In the first part of this crazy carp adventure, I looked at where to catch an ‘eating carp’ around Canberra. The word on various fishing forums and social media was that they taste better with less of a muddy taste from flowing rivers than from lakes. If I was going to embark on this mission, I wanted to make sure the fish had every chance of rewarding the family and I with a reasonable meal – and much to my surprise it did.
Catching a carp
On a sunny winter afternoon, I loaded up a few rods, a net and an esky and took off for the Murrumbidgee river. Here at flickandflyjournal, we do 99% of our fishing with lures and flies. But this is the 1% where I have to admit, I ‘cheated’. I made the decision to fish with bait. Yes you CAN catch carp on soft plastics and fly – but both techniques are more productive if you can sight cast to cruising or feeding fish. Check out any number of Hamish and Lee’s carp-on-fly sessions here, here and here for examples. But on this day the water was a coffee brown, so I resorted to a tin of sweet corn. I threw a handful of burley out every 15 minutes or so, tied up three simple running sinker rigs with about 1.5 metres of leader above a tiny weight and a swivel. The hooks were small, about size 6 and each had two or three corn kernals on the shank and bend, leaving the hook point exposed. I cast them out into the burley and set the rods into their holders. I find carp very cautious feeders most of the time, tasting a bait and then spitting it out again in an instant. So I like to leave a couple of metres worth of slack line so the fish can suck up the bait, swallow it and then start to swim off before feeling any resistance from the line. After a handful of tentative bites and small runs, one of the lines starting to run off into the middle of river – I held the rod high and let it load up – I was on!
I held the rod while frantically winding in the other two to get them out of the way. Another fisherman nearby saw the commotion and came over to give me a hand – he makes a brief cameo in the timelapse video. After a couple of minutes, I grabbed the landing net and the fish slid in.
Preparing the carp
Much to the amazement of the onlookers, I took the carp out of the landing net, removed the hook and plunged it straight into an esky filled with ice bricks and freshwater. I didn’t care, I had my fish and I was pumped. Man I love fishing – even bait fishing. I closed the lid, loaded the esky into the car and sped off. The fish thrashed once, then went completely still. The theory goes that as the fish slowly goes to ‘sleep’ in the ice, the blood is withdrawn from the extremities, much like frostbite, improving the flavour. Having never done this before, who was I to argue?
When I got home, I put the fish on the outside table, grabbed my filleting knife and was just about to start filleting when I noticed the fish was still alive. Seriously!? It had been in the ice for close to an hour, it was freezing cold and my hands were numb just from taking it out of the esky. Carp really are one of the hardiest creatures on the planet and I respect that. I consulted the ikijme app on my smart phone while grabbing a sharp screwdriver and a nearby hammer. I held the screwdriver on the magic spot and gave it a firm tap with the hammer. The fish was now dead.
To fillet the fish, I approached it as I would any round fish like a salmon, whiting or trout. I started behind the head and let the spine guide the knife down towards the tail. Once I cleared the ribs, I pushed the knife right down to the belly and then continued back to the tail. Lifting the fillet up from the shoulder with one hand, I followed the ribs down towards the belly with the knife in my other hand. I tried to pay extra attention to the flesh around the belly – I had read this is the best bit. This is a great video here if you need any tips.
Once I got the fillet off the fish, it was obvious that there was a distinct colour difference. The belly flap is much lighter in colour and so too is the strip across the shoulders. I trimmed these bits from the fillet. These have no bones and obviously less blood in the flesh. Supposedly, they are the bits you can eat.
I didn’t want to hide the flesh in a curry or strongly flavoured soup, so I simply rolled the shoulder and belly pieces in a little salt, pepper and flour. After coming this far, I was really curious what the ‘bad’ bits might taste like as well, so I cut some strips off the red meat and gave them the same treatment.
I put a little olive oil and a small knob of butter in a heavy pan and after a moment, dropped the carp strips in with a sizzle. After a couple of minutes on each side they were golden brown and I popped them on some kitcken towel to drain. I added the red meat strips and gave them the same treatment.
We had some potatoes and a few veggies to serve with the carp and there was a packet of steak in the fridge should it all go horribly wrong. I’m happy to report that the steak wasn’t required. My cousin, who is a kiwi and not as disgusted by the thought of eating carp as most Aussies, causally said “mmm this is quite nice”. My father said “What’s the big deal about eating carp? There’s nothing wrong with it”
And from my point of view, having researched, planned, caught, prepared and cooked the fish … It was actually pretty good. It was certainly very fresh, much fresher than other fish I’ve had from clubs and pubs up and down the coast at times. It had a very mild taste and the crunchy, slightly salty flour coating made it quite moreish. There was no hint of a muddy flavour at all. If anything it needs a curry sauce or a strongly flavoured soup, not to hide the taste of the fish, but to give it some.
Oh and the red meat, the bit that is supposedly not fit for human consumption. Well it tasted exactly the same as the white meat but it had row after row of little Y-shaped bones. We decided to save the rest of this for the cat. The head and the frame went into the veggie patch for this summer’s corn crop – waste not want not.
So there you have it. The most despised, supposedly disgusting ‘trash’ fish in our freshwater lakes and rivers and it tasted completely fine. Even quite nice. I didn’t have to soak it in a bath tub for a week, or bath the flesh in milk, or hide the fish in a thick curry. Just get the fish on ice, trim up the fillet and fry it.
Of course, nothing here is restricted to Canberra and its surrounds, that just happens to be where I live. You too can do your bit by taking a few carp out of your local river and cooking them up. I dare ya to give it go!