Having Fun With Carp
In most of the USA, especially on the west coast, carp are thought to be useless trash fish. I personally find this to be the farthest thing from the truth. They are present in great numbers in most of our waters so we might as well enjoy them. It is true that they are not great table fare, especially if they are prepared the same as we do most other fish. There is the famous old joke/recipe which suggests cooking them on a heavily seasoned hickory board and then throwing the carp away and eating the board. I have heard that there are legitimate recipes for preparing carp that are truly a gourmet's delight but that is not what this page is about.
A Great Fighting Fish
While carp may not be the greatest eating fish, they are truly great fighters. The carp in Clear Lake average around 12 pounds with a lot of fish in the 15 to 20 pound class. My personal best is 23 pounds 3 ounces. Many times I have had them make sizzling runs of 100 yards and more. They are also very intelligent and at times can be more wary and difficult to catch than a native trout. There are a growing number of anglers that are discovering this and taking advantage of an exciting and almost untapped resource. Check out the Carp Anglers Group for more info.
Clear Lake Carp
Since this website is exclusively about Clear Lake, I will stick to explaining how we do it here at the lake. Just about all of the following information is applicable to any natural lake and probably most reservoirs also.
Just about any type of rod and reel will work but medium-light gear will provide the most enjoyment. My personal favorite is an 11 foot (1 3/4 lb. test curve) Predator rod from Cabela's with an Okuma Coronado CD-50 spinning reel with 20 lb. test Power Pro super braid line. The new super braid lines such as Power Pro are ideal since the no stretch feature really increases the feel of the fight. I like at least 20 pound test line in order to have some control of the fish when fishing around structure. Any medium action steelhead or even mooching rod, either spinning or conventional are also good choices for carp fishing. I prefer the spinning over the conventional because it is easier to cast a doughball or a few kernels of corn with no additional weight on a spinning outfit rather than on a conventional rig.
Normally all that is needed is a hook tied directly to the end of your line. The most popular hook sizes are from #6 to #1. The best style by far is the baitholder since soft baits such as breadough and corn are used. In most instances no weight is used so that the bait sinks slowly and naturally and most important, the fish should never feel any resistance when picking up the bait. In a situation where added weight is necessary the only option is a sliding sinker so that there is still no resistance when a fish picks up the bait. In Europe and the eastern half of the USA a special set up called a "hair rig" is used which is a rig that enables the bait to be separated from the hook so that the carp does not feel the hook when taking the bait. For more information on the hair rig and other specialized carp rigs check out the C.A.G. website.
Carp have been known to take baits such as corn, bread, hot dogs, cut baits, worms, prepared dough baits, cheese and many others. The best baits by far are sweet corn and simple bread dough. The bread dough is made by moistening a few slices of any kind of bread with water and kneading it until it becomes the right texture to put on a hook. If you use too much water so that it becomes soggy, just add flour and continue to knead until it looks and feels right. Some anglers like to experiment by adding their secret flavorings to the dough. Some of the well known ones are, vanilla, anise oil, peanut butter, maple syrup and my favorite, strawberry. In all honesty, I have yet to experience any real advantage with the flavored dough but it makes it more interesting to try different baits.
For information on more specialized carp baits such as "boilies" check out the C.A.G. website.
One of the good things about carp fishing is that it does not require a boat, in fact a boat can be a hindrance in most situations. If you choose to use a boat, find a soft sand or gravel shore and beach the boat since no matter how you anchor, the boat will swing back and forth making it next to impossible to detect a strike. The ideal spot is any beach with a sand or mud bottom and a gradual sloping shoreline. The next best is sheltered boat harbors and canals. The only problem with harbors is trying to play a battling carp among all the pilings, floats and buoys. It is best to stay away from areas with lots of structure as you will have a very difficult time trying to coax a big carp out of the stuff.
Best Time of Year
Carp can be caught all year long but are more active with warmer water. I normally start fishing for them in early March and experience the best action in April and May. They are readily available all summer and into the fall but it's a little tougher to find a concentration of active fish. I have done real well in October and early November when the water temperature starts to go back to the low 70s and high 60s.
Normally carp travel in schools so the ideal situation is to locate a school. Unfortunately chumming in any form is totally illegal in California's lakes and reservoirs. If you're in a state that allows chumming, just toss out several handfuls of corn or soggy bread and wait awhile, you will have all the action you can handle. In California lakes and reservoirs we can use two rods if we purchase an extra rod stamp for our license. This at least enables us to have a little more bait in the water to attract the fish. There is no law against checking your bait as often as you like and since breadough is very soft it will fall off the hook as soon as you lift your rod sharply and reel in. If you repeat this process a few times the carp will show up in a short time. I realize this could be interpreted as chumming so make your own decision on whether or not to utilize this method in California.
Now We Go Fishing
I suggest making short casts of 50 to 100 feet or so since carp like to roam the shallows. Always fish with some slack in your line and watch for any movement in the line. It is imperative that you have slack in the line because if the fish feels even the slightest resistance it will immediately drop the bait nine times out of ten. A lot of times they will start by just picking up the bait and moving a couple of inches and then dropping it. Wait until they really start moving out and then drop the rod tip and set the hook and get set for one heck of a battle. If you're using super braid line, don't set it too hard or you will snap the line or straighten out the hook.
What Do We Do With Them?
The majority of anglers in the western half of the U.S. and especially in California feel that we should kill every carp that we catch, they are of the misconception that this will help eliminate them. In actual truth, removing a small to medium percentage of the carp population on a body of water may actually stimulate a spawn and establish a population of smaller and more abundant carp. I always release them unharmed. There's nothing wrong with taking a couple home if you have a use for them but please don't just kill them and leave them on the beach to rot. I believe there is a law against wasting any fish or game in California regardless of species.
Test Your Tackle
I guess that about covers it so go out and give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised. When other species are uncooperative you can be fairly certain that the carp are still on the prowl. If you just bought a new rod and reel and you want to know how it will handle a really large and powerful fish, the carp are ready and willing to test it for you and after tangling with a few you just might become a carp addict like myself.....Go-gettem!!.......Catfish Ed alias CarpheadED.