Well, up until last week, we were having a pretty mild winter.
But that all looks to be on the skids right now as we are still reeling from last week's blizzard. It got cold enough to put a bare minimum of four inches of "safe" ice on many of our smaller lakes and ponds. But now, that is all covered up with three feet of snow. Ice fishing is going to be tough, if not impossible, with foot travel like that.
But before the big blow came I had a chance to fish with the man I call the "Carp Whisperer" ... Bob Elias of Manchester. I have fished with Bob over the past few years and he is the one man most responsible for getting me interested in carp fishing to begin with. He fishes for them year round and likes Marburg Lake as his home water for these golden giants.
Many anglers feel that carp are too lethargic and dormant to be caught on hook and line during the winter. But Bob knows that big fish opportunities do exist, even in water as cold as the upper 30s.
Our most recent adventure was on Jan. 15 of this year at one of his prime locations. He had been averaging a fish or two per trip ... standard stuff for winter carping. It's certainly not a numbers game, so one or two big fish a trip is about as good as you can expect. Sometimes, you might not get a fish, or maybe just a run without a successful hookup. This is a far cry from my habit of rapid-fire catches of numerous bluegills and crappies. But then again, you get to jaw with some friends and catch up on the latest gossip.
Carp fishing is almost as much a social gig as it is for the fishing.
Bob had arrived earlier at one of his baited areas that he chums with feed corn to attract the carp. By the time I hit the shore he had banked a fine carp of over 30 inches and was hoping for another. Ever the "good guy," Bob let me use his pack bait and refrained from his normal joking style as a few friends dropped by to chew the fat. I rigged my carp rods, set the bite alarms and baited up with a #6 carp hook with about a half dozen wax worms — a different offering from the standard corn baits we customarily use.
Most of the time worms or wax worms would be eaten alive by abundant "nuisance" species like bluegills or small perch. But in the chilly 42-degree water such small fish were much deeper and not around to peck on our baits.
I had no sooner got my rods in and set up when one of the bite alarms started to scream. Setting the hook, I realized that I was into a good fish and began to play it cautiously. Bob made the comment that we all might need a 2017 fishing license before this gig was up, but I paid little attention to his "fun-poking" style. A little bit of a back-and-forth battle continued and Bob eventually slipped the net under what will most likely be my biggest fish of the season ... a big, thick golden carp well over the 30-inch mark.
I thought it was a monster, but Bob tends to "low ball" size estimates on fish, especially the other guy's fish!
We unhooked the overgrown gold fish, took a couple of quick photos, then sent her on her way. This fish appeared to have been developing egg, or roe sacs and they were starting to protrude. Earlier in the week, Bob had landed several very rotund carp with excellent body dynamics for winter fish. Body profiles on adult carp can vary, even within the same body of water. My fish had a huge head and fought well despite the cold water. I was tickled!
I had no sooner got the rod back in the water when the other alarm went off and I set the hook to what seemed to be an even bigger fish. This one initially ran a lot of drag and it looked like that jab about the 2017 license might play out. But after a few minutes the hook pulled out and the fish was gone. Both fish had taken wax worms, traditional panfish bait. Other excellent wintertime baits for carp are pineapple chunks, sweet corn, artificial corn kernels and small worms, as long as panfish species are not pestering you with stealing the baits.
As we settled down and re-baited all of our rods, we realized that we had each caught a fish, and that was "standard issue" for carping in the winter. Sure enough, neither Bob nor I got another bite on that January day. But we were happy with having to wrestle in a big fish when most of the angling fraternity were home watching sports or just looking out the window on an overcast, dreary day. We packed up and headed home, happy with what we got.
Right now, carp options might be limited to the hot-water plant at Dickerson on the Potomac or the outflow at Brunner Island on the Susquehanna. The Brunner Island plant is releasing very little hot water as they transition from coal to natural gas, so it's hit or miss, at best, there. Otherwise, we'll have to wait until the ice and snow come off the lakes and ponds, hopefully sometime by the end of February. Bob will keep his eye on any thawing weather patterns in hopes of getting a "snow carp" during the winter's efforts. Other waters to target carp locally are Liberty, Loch Raven, Prettyboy and many of the tidal tributaries of the Upper Chesapeake Bay. In Pennsylvania, try Long Arm, Marburg, Pinchot and Lake May.