“Wild River Carpin” in Kayaks

Are you in the need for an adrenaline fix, Bill Dunn takes us into Canberra for some yakking in search of some wild river carp.

Not everything about the Nation’s capital is politics and there is much to like about the area. If the political arena in Canberra is not to your taste, then one of the best things about living in the Nation’s capital is the proximity to some really great waterways. For example, with in an hour and a half’s drive of Canberra, you can be fishing for bream off a pier on the South Coast, sight fishing for Trout in the Snowy Mountains or chasing monster Cod at Lake Burrinjuck. In the middle all of that is the Capital itself, Canberra, were you can wet a line within 15 minutes from where ever you are bd

Canberra and its lakes are well known for European Carp (thought to have been stocked into Burley Griffin by accident whilst stocking trout in the late 60’s), and the lakes certainly have some monster carp, it’s true. But Canberra’s lakes are also fantastic native fish haunts, particularly for Golden Perch and Murray Cod. Lake Burley Griffin is fed by the Molonglo River, and prior to the river being dammed in the late 50’s, the Molonglo was known as one of the premier Cod rivers in NSW. Today, Burley Griffin is heavily fished for both Cod and Yella’s throughout the year – and is one of the few areas that regularly deliver, even in the depths of winter (it is tougher though). Canberra has at least 6 other lakes and ponds were you can seek out the odd native or two. The ACT also has the Murrumbidgee river running through it, and is very close to Googong reservoir in NSW, famous for huge, elusive cod and Golden Perch, but no carp. Redfin perch also abound all the waterways in the region, and can supply good sport when required. The carp are popular among many fishers, and there are some that specialise in targeting them. I used to take my kids to one of the lakes, before they were teens and way too cool to fish with dad, and they would delight in hooking into a carp. A 7 ft fibreglass stick, 25 to 3500 reel, 10 or so pound mono, ball sinker and circle hook and a corn kernel was all that was needed. They would cast the corn baited hook out, and then kick a ball around for a while – until they got a bite, and the reel started to make a noise.bd1

They landed some monster carp too, on one occasion it took 20 minutes to subdue a very large specimen, around a metre long. When I got hooked on lure fishing, carp became a thing of the past, as they very rarely get hooked on a lure. An unwanted visitor, these days I would only hook a carp accidentally. Not something I would normally search out, they have a habit of stinking out the Yak, my clothes, hands and whatever else they come in contact with.

I fish a lot of lakes from my Yak, but I also fish rivers as well. ‘Wild river’ fishing is a whole different game, as you are constantly on the move, sometimes even when you don’t want to. It is a lot more difficult and requires a heightened skill set. The rivers around Canberra also contain carp, due to outflows from the lakes. But until recently, I had never tried to catch a river carp, why would I even want to? So it was a little unusual to say the least, when a mate and I decided to hit the Murrumbidgee in our Yaks, and target Carp with lures. I used a couple of spin rods, one a 6ft and the other a 7ft. One had a small hard body attached and the other a small unweighted worm hook with a small soft plastic bug. Both reels had 10Lbs Hi Vis braid. I also took other lures of various descriptions, as well as a selection of jig heads and plastics. I had never consciously fished for carp with lures, and prior to hitting the river, I researched the internet and wound up with lots of ideas, which led to many plans or variations thereof. In the end, I scaled it back and kept it simple. With a kayak, in a river, you just have to go back to basics,there is only so much hardware you can take.bd2

Where we fished, we had been before, searching for natives, and had seen many Carp during that trip, but hadn’t fished for them. Because we had so easily spotted them, often in the shallows, we decided it would be fun to sight fish for them with lures, but this was much more difficult than we anticipated. For starters, we were on the river for 6 hrs – and even during autumn, the water flows well, it is no stagnant pool – so you have to work hard, and be vigilant, and it can be quite taxing. Along the way, there are many sand washes, log piles, fallen trees, rock pools, deep pools, rapids, steep banks and sandy beaches, providing a varying landscape at all times. It turned out on this trip that the Carp were not as evident as before, they were still there, just not as easy to spot. Previously it had been sunny – and they were easy to spot ‘frolicking’ in the shallows, on this trip, it was cloudy and we needed to go find them, which we happily did, but it turns out Carp are pretty wary, and certainly have good eye sight – and so easy to spook. After we figured this out, and we developed our stealth approach, we were able to sneak up on the occasional fish, and then all we needed was to figure out how to catch them.bd5

The method I found to work best, in that it spooked less fish, was the above mentioned 7 ft rod, with 2 metres of 10 Lb clear mono tied to the Hi Vis braid, an un weighted hook and plastic grub. Floating along, standing and using the paddle to steer like a paddle boarder would, polarising the shallows for signs of fish, and when I found a carp two (there are always more than one), I would cast to them, trying to get their attention. I did also try hard bodied lures, and some small spinners, but the one that worked best is the one detailed above. Originally I tried with a 6 lb mono leader, but was easily busted off, these fish, unlike their lake cousins, are all muscle, and happy to head into snags. Mono slowed the sink rate of the lure, keeping it in the target zone longer. It all came together; when I accidentally over cast onto the bank just behind two carp that were patrolling the shallows below the bank, and gentle tugs on the lure allowed me to gently plonk the bug between them and the bank. I noticed that this got the attention of both fish without spooking them, causing them to turn toward my lure. As they approached, I gently twitched the lure toward me, and they in turn followed. I twitched it again, and again they followed. Twitch, follow, twitch follow, but they never got closer than about 100 cm’s. Frustrated, I gave the lure a couple of quick twitches (as if the bug was startled and fleeing), and when I did that, both fish pounced, but one was quicker to the lure, and when it took the lure – I set the hook.bd6

From that moment on, things changed for me. That fish took me for a merry ride. The only thing I could liken it too was a Rainbow Trout – but a real big one – as in around 70cm in length. I say rainbow trout, because this Carp, twice leapt clear of the water in an effort to shake the hook. It shot across the river and back, I don’t know how many times. It went deep, it went shallow, and it took about 120 metres of line off my reel at one point in a river probably only 30 metres wide and it took me a good 20 mins to get it under control and beached. It was in no way the largest carp I have caught, but it was certainly the fittest. This fish was able to tow my kayak against the current on one occasion, and the speed at which it changed direction in the river, meant that often my rod, line and I were facing one direction, and the fish was behind me. Everything happened very quickly. Other fish we hooked that day, were all impressive in the fight they gave, but that first one I landed is the one I remember best. So, if ever you are in need of an adrenaline fix, and want to help the environment at the same time – grab your yak, some light tackle – and go sight fishing for a ‘Wild River’ carp, you won’t regret it , it is so much fun. Oh yeah – and they don’t stink anything like as bad as their lake cousins. I’m certainly going back for another go.

Bill Dunn

About Bill Dunn

Me....well my first fishing memories are at lakes Entrance and Bright, both in Victoria with my family when I was about 10-12 years of age. Since I have always taken a rod and reel when away,and whilst never been good at it, i find it very relaxing. Yak fishing started for me when i was in my early 20's on the rivers and coastal areas around the ACT, I would take my fibreglass slalom kayak and a rod, tent etc.

About 6 years ago I got a bit more serious and started looking into yak fishing again and it didnt take me long to realise it was a fast growing version of the sport.

These days, I still live in Canberra, and a few kayaks on, I still find it theraputic and at the same time challanging. More recently I have been helping new comers into the sport with advice and tips on kayaks and set up, the fishing I leave to them.

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