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Eyes wide, they'll keep on carping


OGDEN ISLAND, N.Y. - Minutes into the five-day fishing marathon known as the World Carp Championship, Mark Metzger went for his secret weapon.

"French roast, Italian roast, I don't know which," the Silver Spring angler said yesterday as he readied his French press coffee pot. "Dark - that's all that matters."

Metzger and his partner, Tommy Robinson of Baltimore, are camped in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, with the shores of Canada about a mile off. They have a tent, a screen house and visions of being known as the best carpers on the planet dancing in their heads.

The St. Lawrence is known around the world as the best place to catch carp. That's why 100 two-man teams from across Europe, Asia and the United States are here, battling bugs and boredom, nerves and swift current.

"You can catch more fish on the St. Lawrence in one day than I can catch in 12 months at home," said Colin Davidson, a fishing writer for Angler's Mail, published in the United Kingdom. "The St. Lawrence is bigger, deeper, faster, naughtier."

Five past world champions and numerous national and regional winners are competing along the 35-mile stretch of the river that straddles the United States-Canada border. The team with the most fish by weight will win $50,000 and two pickup trucks. An angler who breaks the New York state single-fish record of 50 pounds, 4 ounces will win $1 million.

The Romanian and Russian teams have full uniforms that resemble ones worn by Olympians. The Japanese and English are sponsored by major bait and tackle companies. By contrast, the Americans are lucky to have matching shirts and hats.

"We're in big company," said Robinson, watching in awe as the competition arrived.

The two men drove up to Massena, N.Y., on Friday in a van packed with camping gear, fishing tackle and 900 pounds of bait. They waited nervously at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino on Saturday night as each team drew its peg, or fishing spot.

Anglers call the selection process "the great equalizer," worth as much as 50 percent of the outcome. An area with a lot of fish can lift an inexperienced angler into the lead. The Marylanders and 24 other teams drew Ogden, a five-mile-long island owned by the New York Power Authority.

"You can take the best fisherman and put him in a bad peg and he won't win. You put an OK fisherman in a good peg and they'll win," said Brian Nordberg, a Dallas angler.

Some of the contestants had other hurdles to overcome: Customs officials confiscated some bait because the ingredients could not be confirmed; two Russian teams didn't show up because of transportation problems, and an American team dropped out.

For those who managed to dodge all the other pitfalls, a larger one will loom around midnight Tuesday as anglers approach the halfway point. Most fishing tournaments call time at night, but competitors here will sleep in lawn chairs not far from their fishing rods.

"This is different. This is full on. This is who wants it the most," said Davidson, who has seen several championships. "I think some people will lose out because they'll be too tired to continue."

That is why Metzger loaded up on caffeine and other creature comforts. The owner of a custom tailor shop in Washington has hauled a portable toilet and solar-powered lighting to his peg. It took a small boat four trips to deliver all the gear.

"I brought my own bathroom because who wants to be looking for the tournament's porta-john when there might be a million-dollar fish on the end of my line. I brought the lights so I can find the bathroom," he said.

Then Metzger and Robinson hauled out another weapon, a gigantic metal slingshot with a 3-foot wingspan that can launch bait more than 250 yards out into the deeper water.

"The fishing will get better when it gets dark," Robinson said. "We'll be fine as soon as we catch our first fish."

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