My hope is that based on my trials when facing a lake of this size other anglers will be able to learn from my mistakes and tackle other huge water bodies that are basically un-fished in North America. This narrative will be as detailed as possible as I do not feel that hiding my tactics or locations will be of any great benefit to me and I hope that others will be able to fish in a wiser fashion as a result of these articles.
It seems that waters that hold common carp often fall into two categories – those that are easy to catch fish out of and those that are impossible to; it will become evident which one I am fishing. Lake Murray is ~78 square miles of water (41 miles (66 km) long, and 14 miles (23 km) wide at its widest point) with ~500 miles of shoreline, and was once the largest man-made reservoir in the world. Shoreline access is limited to a few parks with most shore being covered with private boat docks. The lake is about 180 feet deep at the dam. There are no known (at least to me) captures of common carp on hook and line.
So, with all this in mind am I out of mine to bother fishing it? I don’t think so and here is why: while there are not that many carp in there the ones that are big. What is known about the carp is mostly from bow hunters who find the clear water conducive to shooting hapless fish. They report that the average size is in the mid 30s and the state record was shot out of this lake – a massive 58lbs. So while you are not going to catch a lot of fish, if you mange to catch one it is likely to be a really good fish. I am sure the lake has 60lb fish swimming somewhere in the system.
Round one: Grass carp, January 2015
After my good fortune in the 2015 FFF (see the CAG Forum for details) I was eager to keep up the momentum. I had made up some cracked corn with coconut flakes and added sugar and corn syrup that had been sitting in a bucket for a few weeks and I felt that it was now or never for using it up. Fermentation had set in, but due to the cool weather it was not to the point of being really alcoholic and was quite pleasant smelling. At this point I had never fished Lake Murray before and picked Hilton Recreation Area as a location that had some water that was not to deep, has a creek feeding in, and is not too far to drive from my house.
The best I could do was to get the bait in the day before I was going to fish as between work and family time is often tight. Luckily I recently got a canoe so getting the bait out is relatively quick. I baited up an area the size of a tennis court in about 10ft of water that drops away into the creek channel. It might not be the best spot but I thought that as it was colder the fish would likely be near the channel and this spot was in a location that I could see a lot of water so if any fish did decide to show I would be able to see them.
I let one of my friends know I was fishing and he decided to join me. The best time for him to fish was early morning which was fine with me as I wanted to be on the water at first light in the hope that some fish might show. We arrived on the bank at 6am. The weather was above freezing and foggy with no wind. I got my gear set up and put out the first rod with some bread pack bait and a piece of white corn on a blow back rig. I set up the lead on a run ring with Ashima Ground Hog looped leader.
As I was getting the 2nd rod rigged, the first alarm makes a few beeps. I watch it for a sec and then go back to rigging. After a few more minutes it starts again and this time is moving a lot. I grab the rod and tighten down only to feel no fish. My guess is that the bread had no fully dissolved yet and was covering the hook. I put the line in the clip and reeled in making sure to note the exact direction the line was cast with a tree that was outlined on the far bank. I checked the hook and added another bread pack. Since I had clipped the line to the distance and had I direction I was pretty sure of getting the bait right back to the spot and hopefully the fish. After getting the rod back out I got back to rigging. The 2nd rod I had rigged with a small method feeder with a fake corn pop-up about 2ins of the bottom. I got this cast and then the first rod goes off again – this time with much more power. I did not miss this fish and after a spirited fight on my Century FBS I have a 30+ lb grass carp in the net.
Once I got the rod back out I finished rigging my final rod. This rod I rigged with a snowman of 10mm plum and pineapple boilies. The lead was on a clip. The first rod I had cast to the left of my baited area, and this rod I put nearer the shore on the right side in about 9ft of water. After this things slowed down for a bit and I took the chance to get my tackle sorted out and get a few extra hook links ready. I always like to have some made up and ready to go as I am fishing short sessions most of the time and I want to maximize the amount of time I have my baits in the water.
About 30mins later the rod that had the first run gets hit. The take looks a lot like a catfish – the hanger jumping up and down but no line going out. I get the rod and connect to a decent fish which turns out to be another grass carp much like the first one but a few pound heavier. By this time it’s starting to get light and I keeping hoping for a fish to crash, but nothing is to be seen and the water is glass.
My friend during this time has had a few bumps but no runs of any note. I wonder if it is due to the rig – so far both my fish have come on the running rig. Time goes on with just a few small taps to indicate that there are any fish in the swim. I recast the rod with the method feeder and get a tap right away but no hook up. The light levels are increasing and it becomes evident that the water is really clear. Then I get a proper run, this time on the rod with boilies. Right away this fish seems bigger and starts trashing on the surface and making some good runs. Thankfully it stays away from all the potential snags and is guided safely into the net. This fish went 43lbs and nearly broke my PB for grass carp.
After this things went dead. There was no indication of fish in the swim whatsoever. I rigged up a chod and whacked it out about 130yds into deeper water in an attempt to find the fish but to no avail. My guess is that the clear water combined with increasing light levels and a few boats going past put the fish off. After a few more hours of no fish we packed up and headed home. Not too bad of a day for January!
Round 2: ******* Catfish, January and February 2015
I would love to be able to say that things just kept on like this or got better but such was not the case. After round 1 the weather took a turn for the worse and started to get really cold. Arrangements were made with friends to get a cabin on the lake for a few days. I had high hopes for this as it would allow me to fish for 48hrs straight all the while being able to sleep in a heated house – can’t ask for more than that. Work kept me busy so again I was only able to bait up one day ahead of time. I was hoping that since I was fishing for longer the bait would start working once I was there.
Rigging was the same as for round one, but I did include one rig with one of the boilies that I used in the pre-baiting. When I started fishing the conditions were not ideal. The wind was driving a lot of water before it and was blowing right onto the bank. This would not have bothered me during the warmer months but this caused it to be really cold. No matter however, this was the spot that I was going to fish.
Within the first 10mins of casting out I had a run which I missed due to using a rig I should not have used. After about another 30mins I got another run which resulted in a catfish…and then another…and another. Basically the catfish were biting great and I caught a bunch of them all day and through the night. I kept them in my net as I did not want to catch them again, but there seemed to be a large population.
On the 2nd day the obligatory bass boat decided to fish on top of me. Why does this always happen? They have a 50,000 acre lake to fish, but the 100 ft in front of me is by far the best. Who knows? I took out my camera and took pictures of them until they got nervous of the crazy guy on the bank and left. During the rest of the time a may have heard one carp crash over my bait in the early morning while it was still dark. I don’t know that I will be fishing this spot again.
My next effort was at Hilton again, but the conditions were very different with high winds and bitter cold. I baited up for a few days this time with a mix of cracked corn, pellets and boilies. The water was even clearer than before. I had some hope that there were fish in the area as a friend of mine had fished a few days before and seen a huge fish crash in the vicinity.
When I got there I was glad that I could sit in the car while waiting for a run as the temperature was well below freezing. Again I got some taps right away and got my net ready, but sadly nothing further happened. After 45mins of nothing further on that rod I reeled it in and discovered a small catfish on the end. I recast to the same spot. I was getting ready to pack it in when I get a awesome run on my right hand rod, which, of course, was no longer on the line when I pick up the rod. I fished a bit more but by this time it was getting really bright and I thought my chances were slim.
My next session was fishing by the dam near the fishing pier. This area has deeper water and I thought that since the temperature had been dropping maybe the fish were be out farther. It would not have been a first choice of spots, but as I mentioned earlier, shore access is not very good so my options are limited. This spot also was the closest to my house so I wanted to explore it as an option.
I started the bait going in three days before I was going to fish. I targeted a spot in 19ft of water that had a mix of small rocks and silt. Rather than spoding (which is not much fun), I decided to use a method blaster and a method mix made up of feed pellets, crushed boilies, sweet corn, and field corn. I put in about 10-15lbs of bait each day.
The day that I had arranged to go fishing arrived and so did some rain. This gave me a change to use my brolly which I don’t use very often. The weather had warmed up lots of people were out walking and fishing. If you want to get people to talk to you use a method blaster – it really gets peoples interest!
The rigs I was using were the same as in previous session, and again I was using bread pack bait with the addition of some pva bags of pellets and crushed boilies. I was fishing with another carp angler from Columbia, Joseph, and between the two of us we had the area coved.
Despite the very calm conditions we did not see any fish ht the surface. As it started to get dark my hopes of getting a run increased. Joseph had a tap on one of his rods – just a few beeps. As we were standing watching his rods waiting for more my left hand rod screams off. I make it to the rod and grab it up only to feel the dead weight of yet another catfish. It was a let down to be sure, but it was a fish…even if it’s a minus 1! Stay tuned for more updates in this quest.