OK, summer is over now, and most of us have gotten off, hopefully, to some pretty good fishing in the fall. Opening trout and striper days have come and gone, and many of us enjoyed great bass fishing earlier in the year. For the freshwater guy, we still have an entire autumn season of multi-species action. Those who know me well will find me at many small and local lakes in quest of big bluegills. But I have some other plans for some select, late fall days, and nights, ahead. As surprising as it may seem, action for big carp remains good well into the early winter, with water temperatures as low as the 40 degree mark.
I got into this carp cult about five years ago when I saw a bunch of guys at a few southern Pennsylvania lakes who were catching the big goldfish literally by the ton, and enjoying 'big fish' action everyday. In truth, many freshwater anglers have not caught a fish exceeding the 20-pound mark. However, for these guys, it was a pretty common occurrence, and most of them had banked numerous 'thirtys' in their carp carreer. Big fish sounds like fun to me, so I just slopped on in with the rest of the bottom feeders.
Although I often make light of the carp angling crowd, let me point out some very sobering truths to this sport. For one, these anglers that do it in the European style are very exact and skillful in their game…they take it seriously, and they constantly seek to improve their tactics. Secondly, they take better care of their equipment than any trout or bass angler I have ever known, and have no problem at spending thousands of dollars on the best baitrunners, rods, bite alarms and other items essential for success. And additionally, carp anglers can be somewhat secretive in their ways and means to put big fish on the bank. Preparation and chumming efforts are hard work, and if a carpster can put a couple of twenties on the bank in one day, chances are he earned those fish.
At the last fish-in I attended of the local chapter of the Carp Mafia, there were six anglers involved and they stated at 4 AM in the morning, with the intention of fishing well into that night. Food and beverage were also high on the list of desired items and at gatherings in the past we had enjoyed brats, fried chicken and the ever-popular pizza. Specific areas are pre-baited with feed corn that has been soaked in water with some salt to preserve and other flavorings in the mix. Several spots are often baited, since other anglers, fishing for other species, are often on the scene at public lake venues. This way, Mafia members have several areas to choose from in any given day of fishing. Makes sense, and it keeps the options open.
Sophisticated bite alarms and rod pods or bank sticks are set up and weighed rigs are tossed out with corn or boilies (a small, firm dough type morsel) baited on small hooks from size 2 to 8. An in-line device is threaded above the hooked bait that holds 'pack bait'…a concoction of oats, dough, meal and various fruits and morsels that is packed around the 'feeder' and acts as a additional attractant to the carp, bringing them to your baited hook. When the carp picks up the baited hook, he feels the hookpoint, and bolts off in classic, spooky-carp fashion, often setting the hook on it's own. The bite alarm screams and the anglers hops up and sets the hook with a long spinning rod and the bait runner spinning reel engages into the 'fighting drag' mode. Then the fun begins! At this particular carp gig, the six anglers banked 33 fish on 44 runs. Impressive, and the days total was likely over the 600 pound mark, with many high teen and twenty pound class fish in the frenzy.
Although most carp fishing in American waters does not have to be this sophisticated, the overall catch rate will increase dramatically once you learn to fish in this manner. You see, In European waters, almost all carp venues are on small, private lakes that seldom exceed 10 acres, and the fish are fed continually to achieve maximum size. These 'day-ticket' venues cost money, sometimes a lot, and if you want a 30 or 40 pound mirror carp, chances are pretty good you can buy your way to one in the many pay lake setups across the pond. A high number of the bigger fish have often been caught many times, and they are wary and supper spooky. So, the Euros develop a vast multitude of baits and flavorings to attract these giants.
But in many of our local waters, carp are so common and so un-pressured that they do not need all this. Still, I took the plunge and bought some gear to enjoy the sport. Once everything is setup, out come the easy chairs and snacks and the bull stories from trips of the past. It becomes a social thing, and kidding and ribbing is the norm. I am very much a rookie at the game, but I have seen enough of it to know that I like it a lot. My son, Matt and I have been doing the occasional carp gig for the past seasons'…And many of our bigger fish were November giants. And, if you are really worried about the company you keep or the reputation you'll get…then don't fish for carp!
So, for starters, you might want to hit the web up with these sites…Big Carp Tackle, Bank Fishing Systems, Resistance Tackle and Carp Anglers Group. You'll be amazed at the depth at which these highly skilled anglers go to catch fish that are much larger than what most of us catch. The reason I like it is simple…I like catching big fish!
Jim Gronaw is a Times outdoors writer. His column appears every Sunday. reach him at 410-857-7896 or email@example.com.