Most fishermen consider the common carp nothing more than a nuisance. The first glance of the dingy yellow fish on the end of a line meant for a bass is one of fishing’s biggest disappointments.
If North American anglers could get past the stigma attached to carp and think of them the way European fishermen do, however, they might even start fishing for them exclusively.
In England there are about four million fishermen. Three million of them fish exclusively for carp.
In France, lakes are drained annually to hand pick and remove undersized carp from the lake. As a result, lots of 70-pound carp are landed in France every year.
Ask any carp fisherman and they will brag carp are simply the hardest fighting, fastest growing, most cunning freshwater fish.
But despite their maligned reputation here, catching them requires some insight into their habits and finely honed fishing skills.
Begin the search for big carp waters by looking for a lake with a large population of flathead catfish. Flatheads prefer eating carp to anything else, and thereby reduce the number of small fish.
Lakes that do not allow outboard motors are best since they tend to churn up the shoreline too much. Once the perfect lake or river is identified that can support big carp, finding the right spot to ambush the fish on their travels around the body of water is critical.
Start by locating sudden drop-offs and gravel areas. As with any migratory fish, also try areas that funnel fish or force them around structures like points.
Seasoned carp anglers begin by chumming the area with soaked wheat or soaked chicken feed by broadcasting the stuff over a large area. This not only attracts fish, but also keeps them around even after other fish have been caught. This is critical if you want to catch a lot of fish in one outing.
Carp fishing has gone high tech and specialized when it comes to gear. Special, 12- foot rods with spinning reels capable of casting over 150 yards are standard fare.
Most anglers also use electronic strike alerts that cause a special pager to go off when fish bite. Carp fishermen use pagers because it is not uncommon to fish for 40 hours continuously. They often bring a cot and sleep on shore next to their gear.
Most carp anglers prefer using dough balls for bait. The European recipe is the most popular.
It consists of combined cornmeal, semolina, strawberry extract and red dye. It is boiled in half-inch balls for two minutes to toughen them up so they do not fall off the hook too easily.
Perhaps the most successful way to fish dough balls for carp includes the use of a hair rig.
A hair rig is set up by first tying a swivel to the end of the line. A huge four-ounce lead weight is then fixed above the swivel so it cannot slide. Tie a one-foot leader onto the swivel with a small number eight hook on the end.
Do not put the bait on the hook.
Instead, tie a second length of the lightest monofilament available onto the hook (the inventor of this rig used his wife’s hair, hence the name). Tie a loop onto the end of the light line and attach the bait there.
When a carp picks up the bait, it does so with a powerful sucking motion. The hook just follows the bait into the fish’s mouth.
When the carp swims away, it feels the prick of the chemically sharpened, imported Japanese hook and panics. It may spit the bait out, but the hook stays. When it pulls against the heavy four-ounce sinker, the hook is driven deep into the fish’s soft mouth.
While some people like eating carp, most simply release the fish or use it for garden fertilizer. Either way, landing a truly big carp should be considered an accomplishment for any angler.
Don Mulligan writes Outdoors with Don for this newspaper. He can be reached at outdoor