In the wake of a spate of delicious looking carp belly salad pics on Facebook, Outdoorstype takes a closer look at carp in the Murray River, where they’re from, and how to catch and cook them.
What are they? Where are they from?
Carp originated in Asia thousands of years ago and spread to Europe as an ornamental and aquaculture fish. They were brought to Australia around 100 years ago but weren’t common until the ‘Boolara’ strain was introduced near Mildura in 1964. Widespread flooding in the 70’s and reckless transplantation mean that carp now account for up to 90% of all biomass in some waters of the Murray Darling basin. In Australia there are common carp, European carp, koi, mirror carp, and leather carp. These names are the main ones used but they all refer to Cyprinus carpio. Carp belong to the Cyprinid group of fishes which contains other pest species in Australia like goldfish, tench and roach. They all compete with native species and stir up river beds in their search for food. Carp breed in murky backwaters, sometimes reaching concentrations of one million fish per hectare of shallow water. Carp are generally silver with olive green fins and backs but colours vary widely. Sometimes they’re a much darker olive, and sometimes gold. Catches of spotted koi carp in the wild are rare. Sometimes you’ll land large goldfish from the Murray, which is weird. Goldfish are related to carp but different… and also a pest not to be returned to the water.
How to catch carp
It’s easy to catch carp, but here’s some basic tips and tricks to ensure you get some. Remember that any carp caught anywhere in South Australia must NOT be returned to the water. Carp are a PEST, but that doesn’t mean you can’t target them, or find a tasty way to cook them.
Anywhere you can put a line in the river you can catch carp. It’s an easy introduction to fishing in Australia for kids and tourists alike. Carp are caught day and all night. They’re caught anywhere in the river, but backwaters and lagoons are the most productive. Carp are known as a generalist species so water depth, temperature, snags, cover, and flow, don’t matter too much. Carp are taking an ever expanding menu of bait and hit shrimp and yabby baits just as hard as the traditional carp baits. Traditional carp bait is as simple as rolled stale bread, corn kernels, or worms. See this video from Outdoorstype for tips on catching shrimp and yabbies as bait. Worms can be purchased at tackle shops along the river or independent and well stocked fishing stores in Adelaide.
A rod and reel is recommended, but hand-lines will do the job. A simple running sinker set up incorporates a short “leader” to helps keep the hook clear of most snags. Size of hook isn’t important. A size four or six hook, about a centimetre wide, is fine. A bean or ball sinker about the size of a thumbnail is heavy enough.
When you cast, don’t try and lob the bait into the middle of the river. Cast it nice and easy, about 10-20 metres from the bank. Buy a rod holder from fishing stores or find a stick nearby you can shove into the ground to prop up your rod. When the rod is propped in the rod holder at a gentle angle, your rod tip should be facing toward the water along the same line that the line disappears into the water. Gently wind some line in to take up the slack but don’t make it too tight. Clip a bell to the top of the rod and go do other stuff while you wait for the fish to bite.
Bait fishing on the Murray River means the fish generally hook themselves. Fishing for carp with bait in the Murray River doesn’t rely on messing around with finicky bites. Outdoorstype usually waits for two or three hits on the bait (rings on the bell) and strikes on the next one. What is interesting is that carp will sometimes take your bait and then just stay still. Thinking nothing’s happened for a while, you check your bait and find you’ve hooked a large carp.
What do you do with carp when you’ve caught them?
You absolutely must remove and dispose of all remains properly and not leave them lying around the river banks. If you fished for them, it’s your responsibility to deal with them. Think about that before you fish.
What do chefs do with it?
Some South Australian chefs are already onto the delicious possibilities of carp belly. Recipes books like If you Can’t beat Em, Eat em from the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority suggest there are lots of ways to cook carp.
What did Outdoorstype do with carp?
Outdoorstype made a Facebook inspired fried carp belly salad in the bush. The reality of filleting carp, is that carp belly is about five percent of the fish. The boneless white flesh from around there is eating quality. Simply cut the large fillets either side (for filleting methods click here) from the fish before gutting them, it’s easier that way. Be careful to get as much of the belly from around the rib cage as you can. Flip the fillets over and skin the fillet, taking the scales along with the skin! Too easy! Trim the fillets down to just the lower white belly portion. Throw the rest away responsibly.
Carp belly salad works because the salad ingredients are easy, and making salt and pepper fillets of fish isn’t hard. Here’s the lowdown.
Carp Belly Salad – Ingredients.
- 500g carp belly fillets (six to ten whole fish before filleting)
- Honey and Apple Cider dressing (or any cider style dressing)
- Red onion
- Canola Oil
Mix the flour, salt, and pepper together in a bowl and dab the fillets in the mixture. Make your oil super hot and put the fish in a few pieces at a time and cook until golden.
Quarter the grapefruit. Cut the skin off. Chop the quarters up into smaller pieces if you like. Cut rings from the peeled red onion. Put them on the plate. Put lettuce on top as a bed for the hot and crispy fish.
Put the cooked fish on top of the salad and drizzle the salad dressing over the lot.
The CSIRO is testing a virus which will kill up to 80% of carp in the Murray Darling river system upon release. It’s hard to say what this means for the long term prospects of catching and eating carp from the river. Science assures us that it’s fine. Click here for info.
Fishing for carp is about simple bait and simple techniques, and there are plenty of places where you can catch them. Get out there!