Stalking Ferals

Jack Porter targets carp in Wyaralong Dam

Slowly and methodically you walk along the sand, eyes trained on the water for any unnatural ripple or movement, searching for that silhouette to appear, that fish to materialise out of nothing and give itself away. Soon enough they arrive, sometimes singles, sometimes a pair or pod of three, mooching along the sand on the hunt for the next meal. You slink into position to make the cast; you lead them by a couple of feet, let the fly hit the bottom, then watch. Watch as they change their path, watch as they do a U-turn, watch as they slide back out of sight or, every so often, you watch those lips move. That’s when you hit them. They shake their head in confusion, then off like a stabbed rat they go, and if you’ve got them on a good day, a fair helping of backing will disappear with them! We could be talking about any number of champagne flats fishing scenarios here, from golden trevally on a central Queensland flat to bonefish in the lagoon at Aitutaki. But alas, we are much closer to where I live, in the great South East of Queensland. Wyaralong Dam is the home of this stellar sight fishing, and the European carp is the target. Now bear with me, hopefully the mere mention of carp hasn’t got you running for the hills. If you can manage to see past their highly prejudiced exterior and make it through the rest of this article, you might just reconsider your position enough to go and find the sight fishing you’ve been longing for, much closer to your own home. WYARALONG Wyaralong Dam is Queensland’s newest impoundment, on the Teviot Brook, a tributary of the Logan River. It was commissioned to consolidate the supply of drinking water to the Scenic Rim region surrounding Beaudesert. Fortunately the dam was completed just in time for the 2011 floods that devastated so much of the region, which meant it was filled to beyond capacity on completion. This rare stroke of luck has allowed it to quickly flourish into the wonderful fishing destination that it is, just a decade later. The local fish-stocking group — Logan & Albert Fish Management Association — has done an incredible job to heavily stock the dam with endangered Mary River cod and Australian bass. These are both wonderful sport fish in their own right, and a real asset to the dam and the local community. The carp, however, that were trapped upstream of the wall when the dam was built, have exploded in numbers and size in their new impounded home. The sport that the carp can provide seems to attract as many fishers to the dam as do the bass and cod. GEARING UP In order to make the most of this fishery, you need to come equipped with appropriate gear. If your aim is to rid this waterway of as many carp as possible as quickly as possible, a 7- or 8-weight rod and 16–20 lb leader will make short work of the run-of-the-mill fish, while still seeing a good account from the better sized fish. The size of the carp in Wyaralong is one of its major drawcards. It is not uncommon to see a number of 70–80 cm fish to the bank in a session. A really big carp here is anything over 80 cm — a serious fish in anyone’s books, let alone sight cast to in a foot of water! But while these heavier rods will do the job efficiently, my preference is a 6-weight. Light enough to enjoy the power and first run these fish can produce, but heavy enough to ensure the fights don’t drag out too long. A floating line is ideal, and a leader of 10–12 lb is enough to tame fish in all but the most heavily timbered areas. Fly patterns have not proven particularly important, as the game is more about presentation and ‘reading’ the fish. Any small buggy fly in a size 10 to size 4 will put you in the hunt. It does pay also to carry a range of weights, from unweighted through to medium dumbbell eyes, to ensure a fly can be put in front of fish in all scenarios. AFLOAT There are two options when chasing carp in Wyaralong, the first being to cruise the edges on the casting deck of a boat. Wyaralong is an electric power only dam, so if you choose to hunt from the boat you must have a vessel capable of the task, with enough battery power to get up and down a rather long dam to explore the myriad of banks. The joys of fishing from a boat include the ability to fish parts of the dam that see far less pressure than the more accessible banks, and the ability to find shelter from the wind to ensure you have the best opportunity to sight your quarry. If fishing from the boat is your preference, this is where those heavy flies will come into play, as you will not only see fish cruising the skinny water right up on the bank, but also those fish going about their business in 3 to 4 feet of water. Small bead chain flies just take too long to get in front of a fish at this depth — and they are prone to change direction. Once the fish start to hit the deck, you then need a plan of how to deal with the results, as it is illegal to return carp to the water in Queensland. An esky in the boat to store the dispatched carp until they can be disposed of is a handy addition, and can also make a great sighting platform when placed on the casting deck. Where you find one carp, there are usually more. By the time you have the first fish to the net, it is not uncommon to be racing to dispatch it and get it in the esky as another fish is already cruising along the bank. WALKING The romance of stalking your prey along the water’s edge, slowly getting into position, making the cast and watching the fish’s reaction has a certain ancient appeal to it. This is by far my favourite way to put a dent, however insignificant, in the carp population. Rarely would you make a cast longer than 40 ft when walking the banks, and more often than not 10–15 ft is all it takes. At this distance the water is usually super shallow, so smaller flies with medium bead chain eyes, presented softly to fish sometimes with their backs out of the water, is the name of the game. When the water level is low for extended periods we often have the luxury of a back cast along most edges — unlike when the water is up, and walking in the tree line can really test your casting creativity! The next challenge is what to do with the fly once it’s in front of a fish. Carp have a happy knack of keeping you guessing — often the presentation required to hook one fish will be very different from the next. One will want to find the fly sitting on the bottom, while the next fish will need it to fall perfectly to meet its path mid-water; then a fish will ignore every presentation you make until the fly is stripped quickly past its nose. Reading the fish and correctly guessing the presentation most likely to elicit a take can only come with practice. For example, a fish mooching slowly along a pretty constant path will usually like to find the fly on its own, perhaps with a tiny twitch of the fly to ensure it is noticed. In general, the speed the fish is moving dictates the speed of the presentation — a fast moving fish will often take a faster moving fly. But there are always exceptions. It’s hard not to get carried away with this kind of fishing. Sight casting to fish regularly over 10 pounds, on light gear in skinny water, is damn good fishing. If you can leave your prejudice about carp in the car and appreciate the fishing for what it is, I’d challenge anyone to tell me they didn’t enjoy themselves. While the fishing speaks for itself, there are a few other animals around the edge of the dam that also demand attention. The eastern brown and the red-bellied black snake make regular appearances, while walking the banks of the ‘Wong’. Long pants and even gaiters are a wise idea, because when your attention is focused so intently on the water, having a venomous mishap is not so hard to imagine. If you can draw your attention away from the fishing for just the odd moment, there is plenty more to see that can add to the experience too. Kangaroos, various wallabies, lace monitors and all manner of native birdlife call this waterhole home. It really is a great way to spend a day in the Australian bush. TILAPIA Although I have talked extensively about carp, it would be remiss not to mention the other noxious fish that is abundant in Wyaralong. The Mozambique tilapia exists in huge numbers in the dam, however, most of the year you could be forgiven for thinking they weren’t there. Any you do see, spook before you even register what they are. There is a period of time though, often only a month or so during spring, when they become a genuine, albeit incredibly frustrating target. Tilapia are mouth brooders, incubating their offspring in their mouths for a period of time. As part of the breeding process they move up into the shallows to create large nests, which look like big bowls in the sand. Often a pair of fish will hang in these nests and guard them quite vehemently. This seems to be the best opportunity to target them. Larger, bulkier flies tied a bit heavier and fished slowly through their nests, repeatedly to annoy them into striking, has proved the most successful method. And I say the most successful tentatively, as so far we have only managed to take a handful of these fish. So if you happen to be out chasing carp and stumble upon tilapia nesting, be sure to make a few casts through each nest. They do provide good sport, and if nothing else you may remove one or more batches of baby tilapia from the system. FERAL THOUGHTS The reality for most of us is that if we ever do get to travel to exotic destinations to chase trophy species on the flats, trips will be few and far between. The thrill of such adventures is certainly a major drawcard, but sight fishing to good-sized fish in skinny water is really the driving force. Why not make the most of the opportunity to do just that, much closer to home? There would be very few people on the lower East Coast of Australia that don’t have access to carp in one way or another. Leave your ego at home, get out and stalk some ferals. Practice your presentations to fish in skinny water, so your skills are up to scratch for that next exotic flats mission. Appreciate the fishing for what it is, and if it helps your motivation, give our Aussie natives all the help you can, eliminating one feral at a time.

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