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Bill May: Catching carp from the shore

Mike Seal poses with his first 15-pound carp of the day.
Mike Seal poses with his first 15-pound carp of the day.

I’ve taken carp on artificials with fly and spin tackle during cicada hatches but otherwise never really targeted them. But now I’m getting interested in these big, brawlers. In our gang, Billy Zeller catches big carp in local rivers and reservoirs sight fishing from his kayak with flies on dropshot rigs. But our real expert is Mike Seal, who fishes for carp mostly from shore using tackle and techniques perfected by carp specialists in this country and Europe.

I was finally able to hook up with Mike, who lives and works in the Westminster area and has caught carp in nearby waters every month of the year with many being double digit fish. I wanted to study his tackle and technique and see what could be adapted to the more casual fisherman.

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Mike agreed to take me one steamy morning a few weeks ago to a favorite spot I was only allowed to describe as “an Upper Bay tributary.”

By the time I arrived at the selected spot — early — Mike already had the lines out, so I inspected his setup. Three rods were nestled in a custom rod holder cradle. An electronic strike detector, with both a light and sound indicator was attached to each rod. The rods were soft tip, 7-foot, 3-inch, medium-weight spinning rods with baitrunner spinning reels loaded with 12-pound monofilament. These outfits could handle double-digit fish, but the idea was to have plenty of “give” when playing large fish on small hooks in the comparatively soft mouths of carp.

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The terminal rigs were new to me, called Method Lead Feeder Rigs. The main line is run through the central tunnel of a flat, 2-ounce, teardrop-shaped sinker and tied to a swivel. Then a 6-inch piece of 30-pound test braid culminating in a “hair rig” is attached to the other end of the swivel.

A hair rig or hair stop is specific to carp fishing, and is the heart of effective rigging. Though it seems complicated, it can be easily tied, or can be bought already made. The hair rig consists of a snelled hook, Mike uses size 6, with a loop extending back past the shank of the hook about ¼ to ½ inch. A bait needle, basically a sewing needle with a slit cut in the side of the eye, easily made or purchased, is hooked into the loop and pulled through the terminal bait. The needle is removed and a small clip is added to the end of the loop to keep the bait in place. The bait can be a couple of kernels of real or artificial corn, a “boille,” a pre-made ball of soft bait, homemade or purchased, or some other bait.

The hair rig accomplishes two things. First, keeps the bait attached so that other, picking feeders like minnows, panfish or even catfish (usually) don’t steal the bait, and, second, efficiently hooks the carp in the mouth on the small, sharp hook as the carp takes the bait with the carp’s distinctive inhaling feeding manner.

The second unique feature of carp fishing is the bait ball, and there are limitless formulations. This day, Mike Seal added bred crumbs, creamed corn, pineapple Jell-O powder, and a few dashes of some special sauce. He formed it into a ball and kneaded it around the sinker, then stuck the baited hair rig into the bait ball and cast out the rig.

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Before he started fishing Mike had baited into the area to be fished by casting a “bait bomb” releasing carp munchies to attract our fishing area. He repeated this chumming periodically throughout our fishing time.

With the area baited, lines out, and bait ball dissolving on the sinker and releasing attracting scents and tastes, we waited. When Mikes’s strike indicator began buzzing and flashing, he waited until the carp was running strongly then simply picked up the rod, flipped the reel into fish-fighting gear and started reeling. The hair rig let the carp hook itself, and the baitrunner reel was at the proper drag setting.

Carp are strong, slugging fighters, and it took a while to bring our first 15-pounder of the day (pictured) to Mike’s big landing net. Then he gently placed the fish in a specialized “unhooking mat” and attached a scale to weigh it before gently releasing it back to the water. So Mike’s catching and handling carp followed the techniques and ethics of dedicated American and European carp anglers. But the release seemed to irritate some nearby fishermen who made it clear they wanted our fish, especially after we released the second 15-pounder.

Specialist like Mike consistently catch carp. But you can try this type of fishing without diving into their sophisticated and expensive equipment. There are dozens of excellent websites and You Tube videos that show rigs, give bait formulas and other tips.

I would say start with a medium weight rod, preferably with a soft tip, like a Shakespeare, Ugly Stik, with a matching reel and 12 to 15-pound monofilament. Place the rod, or rods into some kind of rod holder, like a forked stick or spiked tube, but attach the rod and reel to something heavy or solid, so a carp cannot drag it away if you’re inattentive. Set a light drag and tighten it before beginning to reel after a fish takes. You might clip on a bell strike indicator. Use a fish finder sleeve and disc or Dipsey sinker for the weight or just use an egg sinker and basic Carolina rig. Make or buy hair rigs and a baiting needle. Make your own bait: strawberry Jell-O mix, water, canned corn and oatmeal are favorite ingredients. Use a long-handled ladle, ball-throwing device or something homemade to broadcast bait.

Find a good spot. The Carp Anglers Group has a Mid-Atlantic Chapter that gives guidance on places to fish and rules, e.g., chumming is not allowed in some waters.

Good luck.

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