Disclaimer: I am by no means a professional fisherman. The following writeup contains information gleaned only from my own limited personal experience. It will be most useful for complete amateurs like myself with little fishing experience or equipment, as my techniques are very cheap and easy but indubitably less effective than those used by experts.

What Are Carp, And Why Should I Fish For Them?

Carp are big, ugly fish that have the same basic appearance as extraordinarily large goldfish (to whom they are closely related). I've heard they can grow up to 20 kilograms, but most of the ones I've caught have been between 2 and 8 kilograms (I throw the smaller ones back, and the bigger ones snap my fishing line with monotonous regularity).

Carp are found all over the place, and in Australia they have reached plague proportions in many waterways. They are such efficient breeders that they rapidly outcompete most native species, meaning that a lot of rivers contain carp in vast numbers. My own local waterway, which is a tributary of the Parramatta River in western Sydney, is so stuffed full of carp that in some sections you can virtually walk on water.

There are thus two reasons to want to fish for carp. The first is just for the fun of it - and believe me, if you have a little patience, it is fun - and the second is the chance to do your bit (however futile in the long run) to eliminate a pest from your local waterways. One reason you don't want to fish for carp is to eat them - these are not tasty fish, and they tend to live in unpleasant and polluted water. Just show them to your friends and family, then throw them in the bin or mulch them up for smelly fertiliser.

All Right, So How Do I Fish For Carp?

I was just getting to that! Remember, patience is a virtue, and this is particularly apparent when fishing for carp. If you're the impatient sort, stop reading now, because this is not the activity for you.

Still with me? Good. Let's take a look at what you'll need before you set out on your fishing expedition.

  • A fishing line. It can be a fishing rod or just a hand reel - I go for the hand reel myself, because I prefer to fish very close to shore and that makes a rod little more than a cumbersome annoyance. By far the most important thing is that your line must be strong. You're looking to snag a fish that is about five kilograms plus of thrashing muscle. If you have a weak, girlie fishing line it will be snapped as soon as a carp takes the bait - believe me, I speak from experience.
  • Hooks. Hooks are vital. Resist the urge to use massive, wicked-looking nightmare hooks, as these won't fit in the carp's mouth and you will come home empty-handed. Tiny little pansy hooks are just as bad, as the carp will just bend them straight and wriggle off the end. Pick something in the middle. Take lots of them, as you will lose some hooks when big carp snap your line.
  • Floats. You can use expensive, brightly-coloured ones if you want. I just use a cork from a wine bottle. Take a few, as you're almost guaranteed to lose a couple to big carp. Poke holes in them with a skewer so you can attach them firmly to the line (see below).
  • Bait. Again, if you want to buy worms or fancy bait, go ahead. I just use bread. Take several slices of nice soft white bread to bait your hook (the crusts are especially good), as well as a big chunk of any old stale bread you have lying around to throw in the water to attract the fish. (Also, doyle suggests: "Try a smoked Tareyton cigarette filter... has to have the activated carbon filter.")
  • A good fishing spot. Choose wisely. A spot where you can see lots of carp swimming around is good, but not essential - remember that they often hide in the shady spots close to the bank, and they will be attracted by your bread anyway. Avoid spots with lots of weeds growing in the water or on the bank, as these will snag your line with frustrating frequency. The best spot is one where you can stand on a rock right at the water's edge, close to areas where trees overhang the water and provide a hiding place for carp. Remember your own comfort as well as that of the fish - shade and dry places to sit are very useful.
  • Sustenance. Snacks and plenty of water. You know what you like.
  • Extras. A net is nice, but not essential. You'll need several plastic bags to wrap your fish in if you want to take them home (or to do what I generally do unless they are of impressively monstrous size, which is to quickly dispose of them in the nearest garbage bin). Scissors are useful for removing your hooks and floats from the line if you need to reattach or rearrange them.

Now, prepare your line for fishing. Wind out about a foot of line from your reel. Take the cork and slide the line through the hole you made earlier with the skewer. Loop the line around the cork and slide it through the hole again, perhaps after winding the free end around the line above the cork a few times. Repeat this until the cork is securely attached to the line, and does not slide up and down it. Make sure you have at least half a foot of free line left, and use this to attach the hook - some methods for doing this are described here. The hook should be dangling about 5-10 centimetres (2-4 inches) below the cork.

Once you've found a comfortable spot to fish from, bait your hook with the soft white bread. Tear off pieces of bread that are bite-size for a carp (about one centimetre squared is good). Select a piece that looks unlikely to tear or crumble (non-stale crusts are good for this). Skewer the bread with your hook, and make sure it is secure - if it isn't, the carp will simply suck the bait off the hook.

Tear your crappy stale bread into small pieces and scatter it liberally across the surface of the water in the area you want to fish in. It is best to throw your line out at the same time - the splash it makes when it lands can scare off the fish, so you're better off doing it now before the big fish arrive on the scene. Your cork should be floating happily in the centre of the floating bread.

Adopt a stylish but comfortable fishing pose and wait. Make sure your shadow isn't being cast on the area where the bread is, as it will make the fish wary. At all times your attention should be on the cork, watching for the tell-tale disappearance beneath the surface that indicates a fish has taken your bait.

After some time has passed the carp will emerge from hiding and start to take your bread, becoming bolder as time passes and their numbers increase. Watch them carefully. Once one has moved close to your line it is virtually certain that it will take the bait, as they seem to preferentially take bread which is floating slightly below the surface (as yours will be, thanks to the weight of the hook).

Keep watching intently, your heart in your mouth with every swish and sucking noise as the carp take the surface bread. Keep very still. Make sure your line is relatively taut, but be ready to let it go as soon as you have hooked a fish. Your whole being is now focused entirely on the cork and the water around it, willing the carp to take the bait.

And then it happens! Your cork disappears below the water with a swish, and you feel the line go taut. Pull hard , but only for a fraction of a second - you want to make sure the hook pierces the inside of the carp's mouth, but if you keep the line taut the fish will snap it instantly. Now, heart racing, give the fish all the line it needs, but keep it slightly taut to make sure the hook doesn't slide out backwards. The fish will race through the water, trying desperately to free itself. If it moves away from you, feed out the line to stop it from snapping, and if it moves towards you take up the slack immediately. Don't give it a moment's rest - make sure it knows that you are still there on the end of the line.

The carp will tire gradually, which you will be able to tell because it exerts much less force on the line and it spends more time thrashing in the water rather than swimming. Start hauling it towards you, but gradually - it still has enough energy to snap your line if you allow it to. Once it is close enough, trap it in your net (if you have one) or wait until it is so exhausted that you can safely drag it out of the water onto the rocks. Now you can either dispose of it thoughtfully by smashing its head in with a rock, or leave it to die from suffocation if you're the nasty sort. Then retrieve the hook from its mouth (you will usually need to cut the line and then push the hook out of the flesh point-first, as the barbs will prevent it being pulled out the other way) and start the whole process again.

Every time you catch a carp the remaining fish will become warier, so you may need to move on to a new spot after you've caught a few fish. But moving even a few dozen metres up- or downstream seems to be enough, so this is not usually a major problem.

What If Things Go Wrong?

Oh, they will. The above scenario is the ideal situation, but the vast majority of your casts will result in no fish. These are the major problems you will face:

  • I keep losing my bait! This can happen in a number of ways: it can simply fall off the line after it gets soggy, it can be sucked off the hook by a big carp, or it can be eaten by the multitude of baby carp and other small fish that invariably inhabit good fishing waters. The first two problems can be largely prevented by making sure that the bread is a good, solid, non-crumbly piece that is too small to be nibbled at by a big carp (meaning that it has to be taken in a single gulp, along with your hook), but the third is just something you have to deal with. Retrieve your hook periodically to check that there is still enough bait on there to catch a fish, but not too often - remember that every time you cast out your line, you'll be scaring off the big fish with the splash.
  • My line keeps snapping! If a big carp takes your bait and you keep a tight hold on the line for more than about half a second, your line will snap. You have to keep the line taut only for long enough to sink the hook in, and after that you need to make sure that the line is held just tight enough to maintain the pull, but not so tight that the fish can snap it. If you're using a hand reel, control the amount of free line using the reel in one hand and maintain the correct tension by gripping the line with the fingers of your other hand.
  • I haven't caught any carp, but I have a great collection of weeds and sticks... If there are weeds or lots of sticks and other objects under the water then you will occasionally snag your line. Most of the time this can be resolved by moving to different spots on the bank and pulling carefully to dislodge the hook, but occasionally you just have to surrender, cut the line and attach a new float and hook. If you keep getting snagged in the same spot move to a new fishing area.
  • The carp won't take my bait! Sometimes this just happens. Try moving to a new spot, or use a different bait, or try at another time of day, or combinations of the above. You should be able to assess the carp's willingness to take the bait by seeing how quickly they eat the bread you've scattered on the water - if they don't take this, you ain't going to catch 'em. If the carp are particularly spooked you may need to fish very close to sheltered, shady waters, where they feel safer (although often there is a greater risk of snagging your line in these areas). Otherwise, be patient. Sometimes the carp take a while to get going, and if you reel in your line every thirty seconds to see if your bait was eaten while you weren't looking you're just going to scare them off.
  • I'm bored! If you have the attention span of a gnat with ADD, you may as well just go home now. Fishing takes time, and if you're not excited by the rush of watching a fat carp swim purposefully towards your baited hook I pity you.

I hope this guide to fishing for carp on a budget proves useful to someone. I personally find carp fishing a highly rewarding experience, combining an almost meditational focus with the adrenaline of the chase and the satisfaction of a successful hunt. The fact that it helps to remove a noisome pest from Australia's rivers is an added bonus.