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.
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 (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…
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.
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.