Lowly carp give anglers great fight
Written by Tom Greenberg   
Thursday, 22 July 2004 06:21

What makes a great game fish?

Most anglers would agree that fighting ability is the paramount virtue, and food value is well down the list, behind the methods that can be used to fish for the species and even its abundance.

Which should make the carp one of the top-rated game fish in America. It grows to the size of Pacific salmon, fights harder than muskellunge or bass, takes spinning lures and flies, and demands a high level of casting skills and stream craft. On top of all that, carp from the right waters are absolutely delicious, and their food value was one of the top reasons the U.S. government imported the fish from Europe about 130 years ago.

Despite those pluses, carp are still viewed by most American anglers with about as much affection as rats and mosquitoes. We even use the name as a pejorative, referring to our overpopulating Canada geese as "the carp of the flyways."

That's OK with Alex Gray. The transplanted Englishman who lives in Novi is quite happy to have good carp waters mostly to himself, sometimes catching as many fish in a day as he could expect to catch all year in England.

On a recent day at Kent Lake in Kensington Metropark, Gray demonstrated why the specialized techniques used by European anglers produce more and bigger fish than the crude approach taken by most Americans.

In four hours, Gray caught and released eight carp in the eight- to 10-pound range. Four other anglers I talked to, who used the standard American techniques, caught a grand total of two among them.

"I've never known power like this for a nine-pound fish," Gray said after he netted one fish and laid it carefully on a padded landing mat, which many Europeans use to minimize injuries to fish. "A nine-pounder in England would never have taken this long to land."

Gray, who came from England in February to work for Nissan Corp., was using carp tackle he brought from England, rods about 12 feet long equipped with bait-feeder reels that have two drags. The front drag is set to the tension the angler wants to fight the fish. The rear drag is set to a much lighter tension, just tight enough to keep the line from tangling when a fish takes the bait.

The rods lay flat on a frame called a rod pod, and the front section of each rod sat on a small black box called an electronic bite alarm, or buzzer. The line on the rod ran through a V-shaped opening at the top of the bite alarm, and when a fish began moving away with the bait, the indicator let out an audible alarm. Bite alarms are critical tools in England, where anglers might fish two or three days with only a couple of hits.

"This place reminds me of Spain," Gray said as an alarm shrieked and he picked up the rod to set the hook in another fish. "You have a lot of carp, and they're not very educated."

That was evident in Gray's choice of baits -- three or four sweet-corn kernels placed directly on the hook. To attract the carp, Gray used a modified version of the mealie bomb developed in South Africa.

"I bought some (cracked) corn at a feed store and boiled it for about four hours," he said. "That seems to be enough to make it stick."

Gray squeezed a handful of the pasty corn around a two-ounce egg sinker about 18 inches above the hook and sweet corn. The result was an egg-sized mass that would slowly drift off in the water and draw carp to the bait after he cast it out.

Only about 100,000 of Great Britain's 2 million anglers are dedicated carp fishermen, largely because carp are considered hard to catch.

Those anglers are targeted by seven major carp fishing publications, including Carpworld, which in April offered 224 slick pages filled with articles, color photographs and hundreds of advertisements for stuff American anglers have never heard of.

"In England, people have been brought up on pressured waters and the (angling) methods have become very refined," Carpworld publisher Tim Paisley said in a telephone interview from Sheffield, England.

"There are people who are happy to fish a 50-acre lake that has three big fish in it, as long as they are fish that have been there for centuries. Others are just as happy fishing ponds where the carp are stocked. There's a bit of snobbery in it."

Paisley's primary concern about stocking "is that we might bring in disease. Carp fishing has become a massive business, and we have a problem now with people bringing fish in illegally to create an instant carp pond."

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