Carp Fishing for Fun and Profit

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

I spent some time watching and talking to a few carp fishermen during last weekend’s local tournament and picked up some insights I’ve never thought much about. First, more than 100 fishermen took part in the contest, and from what I could gather, they participated for fun and a chance to make a couple of bucks. I doubt if GLSM water quality had much to do with the serious competitors who fished forty hours straight or walked 12 miles to hunt carp with a bow. Regardless, it was a successful tournament that brought in some tourism traffic and helped keep our water quality issues in the public eye.

I think I have carp fishermen pegged, excuse the pun if you get it. First, you have carp fishermen who go after these fighters just for fun. I guess I fall into this category. There’s nothing more exciting than tangling with a big carp on light tackle. As a matter of fact, tangling with a big carp on any tackle can be a thrill. Anyone who has ever hooked a 10 pound carp on average tackle know that without a proper drag setting, you’re probably going to lose the fish. When I first learned to catch big carp, the challenge was even greater since I was using a cane pole. More than once, instead of letting the carp turn my 20 foot cane pole into a 15-footer, I simply threw the pole in the water and let the fish wear itself down. This worked fine in the confines of the Miami-Erie Canal unless the fish decided to head under Spring Street, but that seldom happened. In a week or so, I’ll be looking to see if the mulberries are ripe and falling from the trees. When that happens, a small hook, a single berry, and a flyrod make for the most exciting fishing in this neck of the woods, and that’s fun.

Even more carp fishermen fish for profit by fishing tournaments on a regular basis. Pay lake carp fishing is big business, and carp fishermen who take part, especially the good ones, can make decent money. Pay lake carp fishing got its start in North Carolina back in the 1950s. Fishermen put money in a pot and the tournament carp fisherman was born. The practice spread rapidly and today is huge in the Carolinas, Georgia, and now Indiana and Pennsylvania. Pay lake carp fishing in Ohio is also taking hold. One circuit has between 300 and 400 participants who travel between six lakes in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. One of the members of this circuit said that they all fish to qualify for their World Cup event in the fall. Last year, the purse was in the neighborhood of $20,000 dollars.

Pay lake carp fishermen take their sport seriously. Many fish every weekend from ice out until winter. Multiple tournaments are usually available, and it’s not unusual for these fishermen to fish three or four different tournaments on a weekend. Tournaments provide many different options to win some money. For example, along with big fish for the tournament, big fish prizes are offered by the hour. Fish are weighed in and then released to fight another day. Many carp tournaments have what’s called a floating jug. It boils down to a lottery. A specific weight is drawn before the tournament to the exact ounce. In order to win the jug, a fish with the same weight must be caught. If not, there is a carry-over to the next tournament and the prize increases. Floating jug prizes have been known to grow into thousands of dollars.

Finally, there are the wild water fishermen who approach their sport quite like the Europeans. Their tournaments are all catch and release and depending on the event can also provide some serious prize money. These fishermen consider the carp a sport fish and defend the species as much as serious bass fishermen do. They are promoting their philosophy through organizations such as the American Carp Society whose mission is, “…to assist in promoting the attributes of the species as a legitimate sport-fish and to help educate anglers throughout the USA on the stewardship of this natural resource for future generations.”

Carp fishing is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Carp fishing “purists” look down on the pay-lake carp fishermen, and both groups look down on philosophies like ours of getting the carp “outta” here. Then, there’s the Bowfishing Association of America. I’m not too sure where they fit into the equation. Organized carp fishing, both nationally and internationally, is probably one of the most complicated conglomerates existing in the sport fishing world today. Rather than getting involved in the complexities of organized carp fishing, I think I’ll keep my carp fishing to an occasional fun-seeking trip under a mulberry tree somewhere. It’s much more relaxing and a lot more fun.