of the carp world (at least I think they are, in a years time I’ll be telling you how wrong I was). As they have been over my whole fly fishing career, the carp in the “carp hole” can still be some of the most challenging fish I chase, they still force me to improve as an angler every time I fish for them. In two years, almost single handedly, I’ve at least halved the population of carp in the pool. I am not proud of that fact, but I am not ashamed of it either. The situation me and the carp find ourselves in is the situation we find ourselves in. There is nothing we can do to change that. I don’t hate carp, in fact I have a lot of respect for them, I think they are wonderful fish. I dream of one day catching and releasing them on their home turf. At home, where they are meant to be, they would be truly magnificent fish worthy of the upmost respect and adoration. But that is not the situation at the “carp hole”. They are noxious pests. As noxious pests, by decree of the Victorian government they must be killed when caught. I think this is a good thing. The health of our waterways is paramount. I understand that. But I don’t hate carp and I don’t kill carp for fun, I try to do it with respect, quickly and humanely, I often do it with a heavy heart. Chasing these fish day after day, you grow attached, build up fake rivalries in your head with some of the more charismatic, more easily identified fish in the pool, sometimes its hard catching and then killing fish like that. But the situation is the situation and carp just aren’t meant to be here. Hopefully one day the carp will be gone and in future years, people can write similar articles about the virtues of chasing the native fish that once used to inhabit these rivers. But those days are a long way off. Until then, I am going to continue fishing the “carp hole”, learning from and respecting these fish, but also removing them from the waterway. I have no idea if this is related to my efforts, but in the first year of fishing the carp hole I didn’t see a single turtle. Now, it is uncommon not to see 2-3 each session. I like to think my efforts may have contributed to that, that my efforts may have improved the carp hole for the native inhabitants of the river, that those carp dying wasn’t in vane. But thats just a story I like to tell myself, its probably not at all true.

A respectable "carp hole" carp, 12.5lbs (5.7kgs).
A respectable “carp hole” carp, 12.5lbs (5.7kgs).

The last observation I would like to make about the “carp hole”, isn’t about carp. One of the things fishing the “carp hole” for two years has shown me in stark detail, is the effect one angler can have on a stretch of river. The carp hole was once absolutely chocked full of carp. It still has a lot of carp, but far far less than when I started fishing it. My efforts fishing the pool have had a very real impact on the number of carp in the pool. If just one guy with a fly rod, can have that sort of impact on a small stretch of river, think about the impact all of us could have by just taking a few Golden perch, Australian bass or Murray cod from a favourite stretch of river. Its these magnificent fish, our wild native river fish, that are worthy of the upmost respect and adoration, and at least in my opinion, they are too good to catch just once. If you have ever had the good fortune to catch the same fish, in the same pool, in different years, you will know its one of the best feelings on earth. Over time, you can build “relationships” with fish. You can’t do that with carp in Australia, but you can with our amazing native fish and thats pretty damned special.

Cheers

Hamish

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then theyโ€™ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and thatโ€™s all that really counts in the end!

13 thoughts on “Two years fishing one pool- lessons from the “carp hole”

  • January 29, 2014 at 11:50 am
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    Great story. Just started fly fishing, have not caught a thing yet except branches, trees and leaves. I guess I need to practice getting the fly into the water a bit better.
    BTW where is this carp hole? Can believe there are carp close to Melbourne.
    Good job, Hamish.
    Regards,
    Peter

    Reply
    • January 29, 2014 at 12:24 pm
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      Haha, catching branches, leaves and bushes is par for the course when you start fly fishing. The carp hole is on Merri creek, which just happens to be out the back of our place. Also loads of carp in the Yarra, Gardiners creek (behind the box hill golf club is pretty good), Darebin creek etc etc. Pretty much all the urban waterways within Melbourne (creeks, lakes etc) have pretty big populations of carp. Good targets on fly especially when you are learning. If you are going to give it a shot, a few wooly buggers, soft hackles, dragonfly/mayfly nymphs and you should get into a few. Uneducated fish are pretty easy, they wise up pretty quickly though if you fish the same spot regularly. Good luck

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply
      • January 29, 2014 at 12:51 pm
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        Thanks Hamish. If there are so many places to find carp they must really be a pest. Only good a fertiliser…..
        Also love your articles on Eden and Wonboyn. Friends took me there a couple of years ago and absolutely love the place. Caught some Salmon and Tailor. Stayed at the Wonboyn Caravan Park.
        Recently went fishing at Marlo. Nothing on the beach but caught bream, travelly and luderick at the Snowy River. Also some eels. Many broke off because eels have teeth.

        Reply
  • January 29, 2014 at 2:18 pm
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    Carp are everywhere!

    Me and Lee are pretty lucky, my folks live in Eden and Lees on Wallaga lake. So plenty of excuses to go fishing ๐Ÿ™‚

    Marlo is a lovely place. The Croajingalong national park is spectacular. Tamboon and the Bemm river are also great fisheries

    Cheers
    Hamish

    Reply
  • January 30, 2014 at 9:37 am
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    Thanks Bob

    Cheers
    Hamish

    Reply
  • May 29, 2014 at 10:45 am
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    Nice one, Hamish. Yet another species I haven’t caught on the fly (but my preferred fly fishing is in the tropics, and I am relatively new to fly fishing.)

    Reply
  • June 2, 2014 at 11:51 am
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    great article mate- also a fellow merri creek carp hunter and i am also finding the fish are wising up to my tactics. I have been fishing around the North Coburg area recently- Carr street has a big carp hole which has some unstoppables in there. if your ever keen for a fishing buddy- would be great to hit the creek for some carp action with ya.

    Reply
  • June 2, 2014 at 12:07 pm
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    Sjk. If your ever down south, Carp are worthy adversaries, although if I lived in the tropics, I dare say I’d take fishing for little GTs, queenies, tarpon, sootys and JPs over chasing carp. Sadly we don’t have those options in Melbourne ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks Nick. Would definitely be keen to go chasing carp with you on the Merri at some point. I need to start branching out and venturing further afield, my guys have got me beat at the moment ๐Ÿ™‚

    Cheers
    Hamish

    Reply
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  • April 7, 2015 at 7:54 pm
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    I recently started fishing some of the Carp out of the Merri too, and at first I was a bit funny about it..as you say, you can’t release them…that is unusual for me, I either eat 1 or 2 or release all the fish I have catch. BUT having seen the odd native fish, and eel in the creek, as well as the platypus I am keen to get the Carp out so that we can see what will live in there after. It is great to be able to fish right on the back door too!

    Reply
    • April 10, 2015 at 3:09 pm
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      Platypus! You lucky thing! What native fish have you seen Glenda? Would be great if some of the small natives that used to live in the Merri made a comeback ๐Ÿ™‚

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply
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