Final column in the series 'Big and Ugly Fishing"
There are many wide and varied opinions about the common carp in North America. Many anglers simply don't like them because they feel they have 'ruined' their once-favored waterways with their bottom-feeding, mud-stirring habits. Others don't like the carp because they were surprised by a large fish at the end of their line that turned out to be something other than their target specie. Still others don't like the carp because they think they are ugly. I happen to align myself with none of the above groups. I find the common carp to be a challenging, cautious gamefish that can be extremely difficult to catch. But the really cool thing I like about the carp is the fact that you can catch fish exceeding 20 pounds in many bodies of water, statewide and beyond.
A few years ago I was bitten by the carp-fishing bug thanks to the influence of a small group of anglers I'll call the 'Carp Mafia'. This gang of low-lifes fished southern Pennsylvania waters with gusto and allowed my son and I in on their tactics and taught us the ropes. Perhaps the most savvy carp angler in the group was Bob Elias, of Manchester, Maryland. A retired educator, Bob had been seriously carp fishing since 1983 and had refined his game to a literal science. His punch card showed catches of 400 to 500 carp or more per year with many 20 to 30 pound class fish over the years. He seldom fishes for other species, enjoying the power and challenge of these great fish.
Bob's tactics are straight from the European concepts of the sport. He baits, or chums, with common feed corn in any of several different areas at his favored lakes, which conditions schools of carp to frequent these areas routinely. He employs sophisticated bite alarm systems and hair-rig options that produce high-percentage hookups on these big fish. His bait runner spinning reels and carp fishing accessories are top-notch, enabling him to put the hurt on these very wary fish. To go along with it all, he's a funny guy and a blast to fish with. I can put up with that!
Although I have yet to go after carp this year, our efforts since 2011 would have to be credited to much of Bob's teachings, as we have been using the same basic techniques to bank some enormous channel catfish this summer. Bite alarms, when coupled with smooth bait-running reels, can be a deadly combo for a variety of species. Where carp are concerned, the perennial hands-down, all-time best bait would be corn. Corn can be feed corn that is softened up by soaking in water for a few days or boiled or soaked in a variety of flavorings. Several European based companies now make hardened plastic corn kernels that are flavored and resist the pesky feedings of smaller fish and crayfish. Every carp angler in America and beyond will concoct their own personal favorite that they swear by.
There are several reasons why carp are, worldwide, highly revered as gamefish. For one, they get big. Thirty pounders are available in many of our local waters to include the Potomac and Susquehanna watersheds and just about all Chesapeake tidal rivers and tributaries. The Monocacy has huge ones. Western Maryland's Deep Creek Lake may be one of the premier 'Back East' waters for consistent numbers of thirty pound fish, and this lake is almost completely under the radar for these giants. Almost everywhere you go, big fish are available in both rivers and lakes. In European waters fish in the 50 to 70 pound range dot the record books. A 93-pounder is the current world record.
Secondly, carp are so spooky and skittish that they can be extremely difficult to catch unless stealth is applied. I don't personally believe that these fish have extreme intelligence, but I will tell you from first-hand experience that they can be very picky as to what flavor or type of bait they will take. They are spooky and bolt at the slightest sense of danger. Also, fish biologist believe that these fish have one of the best capabilities for memory, thus requiring constant changes in tactics for pressured fish.
And if that wasn't enough, carp are tough, enduring fighters that often inhabit weedy lakes and rivers that dictate a precise gameplan to encounter, hook, then actually land a 20 pound plus fish. There are a number of guide services throughout the Great Lakes region that now specialize in fly fishing for skittish carp during the spring, pre-spawn period. Imagine… wading skinny water with pods of 20 to 30 pound fish cruising within casting range, yet sooo spooky that getting a good delivery is almost sure to alert the whole pack of golden giants! Then, to hook one, and hopefully land it, on fly gear! Wow! Now THAT'S a challenge!
Specialized tackle for these fish will surely put the odds of big fish in your favor. But much of the same gear you'd use for catfish will get you by. For more info and gear on chasing down these giants check out these top-notch sites on the web…BIG CARP TACKLE, RESISTANCE TACKLE, BANK FISHING SYSTEMS, CARP ANGLERS GROUP and WACKER BAIT COMPANY. Who knows, you may one day be like Bob Elias. He doesn't measure his yearly catch by the pounds; he measures them by the ton.