‘No; if it’s liars you are looking for don’t search the banks of a stream. Go to the golf links. Go, at once, to the golf links.’
— William Caine, Fish, Fishing, and Fisherman. (1927)
I know, I know. They are ugly, smell and taste like shit, and as far as the broader community goes they are simply a pest that, if caught, should be thrown onto the bank and with a certain amount of enthusiasm, stomped into the dirt. Their infamy was sealed after some rather poor judgement was displayed when bait fisherman in the 70’s started using them to try and catch cod and yellowbelly in the Murray. The population of those that – escaped, were released or avoided the cat bowl – exploded. I still remember the despairing look on my Uncle Geoff’s face as he pulled in carp after carp from his favourite bait fishing holes on rivers like the Edwards and the Murray.
I certainly have no pedigree when it comes to fishing. Most of what I did as a kid was after we had been out duck or quail shooting and I couldn’t sit around waiting for Dad and Uncle Geoff, as the position of the sun indicated it was beer o’clock. I took the old spinning rod, grabbed the box of insanely lurid spinners, (and the .22 in case a rabbit could be bagged) and headed off. A few redfin, the very occasional yellowbelly and of course lots of carp—what a crappy fish!
After my mother died my family made a kind of pact. They told me to get myself (and wife and daughter) to “the river” for Christmas, they’d all been going for over twenty years and it was high time we showed up. We did and it was fun: lots of laughs, plenty of great food and the Eski was never empty. All in all pretty cool. But there was one minor issue, a distinct lack of fishing. I always take a fly rod along just in case there's a chance to cast to a fish or simply practice in a nearby paddock. But there I was, standing in amongst the tall river gums staring down at a tailing carp. I could feel that inner churn in my gut as I watched him moving along the edge, doing that searching shovelling thing that has made them so notorious. I must have been desperately searching for a reason to just hunt down one of these fish when I remembered a recent episode of American Fly Fisherman and a gung-ho guide telling us that carp fishing was the fastest growing area of the sport in the States. Jesus, they will try and sell you anything these days.
I was lamenting on all of this and becoming a little down in the mouth when all of a sudden that other part of my brain (please don’t ask me to tell you which side! ) seemed to come alive. It was like an inner chant, ‘GO AND GET YOUR BLOODY ROD AND TRY TO CATCH THAT FISH! GO AND GET YOUR BLOODY ROD AND TRY TO CATCH THAT FISH!’ on and on it went until at last I gave in, and believe me once the choice had been made I was off. The rod was assembled, a box of wets was grabbed and back down to the treeline, he’s still there. Fortunately I had subconciously remembered the gung-ho guides fly choices. You know how it goes, you can’t remember your mother-in-law’s first name but sure as hell you can remember that 3lb rainbow you caught in New Zealand five years ago on an Iron Blue Dun, that’s just how it rolls.
Maybe this next part is what I so love about fly-fishing. The watching, the working out, the tactics you intend to use. It no longer matters that this is a crappy carp, I want to catch this fish on a fly. First choice was a natural fur fly, (remember the guide), these were short casts, there was no spooking these fish. I tried everything, short casts, long casts, slow retrieves, fast retrieves, all the tricks I could muster and not even a look at the fly until he eventually swam out and over the drop-off. Sitting down on the bank I started to ponder on my fly choice and the only thing that seemed an option was to put on something black and be a bit more aggressive looking. The next fish came along just as I finished tying on a black Woolly Worm. This time the fly was cast up 12 inches in front of the fish and drawn across and past him. That fish lunged at the fly just as any half decent predator should. The mold was set and that’s how it fell, close, intimate, tight tussels with this surprisingly fun to catch pest.
It feels strange in some ways being here. I look at my fishing youth and compare it to someone like Scholes who fished all those wonderful rivers of country Victoria, catching his bag of speckled trout and telling tales of wonderous scenery and red letter days. Mine was growing up with my Mum’s best friend Aunty Ruth in Bendigo, fishing farm dams, catching yabbies, redfin on a speckled spinner and after it all letting me drive out to the main road in her red and white EK Holden. These memories have become very treasured as life moves on. When I read Scholes’ words I know he had something very special, and in comparison mine may seem mundane. But would I change anything? Not a damn thing.