Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Following the fish

Though carp are a four-letter word to many fishermen, they do have their fans and they do deserve credit as strong, seemingly tireless fish on the end of hook and line.

Bowfishermen shoot them by the ton each spring at the Great Lakes Bowfishing Championships in the Michigan Thumb.

Dedicated “Carpmasters” catch them on all manner of specially concocted doughballs and what-not. They are a revered sport fish in parts of Europe.

One group of guys up on Lake St. Clair pursues them with fly rods and big flies on the lake's shallows flats.

And almost every fishermen has caught a carp incidentally, if not actually targeting them. It is hard to misidentify carp, with the two barbels (whiskers) on each side of the mouth and large scales. Most carp are bronze-gold to golden-yellow on the sides and yellowish-white on the belly.

Occasionally a huge specimen will nail a weight-forward walleye spinner on Lake Erie, leading the angler to think he may have hooked the Mother of All Walleye. Just that happened off East Sister Island years ago to the late guide Jim Fofrich Jr., who allowed himself and his boat to be towed around a bit by a 20-pound-plus carp.

On the other hand, the wallowing and thrashing of spawning carp in the shallows between late April and June can so muddy the water that it cuts off light penetration. In turn, that eventually kills off valuable wetlands vegetation.

And to think, all this would not have been possible had the Federal Government not sought to import carp from Europe around 1880 to satisfy the taste buds of 19th-century immigrants who were enamored of this lowly, oily, bony fish.

To read old accounts, you would think that the carp was preferable to Thanksgiving turkey. Imagine: the government even shooed winter ice-skaters off the famed reflecting pool at the Washington Monument in the nation's capital to protect its early stocks of carp. As if they needed protection.

Early promotions and testimonials about importing carp - which seem like a stretch to modern sport anglers - went like this one:

“It really won't harm anything; it will eat only vegetative matter; it tastes as good as trout and better than bass; they live only in muddy water where other fish won't.” Uh-huh.

So, if nothing else, carp are a fish with a history. Indeed, Europe itself was just a jumping-off place for carp on their spread around the world. They were stocked in Europe as early as the year 1200. But they actually originated in Asia.

Carp usually range from 1 to 10 pounds, but an outsized specimen turns up occasionally. The Ohio record is a 50-pounder, 40 inches long, taken in 1967 from Paint Creek in southern Ohio.

“They're about like sunfish or catfish. You can catch them just about anywhere,” said Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2.

They are not found in great numbers in the region's upground, municipal water-supply reservoirs, but the area rivers and large streams, and lower tributaries of Lake Erie are carp havens.

“They generally like slower-moving water and a muddy-bottom situation,” Goedde said.

A favorite carp stream is none other than the Maumee River, above Mary Jane Thurston State Park and Grand Rapids Dam. Otherwise, look for deep pools and around structures such as fallen-tree snags.

Brent Weyandt, at Zunk's Bait on State Rt. 2, said that one of his customers has been doing extremely well lately on carp in the lower Toussaint River, north of Oak Harbor, and at Metzger Marsh.

For bait, carp are not finicky. Nightcrawlers will work fine, or homemade doughballs of cereals such as Wheaties, Goedde said. “One guy I knew down on the Toussaint [River] fished a lot of carp tournaments and he used hominy corn, which is tougher, threading the kernels onto the hook.”

Another veteran carpmaster of Goedde's acquaintance, down on the Blanchard River, used to “chum” an area with cottonseed cakes, to draw in a school of carp, a few hours before going fishing.

For all that the most intriguing method to angle for carp may be fly fishing. John Vincent, owner of the FlyMart Shop, of Royal Oak, Mich., has been fly fishing for carp for 10 years and his shop has been guiding customers for six.

They fish the shallow flats of Lake St. Clair, wading right in and stalking them like they were bonefish on the saltwater flats of the Caribbean. In fact Vincent and company call carp freshwater bonefish, or mud sharks, for the strong, steady action.

“They are bulldogs, that's a good way to put it,” agreed Vincent. “They are plentiful, too, no doubt about it.” The FlyMart shop ties up carp flies on a bonefish pattern, with an upturned hook that rides up and stays out of weeds. Oh, and make sure your fly reel has a good drag.

E-mail Steve Pollick at spollick@theblade.com.

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