Column: Carp a scrappy fish to catch

In last week’s column I talked about coarse fish and, in so doing, happened to also mention that it is most often a carp that is the winner in the Largest Fish category at the annual Salmon Arm Kids’ Fishing Derby held each year on Father’s Day down at the wharf.

Carp are not a pretty fish by any stretch but they are scrappers, and I’ve seen three- and four-foot long carp swimming around near the docks at the end of the wharf.

The common carp is distinguishable from other members of the Cyprinidae family by the heavy and strongly serrated spines in the anterior portion of its dorsal and anal fins, and by the presence of two rather long, fleshy barbels on each side of its upper jaw. In their natural habitat and over their natural range, carp can live to be more than 20 years old and can grow to reach lengths of up to 1,220 mm (50 inches). Sexually mature fish move into the warm waters of the shallows to spawn in late spring. One single female will lay anywhere from 300,000 to 600,000 eggs. Carp are omnivorous feeders, with a preference for chironomid pupae and damsel fly nymphs, as well as other aquatic invertebrates, plankton and macro algae. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, carp are not bottom feeders. They often feed near the bottom of a lake but do not actually feed right on the bottom in the way that suckers do. When searching for food, they tend to disturb the sediment on the bottom of the lake, stirring up and dislodging insects which inhabit the flora on the lake bottom. They will then feed on the insects floating in the water.

There are a variety of angling methods used to catch coarse fish such as carp. Everything from worms to dough balls to pieces of cheese can be used. Some coarse fish species such as pike minnows are predatory, non-selective feeders that feed on bait fish, while suckers and chub, which have smaller mouths, will tend to take worms over food sources such as bait fish. Carp, on the other hand, are both aggressive and opportunistic feeders which feed on everything from micro-invertebrates to insect larvae, and pupae to baitfish. They use their sucker-like mouths to inhale their food. Carp can also be extremely opportunistic feeders and can quickly become accustomed to food designed for human consumption. It is common for carp to feed on bread, chips, fries, crackers, pop corn and other types of junk food people often feed to birds or simply throw into the water. Once carp in a particular area get accustomed to being fed, they will quickly learn to congregate where a free food source is abundant. Using the carp’s adaptability to certain food groups to your advantage is the first step to successful carp fishing.

The second step is to keep in mind that once they are hooked, you are fighting a big, powerful fish with softer-than-average mouths while using relatively small hooks. The way to play them is to use a looser drag setting than you would other species. I normally fight them with 2.5 to 3 pounds of resistance. This makes it necessary to ensure you have enough line on your spool – a minimum of 200 yards. I use a spinning reel spooled with 300 yards of 12 pound test fluorocarbon on a nine foot light-medium action rod.

Once carp realize they’ve been hooked, they will often make for the nearest rock pile, log or weed bed. This is where a longer rod can come in handy, as you have more control over fighting the fish. Avoid trying to “winch” carp in by constantly reeling against it. Make the fish fight the rod. Be sure to maintain constant pressure on the fish – lots of arch, lots of pressure.

Like I said, carp may not be the prettiest fish there is when compared to, say, a bright, shiny rainbow trout, and I personally would not want to eat one, but they are a scrappy enough fish to fight on light line. Just because they are considered a coarse fish and not a sport fish doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect. Carp are a great catch-and-release fishery and, as more and more anglers coming to the Shuswap are discovering, one heck of a lot of fun to catch. Especially if you happen to be the lucky angler who brings one to the net and takes home top honours at this year’s Kids’ Fishing Derby.

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