On Monday July 19th 2021 some of the most highly skilled anglers from all over the country gathered in Waddington, NY to draw pegs for what would be the longest and one of most challenging carp fishing tournaments ever held on the mighty St. Lawrence River. The first annual St. Lawrence Carp Marathon ran for 6 days starting on Monday at 8am and ending Saturday at 6pm. For many of the teams this was their first time fishing the St. Lawrence, but even the most seasoned local anglers had no idea just how much they’d be tested in the days ahead.
Before I get into that story, here’s a little background on how this tournament came to be. The first annual St. Lawrence Carp Marathon was organized by Ogdensburg local Colin Peters. Making the move from England to New York well over a decade ago, it wasn’t long before Colin fell in love with the St. Lawrence and eventually settled in Ogdensburg, NY where he’s been living ever since. After competing in a number of tournaments over the years including The Wild Carp Classic and The Ed French Open on the Seneca River, the CT Open on the Connecticut River, and of course, The Seaway Sixpack on the St. Lawrence, Colin had plenty of opportunity to learn the ins and outs of tournament fishing for carp. Then the year 2020 happened…with Covid restrictions putting a dampener on just about every aspect of our lives, the annual carp fishing tournaments were just another casualty of those unfortunate times. The WCC and Ed French were both canceled. Leaving anglers from all over the country with a void to fill, but all hope was not lost.
The Seaway Sixpack on the St. Lawrence, normally held in the fall, would be held in July. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Bob Giordano and his fellow local anglers they were able to get the tournament approved by the local board and department of health. As long as they agreed to follow guidelines such as wearing masks in groups and using hand sanitizer when needed. The Sixpack was a big success. A lot of fish were caught and many of the teams put their 6 qualifying fish on the board, and they did it while following the necessary guidelines. All teams were challenged a fair amount by the elements especially. They were faced with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees most days, and heavy rain about halfway through the event. This was only a preview of what they’d go through a year later.
Later that year, with the Ed French being canceled, Colin decided to take things into his own hands and organize a new tournament dubbed “The St. Lawrence Invitational Showdown”. Just like with Bob’s tournament, Colin worked together with other local anglers and managed to get the event approved and organized within a few short months. The Showdown was another great success and allowed those who would normally compete in the Ed French to compete in a whole new tournament on the most incredible river in the northeast. The St. Lawrence Invitational Showdown would be held again the following spring, immediately following the WCC in Baldwinsville, which was given the green light to proceed after Covid restrictions were no longer as strict.
After the success of The Showdown, Colin had an idea for another tournament. One that would be completely different from those held in the past. A tournament that would prove to be the ultimate test of not only skill, but physical and mental stamina. Thus, “The St. Lawrence Carp Marathon” was born. This was a 6-day “Big 10” event, meaning anglers needed the largest combined weight of their ten biggest fish to win, with 20lbs being the minimum weight for a fish to qualify. Anglers came from all over the country to compete. From Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and nearly half the teams competing were from North or South Carolina. Many of the teams were new to the St. Lawrence, and were blown away by the rivers massiveness and beauty. They arrived at their pegs Monday morning fully loaded and ready to take on this immense challenge. Day one was quiet. Some teams started catching fish right out of the gate, while others took time to evaluate their swim and formulate a plan. The 20lb minimum weight turned out to be a challenge in itself with a high number of fish in the 16lb-19lb range being caught throughout the week. Overall, the first day wasn’t much different than any other day on the river.
On day two, anglers woke up to an incredible sunrise that led to a clear sunny morning but a thunderstorm was predicted to hit in the late afternoon or early evening. I use the term “thunderstorm” lightly. A lot of teams were catching fish somewhat consistently throughout the first half of the day, with a handful of qualifying fish hitting the board before noon. Every peg came with its own set of challenges. Whether it be thick weeds, snags, zebra muscles, boaters, wildlife, or all of the above, there wasn’t a single team that didn’t have to work around some type of obstacle in order to put fish on the mat. As the hours passed dark clouds filled the sky and the wind began to pick up. One team received a call from a friend up river with a stark and straightforward warning..”get ready.”
Within minutes anglers were slammed with heavy rain and extreme wind. Pods were blown over, rods were broken, shelters were collapsed, and a number of canvas canopies were destroyed. One team reported that their canopy was blow 30 feet into the air and 40 yards into the woods, taking everything nearby with it. The storm was gone as fast as it arrived, leaving behind an apocalyptic scene at most of the pegs. Nevertheless, teams still caught a handful of fish in the middle of the storm and the weigh marshals were getting calls immediately after it cleared up. Anglers were now faced with having to salvage what was left and to rebuild their pegs. The tournament had only just begun, and despite the sudden devastation, teams picked themselves up, hung their clothes out to dry, and persisted onwards.
Later in the week anglers were beginning to show signs of exhaustion, evidence of just how taxing this tournament would prove to be. Most teams were putting in long hours and finding little time to get any rest. Anglers were persistently baiting their swims, checking their rigs, and constantly adapting to their environment and the carps feeding habits. By Thursday there was a handful of teams with their 10 qualifying fish on the board, and many weren’t far behind. For the teams with little to no fish on the board the feeling of hopelessness started to set in. Many found it difficult to stay positive, and one team even decided they’d had enough and went home by that afternoon. But even for the teams with little chance of getting their 10, there was still a considerable amount of money on the table for Biggest Fish. With only two days left anglers put the pedal to the floor, and the race to the finish began.
Friday was very slow. It was another hot summer day, but with no wind. The lack of wind seemed to shut the fish down for a while and the only thing teams could do is wait until dusk with hopes that the fish would tilt their heads down and start to feed again. Some caught fish that night, some didn’t. Some alarms went screaming at 3am, and some were silent. Saturday was another slow day with a handful of fish hitting the board in the morning, and some stragglers throughout the day. The race to the finish was extremely close with some teams mere ounces away from surpassing another. The teams in first and second place were neck and neck right up until the end. When the tournament came to a close that night and anglers gathered for the award ceremony it was evident that most of them were more than ready to go home and get some sleep. After the prizes were awarded to the winning teams they mingled with each other and slowly started to disperse from the pavilion where the ceremony was held, with no shortage of memories to bring home and tell their friends and family. In a recent Facebook post by Colin he reflected on the tournament and asked himself “will their be another Marathon?” he followed up by saying “let me have some rest and think about it.”
A day later he posted provisional dates for the 2nd annual St. Lawrence Carp Marathon.
On a personal note, I started working these tournaments as a weigh marshal last summer with The Seaway Sixpack being my first, and The Marathon being my fourth. I’ve made some incredible memories and even more incredible friends along the way. I’ve learned more from anglers in these tournaments than I could have ever learned on my own, but this tournament in particular was special. Not only did I make a lot of new friends, but I had the opportunity to get to know anglers from a different side of the carp fishing world and I learned that we have a lot more in common than originally perceived. We swapped stories and shared a lot of laughs, I got to try Cheerwine for the first time, and I received countless offers to come fish down in the Carolinas. The friendships that were kindled as a result of this event far outweigh any monetary payment for my time spent on the river, and I am forever grateful for that.
A big shoutout to those that made this tournament happen. Colin and everyone that helped him plan it out, Jevonnah Foster and her team of marshals, and of course all of the anglers that travelled many miles to truly make this event what it was. This was a week I’ll never forget. Can’t wait to see everyone again next year!
Keep scrolling to see more pictures from the tournament!
It’s often said, ‘you should never go back’ but in the case of the St Lawrence River it had been a long 4 years since I had last walked it’s banks. I first visited this magnificent river system in 2011 and fished several swims over 3 days, searching for fish and all in all having a wonderful experience. If you’ve never fished the St Lawrence let me highlight a few things that make it so special.
First off, it’s around 740 miles long and in several of the sections is around 1-1.5 miles across. It’s referred to as the ‘St Lawrence River Seaway’ because on a daily basis you will see ships and tankers making their way up and down the river. The sheer size of the water may intimidate some, but it’s one of the beautiful aspects of the water. Secondly, along both the American and Canadian sides you have all manner of stretches; fast flowing shallow sections, deep dredged areas, inlets, bays and islands galore. The real challenge is choosing an area to fish. Third, the bank access is very good, if you do some research or even better, talk to the locals who are more than happy to share their river. Last but not least, the carp! Like all fishing, it can be hard at times but with big shoals of carp roaming the river the action can be thick and fast if you manage to locate them. The average size may be 15-25lb’s, but 30lb fish are common and there have been fish caught to over 50lb. Whatever the size, one thing I can guarantee is that they all fight very, very hard and will put your tackle to the test.
Back to my story; after my 2011 visit I was eager to get back the following year and when I did I had another great session with plenty of good fish and my first 30lb+ common from America. Again, I vowed to be back, but with work and also a big fish obsession on my local rivers I kept putting it off. Fast forward to this year and with my wife working and knowing that the first weekend of September would be my last one free until the middle of November I decided to hit the road.
Bait was order, particles were prepared, the car was packed and I also loaded my dog Lily to accompany me on the long 350 miles drive up to the Canadian border and the town of Ogdensburg. As alway’s the ride to the start a fishing trip is much easier than the one home, and with only one stop to walk the dog I made it up to the river in only 6 hours. My plan was to pre-bait one area where I thought the fish would be and then go and fish the next 24-36 hours in two other spots. If the first swims were successful I could always stay put, but it never hurts to have a back-up plan or two. I liberally baiting with around 3-4kg of boilies over one spot and around 2 gallons of mixed particles and tiger nuts over another spot and then made the short drive to the first spot I would fish.
This first spot was one that was alive with fish on my first visit but was a challenge to fish as the margins were strewn with the remains of an old dock! Due to this reason, I attached a good 25 feet of 30lb mono leader onto my reels and also upper the strength of all my other tackle. I set-up camp and put out some bait and sat back to wait for some signs of carp. Unfortunately, over the next 5 hours I didn’t see one sign of fish. Due to this I decided to move several hundred yards to the edge of the fishable area to see if the carp were hanging out in the slightly deeper water. Again, nothing occurred, apart from a fat channel cat.
I decided to stay put until the next morning at which point I would move, unless the fish turned up. It was a relatively quite night, until 3am when one of the rods screamed off and I was attached to a carp at last. Knowing the snags were a factor I wanted to let the fish run a bit and then let it tire itself out, before dealing with it in the margins; however the fish had other ideas. It kited to the right and swam straight to shore. It knew exactly where the snags were and even though I kept up with it and moved down the bank it inevitable found sanctuary! I was gutted, but realized this swim would be very hard to fish on my own as a second person with the net is really needed so you can stay high on the bank and keep pressure on the fish. I quickly packed away all of my gear, even though it was 3.15am and made the drive back to my pre-baited area.
Once I arrived I took my time to set-up again and baited one rod at a time. The area in question is fairly uniform in depth with the margins being as deep as the water 100 yards out, due to it being dredged to allow boats to run through. I put out my first rod in a margin spot about 3 rod lengths out from the bank and threw 3 or 4 handfuls of tiger nuts over the top. I would then put my other 2 rods over the area baited with boilies. I was quite surprised when only 10 minutes later the margin rod tore off and after a 5 minute fight I had my first fish on the mat which was joined 5 minutes later by another nice fish from one of the boilie rods.
It was obvious I had fish in the area and they had been feeding on my bait. Over the next couple of hours until daylight broke I had another 3 fish, all falling to my marginal tiger nut rod. Rather than heavily bait again, I went with a baiting approach I often use; fish for one fish at a time and then re-bait. This consisted of a few handfuls of tigers, 30-40 soluble boilies and 5-6 spods of hemp and cracked corn.
It was interesting to note that out of the first dozen fish only one of them fell to the boilie rods. In fact I may as well have been fishing with one rod! A rethink on how to fish the other two rods was required as I really wanted to have 3 productive spots. I could have been swayed by my results on boilies in the past, but it was obvious that tiger nuts and particles were more effective on this session, most likely due to the water temperatures which were still over 70 degrees. In warm water it really is hard to beat tiger nuts and having retained one decent fish for 30 minutes in the sling it was easy to see that they were loving them too; the sling was covered in crushed tiger nuts that the carp was expelling. I also noticed as the session went on that several of the carp were also excreting zebra muscles which may explain their love of crunchy food.
Back to my spots. When I last fished the swim the depths were 17 feet from the margins to over 100 yards but on casting this did not appear to be the case 4 years on. The margins were still 15 feet deep (a lack of rainfall had the river down 2-3 feet) but once you got 30 yards out the depths were only 10 feet or so! What had changed? After speaking to a local angler, I discovered the area had not been dredged for the last 4 years which was creating a build up of silt and sand from the nearby connecting smaller river. I’m not sure if this was the reason the fish were more comfortable in the margins but the activity was definitely greater.
I moved on of my boilie rods off the baited area and placed it in a second margin spot, again only 3-4 rod lengths out. My margin spots were well spread apart so in effect I was fishing two separate areas. Both spots were fed with tiger nuts and particles. I kept my boilie spot going and even though the action was lacking I regularly put 50-100 baits over the spot in the hope that when the carp did feed on this spot I would attract a few bigger specimens.
During my second day the action was steady with runs coming every hour or so. My second margin spot began to produce and by early evening I was up to around 15 carp in total with a few over the 25lb mark. The great thing about the St Lawrence fish is that for the most part they are in immaculate condition. Most likely the vast majority have never seen the bank and they certainly put a fight up to avoid the net. I wasn’t the only one having fun either. My dog, Lily was loving the action and would either howl at me from a distance when I was playing a fish or if able, swim out and try and land the carp herself. I’m not sure she’s the ideal carping dog, but she certainly keeps it interesting.
Towards the end of the day one of the local anglers, Tim, came down to chat and as the action continued helped me net a few fish and also landed one himself when I had a double take. The local anglers and the people in general are very friendly and helpful and really embrace visitors to their area. I chatted to time past midnight and as I had slept only 3 hours the previous night I decided to turn in. The carp had other ideas though as the boilie area finally sprang to life, along with the margin rods also steadily producing.
I moved my chair and sleeping bag next to the rods but didn’t really get more than 10 minutes rest at a time as I had around 15 carp before dawn finally came. The best part was the fish weights went up with the last 7 or 8 fish all being between 23-29lb’s. No thirties but I really wasn’t complaining. Finally, as the sun came up I took a few shots of the better fish and started to pack up slowly. I had another 24 hours fishing scheduled but with no sleep and work to do at home I was happy to leave early. No doubt I would have continued to catch and may even have got through to bigger fish, but I was happy with the session and I always like to leave something for next time.
Overall, my results were pretty good considering the water temperatures were still pretty high. I much prefer Fall conditions when the fish really start to feed, but by finding some fish and maximizing the area I had been able to catch fish regularly. I don’t keep meticulous records anymore, as I prefer to enjoy the ride now and not get hung up in numbers, but I would guess I had around 35 carp or so with around half of these being over 20lbs and 6 or 7 over the 25lb mark. All in all, well worth the 700 mile round trip.
If you’ve never been to the St Lawrence, I can’t recommend it enough. If you have visited, you no doubt are keen to get back. For myself, I’ll be hoping to get back in a few months and maybe next year I can get across the border to the Canadian side for a real adventure.
As many will know I’m primarily a short session angler fishing 4-6 hour sessions plus a few overnights. In the past decade I’ve fished only two week long tournaments (Baldwinsville & Big 5 Carp in Romania) plus a just a handful of multi day sessions. So it was with some trepidation that I made the commitment to fish the 100 hour long 2015 CT CARP Open Tournament this past October. What follows is simply the tournament seen from my perspective. As I hope you will learn it goes beyond (certainly in my case at least!) any hopes of winning and is more about my experiences and the fun I had taking part.
Over the years I’ve been involved in helping the Fisheries folk at Connecticut DEEP understand more about the opportunities to develop carp fishing in our State. In addition to supporting catch & release record claims for carp and a recent regulation change to allow the use of three rods they have embraced the idea of turning, in their words, ‘Trash to Treasure’. This simple statement underlines a commitment to introduce more anglers to carp fishing in Connecticut and to promote the catch & release of larger specimens. As part of this commitment David Moore, founder of the Carp Tournament Series, and myself approached Pete Aarrestad, Director of Inland Fisheries, with a proposal to host a carp tournament on the CT River. There were some key aspects that would need to be reconciled to ensure the tournaments success which in particular required securing permission for anglers to fish allocated swims with bivies etc for the duration. The enthusiasm and support given by Pete, Bill Gerrish (Senior Fisheries Biologist) together with their colleagues at the CT DEEP Fisheries division along with help from State, local towns, police, park and other authorities was simply incredible. This coupled with the professionalism of Kathy Kelly – Ori and the team at CTS would ensure the event ran like clockwork.
The Count Down…
Two weeks to go and I’ve barely had time to even think about the tournament. I’ve heard about how other competitors bait and tackle preparations are in full swing wtih several local CT anglers and even some from out of state looking at prospective swims, to check depths and so on. A state of panic descends and I look over my tackle to see if I even have enough leads, rigs and other bits and pieces to last beyond my usual sessions of 4-6 hours. An order to Big Carp Tackle hopefully covers the several gaps I’ve noted and then a phone call to K-1 baits and a reassuring chat with Mihai & Bogdan ensures I’ll have plenty of their new Concept fishmeal boilies on hand. While boilies will be my preferred bait choice I figure that it will be prudent to have several gallons of maize on hand to ‘feed off’ any large shoals of smaller fish. So 50lb of maize goes into soak and 24 hours later I’m boiling batches and loading them in to 5 gallon buckets with some ‘special’ additives for added attraction.
One week to go and David Moore rolls into town. He is kept busy on the usual attention to detail for the tournament and working with Bill Gerrish to finalize & mark swim locations. My first view of the swims is two days before the tournament when I get a chance to make a quick sweep but still have no time to plumb depths etc. However I do look carefully at any swims I don’t think I can fish alone and look up others on Navionics charts to get an idea of depths and contours. After 20 years of living and fishing in CT I’ve tried to help David with suggestions for swims together with input from the likes of Mike Hudak & friends but perhaps more exciting is the number of new swims that have been discovered or made available through access to State land!
Two days to go and its 6am Saturday morning. I meet Pete Aarrestad at the Channel 3 news studio. We’ve been invited to talk about the tournament and our 5 minutes of fame just before the 7am news flashes by. Thanks to the wonderful world of on-line media the moment is captured and spread across Facebook etc for anyone (everyone?) sleeping in or watching other channels.
In spite of introductions and good humored banter everyone seems more than a little edgy. We are all gathered in the meeting room at Cabelas making small talk and while some feast eagerly on the snacks thoughtfully provided by our hosts others like myself feel sick to our stomachs with nervous anticipation. We line up to sign in, complete the waiver and acknowledge that we’ve read the rules (which as it transpires not all did…). Once the sign in is completed we sit to hear a couple of words from CT DEEP Fisheries folk, key sponsors and finally David highlighting key rules including any last minute changes such as the minimum weight (22lb) to qualify toward the Big 4 Fish… Did I mention checking the rules????
The procedure starts with each individual angler or team pulling a number to determine the order of the peg draw. The tension grows and finally the peg draw starts… each Team or Individual draws two pegs and then have the option of choosing one or returning both and going to the back of the line for a second and final chance. When my turn comes I pull pegs 7 & 8 – Hardly a choice! I put both back and like several others go to the back of the line for another go. When my turn comes around again I pull pegs 6 & 34. I know 34 is not a swim I feel comfortable fishing alone due to its steep and rocky bank while peg 6 in East Hartford actually won the last tournament 5 years ago for the Jackson brothers. So decision made and peg 6 it is!
Day 1 (Columbus Day).
LT: 9.33 AM HT: 2.06 PM (2 feet)
LT: 10.02 PM HT: 2.29 AM (2 feet)
The truck is already packed so I’m up and on the road at first light. Fishing does not start until 10am but I’m scheduled to talk to a local news channel at my swim so want to get everything set up ahead of time.
At first light I see a few fish, presumed to be carp, topping on the far bank but as the sun comes up the activity ceases. The CT river is tidal all the way to Windsor locks a few miles north of Hartford and since the water is beginning to drop I choose to put out only a few chopped boilies (to stop them rolling away) and a couple of Spombs of my maize ‘soup’ mix until I can figure out if there are actually are any carp in the area.
A cameraman along with reporter Sujata Jain from WFSB Channel 3 News arrive just before 9am so the next 40 minutes is taken up finding some decent camera angles, scenic views of Hartford and talking about carp tackle and the tournament. It’s good to see carp fishing get some good exposure and recognition!
Finally its 10am and the tournament is on! While three rods are allowed here in CT the out going tide makes it difficult to hold bottom even with 5 oz leads so I chose to minimize any risk of tangles and only fish two rods. As the day progresses the alarms are ominously silent and my time is spent reeling in every half hour or so to remove the large amounts of weed and grass that continually collects on the line despite using back leads. The long Columbus day weekend coupled with warm fall weather has resulted in a lot of boat traffic churning up the river & dislodging weed and debris (so don’t blame it on the carp!). As the day continues several carp groupies appear and find the picnic table I’d reserved for laying out rigs etc a convenient spot to hang out… Oh well! I’m always happy to chat about carp fishing but I’m also trying to stay focused on keeping my lines clear and plan ahead. Fran Slasinski, a longtime friend and the section weigh marshal, stops by and it’s good to chat and get an update on what’s happening at other pegs. Apparently not much yet… Oh well! I’m always happy to chat about carp fishing but I’m also trying to stay focused on keeping my lines clear and plan ahead. Fran Slasinski, a longtime friend and the section weigh marshal, stops by and it’s good to chat and get an update on what’s happening at other pegs. Apparently not much yet…
As darkness falls the carp groupies disperse and I’m left to prepare for the night ahead. There have still been no carp caught as yet along the East Hartford section and only a couple of small fish from the Charter Oak section on the west bank just a bit further downstream. As a result I trickle in only a few more baits rather than ‘filling it in’. I eat early, heating up a home made chicken curry, before settling down to get some sleep in anticipation of more action through the night. Unfortunately this being East Hartford I’m soon awoken by the sound of loud bass speakers thumping. It appears that this river side street is where the local kids like to hang out in their cars. As the night draws on the kids finally head home and a couple of police cruisers make re-assuring sweeps in the early hours. Meanwhile my alarm receiver remains ominously quiet and my only activity is to get up and check my lines, clear more weed and make several cups of tea.
As daylight and light rain greet me I’m already resolved to take advantage of the tournaments ‘move’ option. There has been no fish activity in over 20 hours and only a couple of smaller fish in swims down river. Plus the amount of debris coming down river and fouling my lines is proving extremely frustrating! The key question is where should I go? There are several ‘open’ swims that look like attractive propositions. I make a short list and determine to get in place in plenty of time to secure my chosen swim when it opens up at noon. Disaster – I have a dead battery! Are you kidding me? One of the carp groupies kindly comes to my rescue with a set of jump leads but with the long days ahead I’m forced to make a detour and get the battery checked before going on to the next swim. Almost 90 minutes later I’m back on the road with the same battery but now fully charged… I must have left something switched on overnight – duh!
A call from Mike Hudak in Peg # alerts me to a swim at Harbor Park in Middletown opening up. I’m not sure why anyone would give it up as it has produced some excellent fish in the past. Now I’m really facing some tough choices. Do I go with Harbor Park or perhaps another Middletown swim or go for somewhere idyllic but unknown like Hurd State Park? I arrive at Harbor Park and talk to Mike and Chris. They are beginning to catch but mostly only at night. I’m hugely torn then learn that Pannayotis, the only other angler at Hurd, has been getting into some nice fish. so that’s it – Decision made I’m on my way! As I drive by I see Mike Hudak bent into a fish. If I’d known that fish would weigh 33 lb I might just have turned around!
Hurd State Park – Peg 40
Hurd State Park sits alongside the CT River and is usually only open for single night camping for boaters during the season. Thanks to the State and the DEEP we’ve been granted unique access for the duration of the tournament. Setting up in my new peg I’m struck by the peace & tranquility of this beautiful location. It is truly a privilege in being able to fish here.
The banks are built up with local Portland stone blocks. This was in an effort to raise the water lever and make the river more navigable through the treacherous Sears shoals at this point. My swim has a stone peninsula that sticks out about 75 feet into the river just above Hurd Brook (which is barely a trickle due to the summer drought). The main current flows just off the tip and leaves a protected area in its ‘lee’. The tide is ‘in’ when I arrive and the margins look way too inviting not to toss a bait in immediately. I grab a rod, bait up with a handful of maize and go about setting up the rest of my gear. Only 20 minutes later, while I’m pruning back some of the vegetation and over hanging tree branches the Delkim bursts into song and I’m into a very hard fighting fish. Luck is with me and I slide the net under a stunning common but at only 20 lb 8oz its just short of the 22 lb minimum needed to get me on the scoreboard. After almost 29 hours it’s my first fish and hopefully a promising sign!
As the tide recedes I discover that the margin spot is soon uncovered and was probably less than 2 feet deep at high tide where I hooked my fish. It’s a firm sand covered in a thin layer of silt but shows signs of freshwater clams and mussels.
As evening approaches I have two rods positioned on the edge of the main current while the third is held in reserve until the tide comes in and once again covers the margin area. However I take the opportunity to wade out while there is just a few inches of water to drop some scoops of maize in strategic margin spots in preparation. I also trickle in some bait just off the main current every half an hour to encourage carp coming up stream to hopefully linger a while.
Since high tide is not due until after midnight I’m not expecting much to happen until around 10pm. So I settle down to enjoy the stunning sunset with a very nice, homemade, chicken curry and a couple of pints of Guinness to wash it down!
Day Three – October 14th
HT: 12:47 AM (2.4 Feet) LT: 7:31 AM (0.4 Feet)
HT: 1:03 PM (2.8 Feet) LT: 8:06 PM (0.2 Feet)
The night delivers several more fish but unfortunately they are all between 18 and 21 lb and still not big enough to get me a place on the leader board. The dawn breaks with a stunning sunrise but my optimism slowly wanes as the day passes by with very little action other than a couple of quite large catfish.
As the sunsets I’m finally into a hard fighting fish and I’m sure this one will finally put me on the leader board… but at 21.14 it misses (yet again…) by just 2 oz! Only one more fish comes before midnight, a low teen that I slip back immediately.
The End Game…
Attention to detail is critical when choosing which rigs to use and especially making sure they are tied correctly. If you are missing bites or dropping fish, especially during a tournament, then something is not right! If you want to learn more about rigs then take a look at my “Understanding Rigs I, II & III” series here on Big Carp News. The top three rigs in the photo are based on Frank Warwick’s ‘go to’ rig using a long shank PB hook in size 4 or 6 with a shrink tube hair aligner and PB long shank line aligner. A 9″ Hook link made with 25lb PB Jelly Wire with the coating stripped 1/2″ behind the line aligner. The lower two rigs are set up for fishing maize with Enterprise pop-up large corn kernels. The rig is made with a #4 PB Anti-Eject hook with a ‘shot-on-the-hook’ bead (note the bead should be positioned at the bend just below the hook point and not as shown the photo) plus a PB short shank line aligner. A 6″ hook link tied using PB Skinless creates a super stiff link to help kick the sharp end away from the lead or method feeder. In both cases a figure ‘8’ loop was created to slip over a Speed swivel clip which is covered over to keep it in place with an anti-tangle sleeve. You can always substitute your own choice of hooks and hook link material but don’t try and save a few cents when buying end tackle. It amazes me how some folk will spend hundreds of $$$ on rods and reels but then go ‘cheap’ on hooks, line etc. These rigs are simple to tie and incredibly reliable. I very, very rarely drop a hooked fish.
Day Four – October 15th
HT: 1:28 AM (2.4 Feet) LT: 8:08 AM (0.4 Feet)
HT: 1:43 PM (2.8 Feet) LT: 8:47 PM (0.2 Feet)
I settle back into my bivvy until woken at about 3:30 am by my receiver mirroring a screaming Delkim somewhere in the darkness. As I know I’ll need to clamber of the rocks into the water to net the fish I’m already prepared by wearing my chest waders and cleats. After picking up the rod and winding down into a fast running fish I grab one of my head torches (always have a spare) from my pocket and switch it on. The reflective tape on my landing net plus a couple of marker posts stand out in the darkness, the latter to show my ‘safest’ route over the rocks to the water edge. After an initial long run I maintain steady pressure and work what feels like a better sized fish against the current. Finally the fish is framed in the light from the head torch and I breathe a sigh of relief as its golden flanks are surrounded by the net on the first attempt. There is no doubt this will fish will finally get me on the leader board and my scales register 24.02. I slip it into a sack and make sure it is carefully tethered out of the main current but in an area that won’t leave it high and dry at low tide. Thanks to the quick change swivels on my PB leaders the rig is quickly swapped out for a freshly baited one and cast back out. I catapult out more boilies and loose particles & feed before settling back in a chair by the rods. No sooner have I sat down when the same rod screams off and I’m into another fish. This one weighs just over twenty pounds so goes back but as it swims off another alarm screams out. This time I have to clamber out of the water, grab the rod and back in again. A slow steady battle ensues and I’m quietly confident this is another one for the leader board. At 26.02 lb it too goes into a second sack to await the weigh marshal. Three more runs produce a couple of fish just under 22lb and a high teen that must have been on steroids as it never stops fighting – even in the net and on the mat. As dawn breaks and the tide ebbs the action ceases and I’m finally able to grab cup of tea and a quick nap.
David Moore arrives to weigh my two fish and I’m encouraged to see that not only do my own and his tournament certified scales see eye to eye but neither fish has lost any weight after 5 hours in the sacks.
The day passes with just a couple more fish under the 22lb cut-off. Meanwhile Pannayotis at Peg 38 a couple hundred yards upstream continues to produce some nice fish including a solid thirty that puts him in a tight battle for 3rd place.
Day Five – October 16th
HT: 2:09 AM (2.3 Feet) LT: 8:48 AM (0.5 Feet)
Just before dawn I’m awoken by a solid run. The river is shrouded in a mist. As I’m about to enter the water I’m aware of something cruising along the surface and at first think it might be an otter. A loud ‘slap’ quickly followed by another and then another reveal it to be a very large and apparently rather aggressive beaver. It is clearly upset at my presence and repeatedly swims toward me before slapping its tail and diving underwater. After hearing about a fly fisherman who was bitten in the thigh (almost fatally…) by a beaver while fishing the local Farmington River I’m now quite wary of them! Ethan one of the weigh marshal’s appears and while he keeps his torch trained on the beast while I nervously slip into the water to net the fish. The fish is a mid teen and I quickly release it. As I make it back to the shore my second rod goes off and is followed moments later by my third. The usual panic ensues along with some considerable confusion as the lines seem to have somehow become entangled. I finally manage to reel in one rod but find its attached to the other via a small pike that has somehow become wrapped up in both lines. I manage to release the pike but untangling the mess of lines with a carp still attached to one is almost impossible. I make a quick decision and like a bomb disposal expert cut what I hope is the correct line. Luck is with me and I manage to land another fish of about 12 lb as well as the rig from the cut line.
Around 11 am I’m videoing a large Coastguard launch headed down river and throwing out a massive wake. Suddenly one of my rods arches over and line streams off against the baitrunner. The fish continues to power off downstream taking 50, 60, 70 and almost 80yds of line before I can eventually stop it. I ease off the pressure and true to form the fish turns and slowly begins to swim back up stream. I manage to recover a lot of line just as the first waves from the launch crash into the bank. The fish turns and surges off again as wave after wave rolls in against the shore. As I turn the fish once more another wave throws a huge clump of weed against the line and the rod is pulled down sharply with the sudden extra weight and then springs back… the line is slack and the fish is gone. I’m gutted. As always it’s the fish you don’t see that feel the biggest. River fish invariably fight hard and this fish was no exception. But it just ‘felt’ big from the get go. I’ve caught plenty of fish to well over thirty pounds from the river to know that this was probably up there… I park my disappointment and frustration so that I can re-rig and put the bait back out hoping desperately that the incoming tide might still throw up a couple more fish.
As I pack my gear away I keep willing one of the rods to go off but as the minutes count down everything stays ominously quiet. The clock on my phone rolls over from 1:59pm and that’s it, it’s all over. So I finally wind in the rods, break down the nets and pod and load them into the truck. As I drive back towards Hartford and the presentation of awards at Cabela’s I have some time to reflect on the past 100 hours. Of all the fish I caught only two counted so I was never in contention for a front runner spot for the BIG FOUR or as it turns any of the other prizes (Big Fish, Big Mirror or Big Fantail). In the end I more than enjoyed this tournament especially being able to fish such an extraordinary spot on the Connecticut River. So much so that I’ve already entered for next year!
Winners & Award Presentation.
At the awards presentation everyone entered had a chance to win some great prizes generously donated by the various tackle sponsors in a free draw before the overall tournament winners were announced. A Cygnet rod pod and a pair of Diawa rods were among the most sought after prizes together with a host of bait and other items. Huge thanks go to Cygnet, Tracker, Diawa, Big Carp Tackle, Saxon Tackle, Nash & CC Moore for supporting the event.
The $ 100,000 prize for the capture of a new CT State record carp went unclaimed. I was actually surprised as there seemed every chance that Mike Hudak’s 43lb 12oz record from 2012 could come under threat during the tournament… who knows maybe next year!
2015 CT CARP Open Winners
Big Fish Winner: Norbert Samok/Miguel Perez (NY) 36 lb 06 oz – $3500
Big 4 First Place: Norbert Samok/Miguel Perez (NY) 124 lb 06 oz – $3500
Big 4 Second Place: Chris Chiodo/Derek Shibles (MA) 119 lb 01 oz – $2000
Big 4 Third Place: Attila Horvath (NY) 114 lb 13 oz – $1000
Big Mirror: Mike Hudak/Chris Gastringer (CT) 27 lb 2 oz- $500
Day 1 – Norbert Samok/Miguel Perez 36 lb 6 oz
Day 2 – Chris Chiodo/Derek Shibles (MA) 32 lb 12 oz
Day 3 – Attila Horvath (NY) 32 lb 9 oz
Day 4 – Craig Welch (OH) 33 lb 2 oz
Thanks & Kudos
Once again a huge thank-you to everyone who helped organize and support the 2015 CT Carp Open. In particular the tournament sponsors & partners, Ted & Sally Carrier, Pete Aarrestad, Bill Gerrish and their colleagues at CT Fisheries & DEEP, Craig Mergins Assistant Director of Community Relations & Park Operations for Riverfront Recapture, The Cities of Hartford, East Hartford, Cromwell, Middletown, Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau ,State Parks officers and the State of Connecticut, local police and DEEP enforcement officers, David Moore, Kathy Kelly-Ori and the dedicated team at CARP Tournament Series, Cabelas, Andy Nicholls at Fishing Factory 3, Volunteers & Weigh Marshalls, Competitors & Supporters some of whom drove hundreds of miles to take part, the many folk who stopped by and chatted and as always the ever patient news and camera crews from local media outlets who helped provide excellent coverage of the event.
It’s been a funny year, weather wise. After a brutal winter with over 100 inches of snow in the Northeast it’s an understatement to say I was not looking forward to the coming winter season. The Farmers’ Almanac prediction didn’t help but as November came to an end the weather stayed stable and mild. By the middle of December I found myself looking at the long term forecast to see if I could squeeze in a session in Upstate New York over the Christmas Break. As luck would have it, after consulting with my wife and finding out she was working we decided to hold the family Christmas on December 24th and I made plans for a 48 hour session on the Seneca River.
Catching a Christmas Day carp is something I had already ticked off the list so I set myself a target of catching a 20lb+ fish which I felt very confident of achieving even though the locals had informed me the area was not fishing particularly well.
After enjoying festivities on Christmas Eve I set the alarm for 5am but have to admit I turned it off and got up at 8am. After a coffee I set out on the 290 mile journey and after only a brief bathroom stop I arrived just after 1pm and began slowly setting up. A little background information on the swim I had chosen as I have fished it a few times in prior years. It is a well known area and the carp are generally fished for regularly by a mixture of both serious carpers and the more casual anglers. As such the carp know they are being fished for and in my experience do not usually feed hard during the daylight hours unless you can get them into a competitive feeding mode.
Rather than rushing to set-up and get the rods cast out I first set about baiting up my swim. My approach was two fold. Firstly I made up a ground bait mix consisting of liquidized bread, beet deer feed, canned sweetcorn and creamed corn as a binder. I initially baited a spot in 9 feet of water with a dozen ground bait balls with my intention to see if this would attract the smaller fish. On this spot I fished one rod with a 10mm white chocolate pop-up.
My second spot would be a boilie only approach with an initial 100 baits spread out in a line between my remaining two rods. With this approach the key to getting a good hit of carp is to bait consistently and regularly after every take or capture. In this case my plan was to re-bait with 10-20 baits after every fish (if I was lucky enough to capture any carp). I was hoping to pick out the bigger fish by using only 20mm+ boilies with the only extra attraction being a high attract stick mix.
After baiting up my areas I slowly set-up my rods and tied up some new hook-links. I also set-up all of my carp safety and camera equipment as if I did catch I wanted to make sure that the carp had a short stay on the bank. All of the rods were cast out and after eating a nice chicken stew I retired to my car just before dark to try and grab a short nap which may seem strange but I was confident that once darkness had descended the carp would feed and sleep may be hard to come by. I only had to wait an hour or so before one of my boilie rods absolutely ripped off. After a decent scrap the first Christmas carp was in the net and at just over 23lb’s my goal was achieved with the first capture.
After sharpening the hook to a sticky point I recast the rod and deposited another 20 boilies over the top of the area. Another 30 minutes or so passed before the same rod signaled another carp and another nice low twenty. Using 20mm+ boilies and big hook baits seemed to be attracting the larger carp and as the ground bait rod was quiet I was hopeful the smaller, more numerous carp would not make an appearance.
Over the next few hours this process was repeated with several more solid twenties and a few doubles making an appearance. After each capture I would rebait with 15-20 boilies over each spot and would also make sure to check my leader and hook-link as usually the area had weed and zebra muscles which can easily damage your end tackle and result in lost fish. I would also check the hook point of the rigs and in most cases would spend a minute or two sharpening them to a fine point. It’s easy to miss out some of these steps when you are tired or catching lots of fish but it definitely results in more fish on the bank. In this session I had a total of 19 takes and due to the durability and quality of my tackle, combined with being meticulous with the hook points I landed every one of them.
The action continued through the night and only slowed down when the temperatures dropped into the 20’s resulting in frozen nets, mats and slings. During this time I unhooked many of the fish in the net and released them without pictures or weighing them, in an attempt to get back into my sleeping bag ASAP. Any pictures were taken with a self timer and only resulted in the fish being out of the water for a minute or two which is very important as the temperatures drop as the carp’s gills can freeze once the temperatures are below zero.
During all of the action there were times when I had double takes and in once case all three rods went in succession! It was during one of these occasions while I was netting a nice upper double fish when one of my other rods signaled a take. I quickly secured the net and picked up the other rod to connect with a fish that did not want to cooperate. After several minutes I finally got it into the net and it was a very long and lean common that looked around the thirty pound mark. I quickly released the other fish and weighed the bigger carp which pleasingly went 30lb 6oz. Happy days, a Christmas Day thirty.
Once the sunlight appeared the action stopped which is not uncommon during the winter on this particular section of the river. This gave me a chance to grab a few hours sleep and gather my thoughts. Originally I had planned to fish two nights but with the hectic action of the first night and rain scheduled for the second night I decided to pack up and head home to watch some Boxing Day Soccer. It might seem strange to drive nearly 600 miles to fish for only 20 hours but the Seneca River really is worth the travel, especially when you get it right.
That’s a question Steve Broad (editor of UK Carpworld magazine) posed to me while we chatted at the Zwolle back in February 2015. Carpworld’s International section had just carried a picture of Daniel Slaby’s stunning 56lb 4oz common caught from a lake in Michigan. Steve mentioned he had also received photos of another 50lb plus fish purporting to be the new USA carp ‘record’ and it was this which had prompted our discussion.
Unfortunately there is no easy answer. In many respects we, as carp anglers, have barely scratched the surface of the extensive & often vast waters over here. When I moved to New England and Connecticut in 1994 I was simply overwhelmed by the number of places that held carp. Only a few were being actively fished by just a handful of expats and some dialed in local guys. We simply didn’t have time to scout them all out! In fact it took me almost 15 years to fish a 160 acre water barely 20 minutes from my home because there were so many other options to chose from. In those heady days an upper twenty still created plenty of excitement but it wasn’t long before a few of us found some waters that would consistently produce thirties and even a very occasional forty. This size range is still typical for many waters however a few areas have been ‘discovered’ that produced some truly exceptional fish in recent years. While some reported captures and weights have been rightly questioned over their accuracy there are now several authenticated captures of some stunning mirrors approaching 50lbs and a handful of commons that have come close to or even broken the magical 50lb barrier.
However we have still not seen anything approaching the size and numbers of 50, 60 and even 70lb plus carp that appear on a weekly basis in the European angling media. There have been no formal stockings (with a few exceptions of some escaped or transplanted Israeli carp raised for live bait) since carp were originally distributed through out North America in the mid 1800’s. At that time these early introductions were intended to be bred and raised to feed the rapidly growing population but poor aquaculture practices and a preference for other food sources soon saw people grow tired of the idea. Since then carp have spread through out North America and become naturalized in many river systems and adjacent lakes. These wild fish are almost entirely dependent on natural food sources so are rarely found in the sizes or stocking densities typical of many European waters. Even with the growth in European and other styles of carp fishing in North America over the past decade I rarely, unless planned, encounter other carp anglers and usually find I can have an entire body of water to myself.
One man’s trash is another mans treasure…
Unfortunately the carp’s amazing ability to spread its range through floods and interconnected water ways has resulted in it being labeled ‘invasive’. Although after 200 years, and as has been applied to other introduced species like the brown trout, ‘naturalized’ is a more accurate term. If you combine this spread with a remarkable ability to survive polluted or altered waterways as a result of the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century then it is no wonder that the humble carp became the scapegoat for the demise of native species of fish, water plants and even wildfowl. Even in more recent & supposedly enlightened times several state fishery bodies continue to blame carp for increased turbidity and loss of vegetation while other environmental factors such as agricultural run-off and increased silting from water abstraction or dams remain overlooked.
North America possibly has a larger biomass of carp then the rest of the world combined. The culmination of decades of misinformation and their supposed impact on the environment has lead to open warfare on them in many USA states. Almost 1.5 Million pounds of carp were landed commercially for sale as food or fertilizer in 2013 alone and the state of Utah has already removed more than 13 million pounds of carp from Utah Lake in an attempt to return to its once ‘pristine’ condition. However it’s worth noting that this lake was impacted by the damming of the Jordan River in 1872 (shortly before carp were introduced) and suffered significant water abstraction, pollution from raw sewerage effluent until the 1950’s as well as industrial and agricultural run-off since. Even the claim to carp ‘muddying’ the water in has been subject to question as the shallow depth of Lake Utah makes it prone to wind & wave action stirring up the silt. So it’s no wonder it is no longer pristine or able to support anything other than the remarkably hardy carp!
In most states commercial netting operations together with spearing, snagging and shooting with bow and arrow are all legal methods of ‘fishing’ for carp further serving to denigrate its status in many folks eyes.
Retail hunting and fishing giant Bass Pro Shops once again sponsored the US Open Bowfishing tournament in June of 2015. This three day event centered around their store in Springfield, Missouri where 275 teams of 4 persons took to the water at night in boats equipped with high power lighting to spot & shoot fish in up to 5 feet of water. In addition to various sponsors prizes there were also cash payouts for the biggest 20 fish killed including $5,000 for the biggest fish and a $10,000 side pay out for a state record. As the outcome focused on the biggest 20 fish it was estimated that each team will shoot & kill between 40-50 big carp which means they will be slaughtering a staggering 12,000-14,000 specimen fish from just 5 waters. At the previous tournament over 32,000 pounds of fish were killed in just one night. This is just one of many tournaments that take place every year around the USA and since bowfishing literally ‘targets’ the biggest fish the impact on a potential record fish water can be devastating. The biggest carp killed was a 60.8 pound grass carp and the overall champions 20 biggest carp weighed 393.66 pounds winning them $25,000.
USA Record Carp?
As for the official recognition of a USA national record carp the simple answer is that none exists. Each of the US 50 states maintains its own list of record fish. Some like Oregon, New Mexico and Maine do not even recognize carp while others do not draw a distinction between fish caught on rod & line or those killed by other methods such as spearing or bow-fishing. In many US states claiming a record requires the fish to be killed or transported to an official weigh station which for responsible catch & release anglers is simply a non-starter. While traveling the world in search of big carp Tony Davis-Patrick (‘Globetrotter’) captured a 52lb common while fishing with the legendary Bernie Haines on the St Lawrence river back in the late nineties. Amazingly Tony’s fish would still hold the record today had it been claimed . Fortunately forward thinking states like Connecticut have responded to our requests for a change in regulations to allow potential records to be weighed at the place of capture on certified scales and the claim submitted together with independent witness statements and photographs. That bold decision has allowed two records to be claimed by catch and release anglers since 2011 including the current record caught Mike Hudak’s 43lb 12oz common from the Connecticut River in 2013.
USA State Carp Records:
The biggest carp on any state record list is a 75lb fish caught by Curtis Wade from Pelahatchie Lake in Mississippi back in 1963. Unfortunately there are no photographs or details to determine if this fish was actually a Cyprinid carp rather than a grass or Big Head carp (which are known to reach weights in excess of 90lb). There are three other state records which have carp listed in excess of 60lbs. These include a 67lb 10oz 47” long common which was killed by bow & arrow in 2011 from C.J. Strike Reservoir, Idaho; a 61lb 8oz common which was speared by Dale France in Wolf Lake Michigan in 1974 and lastly in Virginia the records show a 60lb common was killed with an arrow from a private pond in 1970. There is also a remarkable You Tube video that shows what looks like a large, very spawn bound mirror caught (then released) on rod & line in Idaho that was claimed to have weighed 65lb although there is no official verification of the weight. States like Wisconsin even have two sets of records. One for rod & line (57lb 2oz) captures as well as other methods such as bowfishing (59lb 2oz). One of the more recently authenticated big carp was that killed by a bow-hunter in California in 2013 and weighed in at 67.40 lb.
Idaho ’65lb’ Mirror Video
The Carp Anglers Group of North America maintains a list of ‘unofficial’ catch & release records that have been reliably verified by its members. Since these fish have been caught & released most will never be documented as official state records. However as this list grows it will serve as a more up to date and likely more accurate indicator of the true size of common and mirror carp being caught on rod & line in North America.
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the official state record carp data is the number of 50lb plus carp (blue and red colored areas) that have been caught or killed the in states bordering the Great Lakes and the connecting watershed rivers via the Illinois such as the Mississippi, Wabash, Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee.
The growth in catch & release carp fishing in North America is still in its infancy by comparison to the recent rapid growth in Europe. In the past few years however the number of carp anglers has probably more than doubled in the United States and Canada. The result has been more waters discovered and at least six 50lb fish landed in just the past couple of years. However it is worth noting that three of those six came from the same location in NJ and are most likely the same fish. That leaves just three other documented fifty plus fish from PA, CA and MI. A recent Facebook discussion on where to find 50lb plus carp highlighted several of these areas and also sparked much speculation on just how big carp in North America might grow. As with all things fishing related be ready for a few surprises as the number of carp anglers grows steadily in the next few years!
Food for thought…
While North America hosts some huge expanses of water such as the Great Lakes it is worth remembering that size isn’t everything… A small 3 acre ‘pool’ in Great Britain produced two British records before the mass baiting era became fashionable and helped carp grow way beyond the natural biomass. Dick Walker’s 44lb and Chris Yates 51lb (1980) commons came from the legendary Redmire at a time when most other waters rarely gave up fish half those sizes. It is also worth noting that while everyone talks about the huge amounts of bait going into waters in Europe, that can potentially help carp grow bigger, the most recent UK record caught in January 2106 of 68lb 1oz (from 20 acre Cranwell Lake) was only ONE pound heavier than the previous record caught in 2008. Food for thought when thinking about searching out the potential big fish waters here in North America.
Owner of Big Carp Tackle David Moore has been involved in hosting some of the earliest catch & release carp tournaments in the USA. These include the World Championships held on the mighty St Lawrence River won by Lee Jackson & Ian Chilcott in 2011 and Tim Paisley & Steve Briggs in 2005. In 2006 Al St Cyr fished one of David’s tournaments and won $250,000 for landing a new state record from Lady Bird Lake in Austin Texas. A year later Al was broke having reportedly spent it all on wine, women and travel to fish exotic places…
In October 2015 David will be organizing a 5 day tournament on the Connecticut River that includes an optional entry for anglers to win $100,000 if they land a CT state record during the event. About 15 years ago a 50lb common was illegally taken and killed (see photo) from the river so the potential vertainly exists to beat the 43lb 12oz current Connecticut record. If it is broken it will be interesting to see if the winner can match St Cyr’s record spending achievement – watch this space!
December 2016 saw yet another fifty added to the North American list. This stunning 55lb 11oz common was caught (and released) by Luis Montes in California.
As of February 19th 2017 the ‘bar’ has been raised even higher… Luis Montes posted photos of this incredible 62.04lb California common he caught and released. It is certainly one of the biggest ever common carp ever to be caught in North America.
Current World Record… Updated Feb 16 2016
When I first wrote this article I simply did not believe a common carp could reach more than about 70 – 75lb in North American waters. There has never been a properly documented fish of such weight being killed or captured over here and little evidence to suggest that a carp of such proportions could attain such a size without the right conditions and a lot of food (i.e. bait) going into the water. However the recent posting of a 43+ Kg (95lb) common caught by Dutch angler Vincent Keetman has certainly given me pause for thought. This stunning fish was caught late last year from Lac du Der in France about 130 miles east of Paris. What makes it particularly interesting is that this is not some small, heavily stocked syndicate water but a very large, publicly accessible man made reservoir of some 11,680 acres created by damming the river Marne in 1974. So while I’m still not convinced that a fish this size might ever exist in North American waters it does not stop me from dreaming…
In the meantime the World current record still stands at 105lb 13oz from Euro Aqua in Hungary caught earlier in 2015 by Thomas Krist from the Czech Republic…. Such a ‘well fed’ venue might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it does serve to show how big carp can grow.
Fishing the Wild Carp Classic was something I could not miss and while it represented a rather major outlay of rather limited funds I was powerless to resist the opportunity. The Seneca River is well known for its amazing fishing, both for size and numbers, and makes an excellent venue for tournaments.
Planning for the event started months in advance with the acquisition of bait and tackle. None of our team had fished this tournament before and had no idea what to expect. I spent a lot of time studying the water temperature and flow patterns in relation to past winning catches and even went so far as to do out the odds of winning in different sections. In order to get the water condition data I used the USGS Water Data to look up the conditions from past tournaments and look for trends on where the fish seemed to be given the temp and the flow. The final result was that I had a very clear idea of where fish had been caught in the past and where we would want to fish given the choice.
I also took on the task of getting us more keep sacks incase we managed to get a lot of fish all at once. It seemed to be that I should be able to make keep sacks for cheaper than I could buy them so I set about looking for some netting. After much deliberation I settled on some ace style netting from Joann’s, which was really cheap after a 60% off coupon. I think I ended up spending less than $4 per sack. My design was basically a really big drawstring bag, about 36″x48″. My fall back plan was to get NGT keep sacks which are by far the cheapest available and don’t require sewing, but it did not come to this as mine worked fine.
Finally the time had come to make the treck to NY. I met my teammates (Joe and Ali) in NJ and we proceeded to head to Baldwinsville. The hardest part was fitting all of our stuff into the truck – we had enough bait for a month! This trip did not go as planned as we sustained a blowout on the right front tire. Luckily the spare had air in it and we got it changed in short order.
We finally made it to B’ville and arrived to see that there was a lot of water flowing through the dam. Alot of water. And a lot of carp right near the dam.
With so much water going through we felt that it was likely that the fish would be following it upstream and that if we could get a peg that was near there we might do well. After looking at all the pegs this was indeed the case with our first picks being pegs 4 and 5. Down stream there were also a few good choices and we felt that if we got one we would be in good shape. Now all there was to do was to get Joe his fishing license (which he had misplaced) and wait for the peg draw.
Waiting for the peg draw was a killer – I thought Joe was not going to make it and burst a blood vessel right there. After what seemed like a year or two we were up. I gave the fun task of drawing to Joe and Ali as I tend to not do very well with drawing – luck is not my strong point. Maybe I should have drawn…we had a choice between 36 and 47. This we had both written down as being less than ideal, but I made a quick decision to go with 36. As it turned out this was a good call as the poor team who ended up with 47 only got 3 fish! Maybe my degree in fisheries ecology finally came in handy?
We arrived at 36 which was a nice looking area in a park with grass to right near the water and only about a 2 foot drop off to get in. In the water things did not look so nice. There was a shallow ledge that went out about 15′ or so and then a drop off into over 20 feet of water with really heavy current that hit the bank at just this point. Along the far bank was an island with the entrance to a backwater – by far the best looking spot, but not easy to fish due to the current.
The first night we decided to get some bait in and fish the close bank. Bad idea. The next morning all we had caught was a channel catfish and had not even had a run that we could consider a carp. What made matter worse was the teams to both sides of us had started catching fish. We had to do something and I will say that at this point everyone was feeling a bit worried that the headlines would read “Team Century Finishes Dead Last with zero ponds”! I moved my pod next to Joe’s along the lower edge of our peg in a spot that allowed my to fish the far bank near the mouth of the backwater. Joe fished right below this and Ali continued to fish the upstream side. The reason I was in the middle is that I had the most powerful rods; the Century C2-Ds, which allowed me to cast 8oz of weight nearly 100 yds and mostly hold bottom.
The the afternoon things were not getting better; but then I had a run! It was not a big fish but it was a carp and moral gained 100 points. After that things slowed down again and we could do nothing but wait and hope the fish would move up later in the day. Luckily they did and around 5pm we had two runs back to back which resulted in two mid twenty commons! To say that we were happy with this would be a huge understatement to say the least.
Fish continued to trickle in over the next twenty four hours with a good number of high teens and low and mid twenties gracing our nets. Our biggest fish came around our 2nd midnight. We were all asleep trying to recover from fishing for the last 30 hours when my alarms go off and Joe yells that there is a fish, but I am already stumbling out of my brolly and running to my rod. It must have been something to watch as Joe and I are both shaking from having been woke up! I did not have my glasses or head lamp and was going by feel. The fish felt like a good one and luckily stayed out in open water. After a good fight it was in the net, all 28lbs 4oz of it.
We had been baiting little and often with 18mm and 24mm CC Moore Live System Boilies since arriving and this fish fell to one. It seems this bait takes some time to get the fish down, but when they do they can’t get enough and will be drawn in from a distance. In fact, over the course of the tournament, many teams catch rate fell over time, while ours kept increasing and all the fish were full of live system. If we had gotten a better peg I think we would have had it made with this bait!
We also used some really bright hooks baits which really produced fish during falling light periods when we got some really quick runs with them. At other times they still worked but tended to produce smaller fish. Thats not to say that a double stack of 24s only caught large fish as we were able to catch a 4lb fish this type of huge bait! That being said the corn we tried only produced smaller fish so take from that what you will about bait sizes.
We used a variety of rigs but all were given the “palm” test to check for their ability to flip and hook the fish. If there was any doubt if the rig was not 100% we clipped on a new one. The lead arrangement were either lead clips or inline with some of the leads we were kindly given during the event as we ran out of the larger sizes! I always used a full length shock leader to try and minimise the chance for cut offs due to zebra mussels. This precaution paid off and I suffered no losses and also provided some security when casting 10+oz. The hooks I used were Ashima C900 Long Shank and Gamakatsu G-Carp Hump Backs. I missed/hook pulled 2 fish the entire 64hrs. These hooks are the real deal!
On every cast I put on a new PVA stick to keep the rig from tangling. There is nothing more annoying than reeling in your bait after it has been sitting out there for the better part of a day and discovering that the hair has gotten twisted around the hook and would never be able to hook a fish in a million years. What I put in the stick varied with what I was using on the hair at the time, but was mostly a base of Live System Stick Mix, crushed boilies, and some pellets. The whole mess was dipped in a liquid booster to increase the scent trail.
I spent a great deal of time on the selection of the rods and line I was using. As I mentioned before the rods I was (and am) using are Century C2-Ds. I really can’t say enough about these rods. They really appeal to me as they are no nonsense in and are very understated with no gimmicks or un-needed additions. Everything about them is put there for performance and it really comes through in how they perform. In this application I was able to use their ability to cast a absolutely massive amount of weight while still playing fish well and not pulling the hook. The 13′ was also really handy to keep fish out of snags along the bank which was a constant concern. The line I was using was Ashima Gangster in the 0.375mm size, and it really did the job and put fish on the bank and the only time it broke was when it was twisted around the propeller of a passing boat and I had to break it off.
Speaking of boats we had a few problems, all on Saturday. As I just alluded to I managed to have a boat wipe out both my rods and then start dragging my whole pod into the water. Luckily I got to it in time and was able to break off the lines. This resulted in an insanely expensive loss of shock leaders and other terminal tackle. I don’t think the boater had a clue that I could be fishing where I was and I would guess it was a surprise when they discovered all that line hanging from their prop. I considered back leads but between the snags and the current I felt that this was a sure way to have issues so just kept an eye out for boats that might be in too close. Joe had a much more exciting incident with a rower that got his head caught on Joe’s line. I would have thought that this would be cause for an apology on the rowers part (they know about the tournament) but no; this guy started making comments and it got a bit heated before they moved off down the river. Fortunately this was really the only issues we had…except for the jet ski that decided to do circles at top speed in front of us. Never a dull moment with boaters around.
On the natural history end of things I had left my net in the water (ever hopeful that a run was at hand) and when I pulled it up much later discovered a water snake had become hopelessly tangled in the mesh to the point where it could not be budged either forward or backward. I ended up having to cut the netting to get it out…my new net was no longer. Oh well. The other thing that was the Eurasian water chestnuts. These things are like landmines for anyone with bare feet and get stuck in the nets and are really sharp. The highlight was really, I have to say, the mosquitos. They swarmed and would attack you both day and night. Luckily they were a slow species that was easy to kill and my reflexes are still better from all the carnage.
By Monday we were starting to feel the strain of fishing non-stop. I had pretty much taken over the nighttime fishing (being younger and stupider) and was a some what on auto pilot. For some reason there were periodic pulses of debris that would float down the river. This included whole trees, large branches, mats of weeds, and dead fish that would drag the lines into each other and result in everything having to be hauled in and recast. It was lovely, but luckily it passed after a while. We continued to catch a scattering of fish over the last hours of the tournament, with the name of the game to catch bigger fish and increase our overall weight. We were closing in on all twenties when all was said and done with our final weights being 28.4, 24.4, 24.3, 23.11, 23.10, 23.5, 22.15, 21.9, 19.11, and 19.7lbs.
Overall we felt good about our performance. The pegs which were our first choices were good producers which was both good and bad – bad in that were did not get one – and good in that our watercraft was sound. The hardest part for me is the luck that comes with the peg draw. During my normal fishing I don’t often rely on luck (if I did I would not catch much) and work really hard to find locations where the fish will be feeding. With this ability striped away half of the equation is gone. In the future I am looking forward to fishing events such as the Connecticut Carp Open where you can pick your peg within the entire river in the state – I think watercraft will be a very important part of this event!
It was late November of last year when I got a call from Bogdan the co-owner of K-1 baits. “Hey Iain do you want some boilies for Romania?” He had seen my name listed as a team member on the Best 5 Carp tournament website. It appeared my old mate Frank Warwick had forgotten to tell me he’d put my name down to join him and Guy Aitkins as teammates for the 5 day tournament on Lake Raduta, near Sarulesti Romania in May 2014. So it was with some trepidation that I explained the situation to my long suffering wife “Sorry dear it’s a done deal I’m afraid. I have to go…”
In the 1980’s the former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in an ill conceived attempt to create a shipping route from the Black Sea diverted the Danube to flood a valley giving local villagers just 72 hours to abandon their homes. The derelict buildings later created some daunting snags for anglers along with more eerie swims like the ‘Graveyard’ where human bones often washed on shore from a flooded cemetery. In 1990 Robert Raduta leased the lake, built a lodge and began stocking fish to create what Carpworld then called the ‘Everest’ of carp fishing. As reports of big fish surfaced it drew many of the carp elite to its banks. Among them were Frank Warwick and Jurgen Becker. In 1998 the then world record common of 82lbs came from Raduta and further added to its reputation for producing big fish. Around 2002 reports came in of a significant fish kill and the loss of many of the big fish but by 2008 the word on the carp vine was that Raduta was once again producing some bigger fish for those prepared to put in the effort.
Even as a committed short session angler I can still easily load up a barrow for a few hours fishing here in North America. So the thought of a week long competition on a major European water soon had me maxed out on my two bags, each weighing in at just over 50lbs a piece. I was more than a little nervous at the thought of them going astray as losing my terminal tackle and bait (courtesy of my good friends at K-1) etc would have been a disaster. After heaving the bags on to the scales at check-in all was fine and with the bags & myself traveling via London and onto Bucharest I headed toward security and was met by the longest line I’ve ever seen at Boston Logan’s Terminal E. It stretched right around the terminal and would surely take over an hour to go through security. As I mulled over the situation I got talking to a couple of guys headed to Scotland for a golfing tour. They suddenly spotted a VIP being escorted through a separate line and without hesitation my new found friends grabbed me and proceeded to ‘escort’ me in the same direction. After some very polite discussion regarding the importance of my status in representing the USA in a European tournament we were cleared through in a matter of seconds and headed for a well earned drink!
The next afternoon I arrived in Bucharest and was happily reunited with my luggage. Emerging from the baggage area I was met by one of our hosts Alex who loaded myself and the British contingent of Rob Hughes, Harry Charrington, Brian Kirby and Jason Colenso into his truck for the journey south to Sarulesti.
Robert Raduta’s fishing & hunting lodge sits on the Southern most shore of the lakes and has been the focal point for many big fish anglers looking to catch some of the legendary fish in this lake system. It was also to be the headquarters for the Best 5 Carp tournament founded by Andrei ‘Toto’ Popescu and Andrei Vladeanu as well as the gathering point for the 200 competitors making up the 7+ teams as they arrived from over 18 countries.
A large covered seating area overlooks the water and after a shower we settled in for a few beers. As most teams would be driving to the lake they would arrive on Sunday in time for registration and the pre-event party in the evening. So it was a relatively small group who sat down to dinner on the Saturday night with Frank & Guy scheduled to land around midnight so would not reach the lodge until around 2am.
After breakfast on Sunday we sat around the open foyer and greeted the continual stream of teams as they arrived for the registration. As carping celebrities Frank and Rob were kept especially busy posing for photographs and greeting old friends. In the evening a welcoming party hosted by the event sponsors included a pig roast and music from our very own DJ Guy Aitkins. Unfortunately the storm clouds that had been gathering during the day finally gave way to a massive downpour with some very impressive thunder and lightening forcing everyone to retreat to their bivvies or take shelter back in the lodge.
As Monday dawned overcast, damp and considerably cooler the last few teams arrived. In the morning we busied our selves making final preparations and securing the loan of the rods, landing nets, bivvies, bed chairs etc we would need. Finally it was time for the draw and everyone gathered in front of a large map before a member from each team drew a number to determine the order for the actual peg draw. This is always a nervous time and one that Frank dreads as he has a reputation for getting a difficult swim. As he revealed our peg # and the sticker with our names on was placed on the map there were murmurs of approval from the crowd. Perhaps Frank’s luck had changed?
Our peg #14 (CPK Section) turned out to be the Northern most swim of the tournament on the lake. As a result we had high hopes that an end swim with a large expanse of un-fished water to our left could work very much in our favor. After the big thunderstorm overnight the tracks around the lake were still very muddy and it took a while before we were able to get a ride to our swim. It was already an hour after the start of the competition that I was dropped off with the first load of equipment while Frank & Guy waited on a second vehicle to pick them up. Overcast skies and a few drops of rain prompted me to quickly set up a bivvy and make sure our gear stayed dry. Once this was done I took sometime to wander around and explore our swim. Raduta is effectively 5 lakes interconnected by channels of 100 – 200 yds in width. Our swim included one of these channels as it connected to the main CPK section that opened out to our right. However the opening to this main body of water was accessible only through a narrow, 3’ deep channel through a large, reed edged shallow area (which included the derelict remains of an old and mostly submerged village) and a gap between a long point at the end of which another team (Peg #13 Team Tasko from Bulgaria) was set-up. Even more worrying was a net stretched right across the channel effectively blocking off any fish movement from the other water expanse to our left. This net turned out to be a barrier installed to prevent ‘farmed’ sturgeon escaping from the northern most lake. In the bay to our right there were three further pegs 15, 16 & 17.
Frank & Guy finally arrived and we concentrated on getting a better understanding of the depths etc around the swim before it got too dark. We managed just a few depth measurements before the marker rig became stuck fast in a snag and we lost the lot! Oh well we learned enough to be getting on with and having seen a couple of fish roll in the shallows decided to get on with it and get a couple of rods out and fishing before the light disappeared. I settled in to fish a small reedy area of the shallows close to some part submerged and fearsome looking concrete blocks with Guy on my left & set up where the shallows met the deeper water of the main channel. Meanwhile Frank fished longer range toward the point that separated us from the main body of water.
The boys at K-1 had provided me with 50lb of boilies specially formulated for Raduta with a super high quality fishmeal base in regular and soluble boilie formats along with a selection of their latest pop-ups and ATB corn. Meanwhile Frank & Guy were supported by local bait company CPK with a belachan based boilie and several kilos of particles along with some of Frank’s renowned hook baits. In addition to these regular baits we all had a selection of imitation baits from Enterprise including some of the latest buoyant corn.
We all fished Harrison 13’ Trebuchet rods that we’d been loaned by the organizers (along with bivvies, sleeping bags and bed chairs etc). I have to say these rods were absolute ‘beasts’ with test curves of around 3.75 and made my fishing at shorter ranges a little ungainly. Frank kindly loaned me a pair of his Shimano technium reels which were loaded with 12lb mono plus 30’ of Ultima 20lb shock leader which I connected to TFG safety leaders and either a #4 Multi Rig for pop-ups or a #4 long shank bottom bait rig.
On the first evening Guy got us started with a couple of fish around the 7-8Kg mark. A good sign as we hoped the feeding activity of these smaller fish would soon pull in some of the legendary beasts for which Raduata is renowned.
At around 2am I had a couple of beeps on my right hand rod that was locked up tight in the middle of the reeds and rubble. In a sleepy daze I grabbed the rod and began to walk backwards to drag the fish out of the danger zone. It didn’t feel anything special but as I wound down to get back towards the waters edge the left hand rod suddenly slammed round and the spool became an angry blur as line was torn off against a very tight clutch. Almost as quickly the rod sprang back and the line went limp… to say I was gutted would be an understatement! Meanwhile the fish I had on was soon in the net and looked to be another 7Kg fish. When I wound in the left hand rod the shock leader was cut clean and I was left to imagine what size fish might have taken off with such extraordinary force.
Guy soon became top rod landing several 6-8 Kg fish in the first 24 hours and unlike many teams ensured we at least had five fish posted on the leader board. As dusk fell at the end of day two Guy had a solid run from the edge of the shallows that put up a tremendous battle. My initial attempts to net this fish made me look like a complete novice and clearly had Guy worried at my competence. I finally got the fish into the net and once safely on the bank we discovered that the cord that should have tensioned the net between the arms was rotted through. This had allowed the fish to swim out before the net could be lifted high enough to trap it in the folds of the mesh. At least I no longer felt like a complete dunce but we did re-examine all the gear that had been loaned to us for any other potential problems.
Guy’s common weighed in at 12.89Kg (28.42 lb) and gave us a much needed lift in our spirits and raised our expectations that the real giants of Raduta were soon to come. Charlie our local official and weigh master turned up with our meal orders and told us we were now sitting in 5th place. The result sheet also revealed that very few teams had yet to even catch a fish which we initially put this down to the constantly shifting weather patterns.
As the skies cleared we were treated to a spectacular view of the night sky. There is very little light pollution, even from the local villages, so it was possible to see hundreds of stars and several planets including Saturn cresting over the horizon while the Milky Way lit up a brilliant trail across the sky.
Bucharest is a burgeoning European city surrounded by typical large scale agricultural operations. However village life in Romania has barely changed in decades. The local people farm small plots of land, often by hand while shepherds tend flocks of goats or sheep over the hillsides. As a result there is minimal impact from fertilizers and pesticides so this incredible environment hosted some of the most diverse bird and insect life I’d seen since my youth in rural England. I counted over 40 bird species in the first two days alone.
Our swim was in a field that as we discovered later hosted some fascinating plants and insect life and would also be shared with several cows and horses that would be turned out to graze each day. The horses kept their distance but the cows proved to be more problematic and we resorted to an occasional well aimed boilie to keep them from trampling our rods and bivvies. A local farmer also brought his horse and cart down to scythe and collect nettles for his pigs which he assured us greatly improved the flavor of the pork.
At night we were serenaded by crickets as well as the neighborhood dogs trying to out compete each other with their incessant howling and barking. This was only interspersed by an occasional rooster or cuckoo intent on being the first to welcome in the dawn albeit a few hours early… Oh and if that lot was not enough I soon discovered that Guy could drown the lot out with his snoring!
On the Wednesday I emerged from the bivvy I shared with Guy to be met by a scary sight! As the dawn sky began to brighten ahead of the sunrise the eastern sky was streaked with vapor trails. My initial reaction was that the situation in neighboring Ukraine had suddenly escalated triggering what appeared to be a massive missile launch! I urgently woke Guy who reluctantly emerged from the depths of his slumbers by which time the vapor trails had come considerably closer to reveal them as a number of aircraft presumably merging along a route to destinations further west.
As Wednesday merged into Thursday we could only sit out in the warm sun and watch as the team sitting on the point and fishing into the other side of the shallow area to ourselves continued to catch. We were all but cut off from any fish reaching our swim from the main lake as their lines and the disturbance created by landing fish proved an effective barrier. Our only runs came from a couple of sturgeon that had obviously escaped from the net barrier to our left and each evening the results sheet confirmed our demise as we slipped further down the leader board. As if to add to our misery we discovered that a large bag of jelly beans had gone missing from our food supply. This mystery was later solved by a text received from none other than Rob Hughes who was holding them hostage and threatened to eat them if we didn’t submit to his demands!
As Friday heralded a change in weather with a shift in wind direction and possible rain later in the evening we decided on a change in strategy. Frank’s exceptional casting prowess was put to use by launching a bait some 150 + yards into the shallow area to our right and nearest the main lake. This meant that we also needed to remove some thistle like plants along the shore line as they threatened to impede landing a fish from this area. We also launched some baits with the high performance carbon throwing sticks we’d each newly acquired to the area. Meanwhile we loaded the drop off to the left of the shallows with K-1 solubles and the CPK belachan baits in an effort to drag a fish or two through the narrow channel and under the lines of the team sat on the point as the wind would now blow any scent in that direction.
In the evening a run on the far distant rod raised our hopes but dropped off before we could pick up the rod. A little later a second run resulted in a 6kg fish that did nothing to improve our best 5 score. That night the wind came up still further and other than a couple of beeps there were no more runs. The dawn on the Saturday was as over cast and gloomy as our mood. We did not look forward to packing away the wet gear from the occasional shower that had passed through. There were now only two hours remaining before the competition closed at midday when suddenly one of Guy’s rods sprang to life. This fish immediately went off on a long run and there was no doubt in our minds that this was one of Raduta’s bigger residents. The event had produced only a couple of big fish in the 15-18 Kg range and we knew this one could dramatically change our fortunes in the competition. After a tense few minutes battle the fish set off on another run when suddenly the rod sprang back and the line went slack. We were gutted.
In the end we placed 15th out of 75 teams so while it was not where we had hoped to finish it was not for a lack of trying on our part. After we wound down with a few beers and a celebratory shot or two of vodka over lunch at the lodge we then headed into Bucharest for a few more beers and an overnight stay before flying out the next day. I had to take my newly acquired throwing stick as ‘carry on’ as it was too long to fit in a bag. It took some explaining to the security personnel that it was not a lethal weapon while the now rancid smell of the fish meal baits that lingered inside caused one of the female officials to turn green and start gagging!
Sadly Raduta had not have lived up to its big fish potential with only a couple of fish over 15 Kg being landed while several teams struggled to even catch a fish. However being able to experience some of its extraordinary ambiance in the company of two very fine carp anglers made it a very memorable and enjoyable experience.
A huge thank-you to Frank and Guy for inviting me, Mihai & Bogdan at K-1 for providing me with some top class baits and to Toto & Andrei for hosting a well run tournament. A very special mentions goes to local top carp angler Florin and his wife Diana who knew Frank and Guy of old and went out of their way to help us. In addition to making a much needed expedition to a supermarket to buy extra food, snacks and drinks they also loaned us a ‘pop-up’ shelter to supplement the two bivvies we’d borrowed. A big thank-you also to Jurgen Becker who also loaned us a much needed stove so we could brew tea and heat up meals.
My name is Juan Coetzee and I’m based in the UK (United Kingdom). I am 27 years old and I have been carp fishing just over 4 years, so I am relatively new to the sport. There is so much to learn in this game and I look forward to continuing my carping education and sharing my experiences with you all.
This year I have had the opportunity to start fishing on one of the most historic venues in England. Situated in Nene Valley it really is a hidden gem. The lakes stock is what drew me to the venue and excited me with the fish being extremely old, dating back to the days when Duncan Kay owned it. After Duncan Kay sold it, another very influential person in the European carp fishing world Kevin Maddocks purchased the lake. There are still a fair few of the original fish present in the lake, which makes it even more of a challenge. With the new owners, Nigel and Jane Roberts the future of the lake is looking very healthy indeed, with new stock of fish coming through all the time, from VS Fisheries and Iheart carp.
PREPARATION IS THE KEY
I received my membership to fish the lake in January and was excited to get started on the challenge as soon as possible. Not knowing where the fish usually get caught from I set about to get some sort of plan in my head of how to approach the lake and fool the old residents. The first few months were during the winter and the carping season hadn’t really started yet, therefore my aim was to learn as much about the features of the lake as possible. With only 11 individual swims around the lake I set out to marker and pre-bait five swims to make it a more manageable task. We had a really cold start to the year, with a lot of snow and the lake freezing constantly which meant my campaign to get bait into the lake before I fished really suffered. Added to a 200 mile round trip to the lake there was limited time to get prepared for the season in front of me.
Early March saw a break in the weather, with the lakes thawing out and the fish starting to move. I set my plans into action. The swim choices were the easiest part of the equation but the feature finding and seeing what the lake bed was like , well that was much more of a challenge! With more Canadian pond weed than I expected I began to realize what I had let myself in for when accepting a ticket; finding a place to present a rig was going to be tricky!
One of the swims I really took a liking to was a swim called the reedy bay, a nice open front area with a half acre bay to the left and a long reed line in the front. To the right was open water with a nice blood worm bed at 20 yards range in 8 ft of water.
I began focusing a lot of time and effort into this swim and the swim next door as I had a lot of confidence in the area, knowing that the fish couldn’t be that far away.
With the first night underway in this swim and the temperatures still being 6 degrees (Celcius) my chances were looking limited. At 3 am I had a steady take on my middle rod and as soon as I lifted into the fish I knew it was a decent sized carp that was attached. Fifteen minutes into the fight the fish spat the hook at the net!! Devastated, I decided that leaving the rod out for the night was the best option for me as I was fishing up-close to the reeds, not the easiest of casts in daylight. The next 72 hours came and went with not a single bleep. I had missed my only opportunity of catching something special.
The next four weeks I spent a lot of time down the lake pre-baiting swims and getting ready for my next session which coincided with a pals birthday. Knowing that the fish were clearing the pre-baited spots I was itching to get back down to the lake. The end of April could not come quick enough.
TIME AND EFFORT
When I finally managed to get back to the lake at the end of April the conditions were perfect for one of the swims I had been pre-baiting the week before. I didn’t need any more encouragement to get into the swim and already knowing the exact distances of where I had been putting bait was going to make things easier. With 48 hours fishing in front of me I wanted everything to be perfect, marking my lines out it only needed a couple of casts on each rod to be on the spots.
The day and night passed without any signs of fish. My initial rod positioning on the spots had spooked them. Contemplating a move I reeled my rods in and went for a walk around the lake to see if I can find where they had moved to. Three hours of walking and climbing trees I was none the wiser. I could not find any signs of life anywhere. I returned to my swim and changed my rig presentations to stiff hinge rigs, baited with seafruit cork balls.
With the daylight hours passing it didn’t look too good for a bite as only three fish had been out the lake so far this season. Just as daylight was dropping I had a couple of bleeps on my middle rod with the bobbin dropping a couple of centimeter’s. My initial thought was that the water fowl (Coots) had picked my rig up. Watching for any signs of the coots my bobbin tightened with the alarms screaming. I lifted into the rod and could tell it was a fish; the lead came off on the initial take with the fish rolling on the surface and after twenty minutes of tug and war with my best pal by my side, he managed to slip the net under a pristine conditioned scaly mirror carp. Over the moon with a fish in the net and four months of hard work paying off I couldn’t believe I had my first Ringstead carp in the net.
I wanted to know which fish I had caught as it looked like a low to mid 30lber. When the needle on the scales settled at 35 lb 15 oz it was a new U.K. personal best, a fish called 3&6.
Months went by after my last capture from the lake and with five lost fish under my belt due to weed beds and hook pulls I had to make some drastic changes. Leaving the bait and terminal tackle company was the first step and I managed to get on as a tester with Mainline baits and P.B. products, both extremely good and proven companies.
I started working away from home which gave me the opportunity to spend more time down the lake and get a new campaign going with the new bait… the lake is a 70 mile round trip from the site.. Finishing everyday at 4:30pm it was a race to get to the lake and get learning all over again. My rig set up changed and I opted for a blow back rig set up with Jelly Wire and a size 6 Jungle hook , 2ft silk-ray leaders and dumper lead clips. The Cell was my bait of choice as it’s got a good track record. The weeks of over nighters came and went and I lost track of how many nights I had done in between work.. 20…30…40? I began thinking, “when will it all pay off?” Finding the fish wasn’t the problem, it was catching them that was the challenge. I simply didn’t have enough hours to keep my rigs in the water to tempt one of these special fish.
On one of my Thursday sessions I got to the lake just before 6 pm and after having a walk around the lake I found a few fish away from the normal swims that I had been fishing. Watching them from the trees I knew they were in the area for a reason as it’s a weedier part to the lake. They were obviously looking for food. I managed to sneak the rods in not so far out on a couple of clear spots with a good amount of bait going in for them to keep them occupied. In short time they were going mad over it with nine or ten shows after only a couple of hours of the rods going in.
At 4:30 am my left hand rod went into melt down. As soon as I got to the rod I knew it was a decent fish as it felt heavy from the start and took line at every chance I gave it. Usually I would have had my waders on ready for any action, but settled for my trusty crocks this time; foolish mistake! Within ten minutes the fish had kited to left hand of the swim into a big bay area, giving me no option but to follow it, up to my waste in water with only a pair of cotton bottoms on to keep me warm. The fish swam straight into the reeds trying to spit the hook and my heart sank once the line went tight and I couldn’t feel the fish on the end. With no choice I decided to go in after her as she well and truly snagged up in the reeds. With no waders on I walked up the reed line with water up to my chest keeping a suitable amount of pressure on the line. Twenty yards down the reed line I managed to get to the fish sitting waiting for me to come and net her. While parting the reeds I slipped my landing net underneath her and finally my second fish went into the net.
I got the assistance from another Syndicate member and we soon had her photographed and weighed. I couldn’t believe it, I had broken my personal best mirror carp again, 37 lb on the dot and one of the oldest residents in the lake at an estimated fifty years old. It was an old warrior of a fish called snub-nose.
After having snub-nose I knew I couldn’t get back down to the lake for another couple of weeks. Work had been overly busy and I needed to be close to the site, therefore my over night sessions took the punishment. Booking the Friday off work for my pal Ryan’s birthday I had everything set for a three day session at the weekend.
I managed to wake up late on the Friday morning , which I was very annoyed with myself for. Ryan was waiting for me sixty miles away and we arrived at the lake at lunch time. All we could think about was getting the rods in and starting to celebrate Ryan’s birthday.
I went into the reedy bay again where a few fish were on the surface and Ryan went into the swim on my right. After getting set up the night passed without action. The fish were very active out in front of the swims and at the crack of dawn I got out of bed to sit and watch the lake to see if I could see any signs of flies on the surface, thinking that the fish were feeding on the naturals as it was warm. With the night time temperatures being 14 degrees I thought it could be the case and I started noticing a few fish on the other side of the lake opposite from me being very active. I decided to reel the rods in and go for a chat with Ryan next door and have a walk about. There were something the fish liked in that area and I wanted to discover what it was. On the way around to the other side I had a brief word with the owner of the lake and he told me that he had opened the water inlet from the river. I had to cut him short and rush back to my swim to grab a bucket to secure the peg, just in case I made the decision to move. Once I got into the swim the inlet was letting in a lot of fresh water from the river behind and with no hesitation my decision was made, I was moving. I counted fourteen fish out of the forty five fish stock in front of the swim, including a lot of high 30 lb fish. It took me a couple of hours to move swims and have everything ready to position the rigs but I knew in this swim with the inlet coming in a heavy baiting option was the way to go. With the amount of fish I had in front of me 8 kg of chopped and whole boilies went onto one spot for 2 rods with a further 3 kg of response pellets. The spot was clear and perfect for a bottom bait rig and after a couple of casts the rigs were in position and the waiting game had begun. Watching the fish move over the baited area and not feeding had me questioning my tactics.
FIND OUT IN PART TWO IF JUAN’S APPROACH YIELDED RESULTS. CHECK OUR FACEBOOK PAGE FOR REGULAR UPDATES AND LINKS TO ARTICLES.
As we approached the 2013 Wooden Shoe Carp Classic I can only remember thinking how this event could not come fast enough! Last year’s Wooden Shoe Carp Classic had incredible results, with many personal bests for anglers including myself and a couple 30lb+ beasts being landed. This sparked interest from anglers all over the country and resulted in the incredible turnout we had this year. The Wooden Shoe Carp Classic is even being referred to as Michigan’s version of the ATC!
With high hopes for this year’s Wooden Show Carp Classic Brendan and I arrived to the venue on Friday for a little pre-fishing (Thanks Mom!). Upon arrival Brendan and I saw Andy Sprinkle and Ed Montgomery already set up and fishing. No sooner than we walked down there Andy hooked into a hard fighting Lake Macatawa carp, which showed us they were there and feeding! Once we were setup it wasn’t long until Brendan and I started to catch carp as well. While we were pre-fishing there were quite a few 20lb+ fish up to 28lbs getting caught by everyone! This was very exciting to see that the big carp from Lake Michigan have moved into Lake Macatawa to get ready for the spawn. We had no idea what would be in store for everyone on Saturday and Sunday!
As Saturday finally rolled around it was time for the peg draw at 6:00 a.m. We would be having a snake draw so whoevers name got drawn first to choose a peg would pick last on Sunday. I was hoping to fish the same peg that I fished on Friday having had great results, and to my surprise that was the exact peg I got! Brendan was 17th to choose a peg and he ended up down to the right of me at peg 11. Before I get into the day I should explain the rules as they are quite unique. In this event you are allowed to weigh only eight of your fish, and once you put a fish on the board you cannot take it down so you must choose wisely. Additionally you are allowed one bonus fish in which you can double the weight of but again you cannot take it off the board once it’s on.
Now that you know how this event works I will get back to the fishing. It was rods in at 6:45 a.m. and no sooner than a couple minutes after I casted there was a small carp lying on my mat! As soon as I released that Nikki Sprinkle who was fishing next me landed a small carp as well. A couple more small carp were caught by other anglers before the fishing shut down. Since this is a very social non-competitive event we had a lot of fun chatting with the other anglers when the fish were not cooperating but this was not to be the case for long. The fishing picked up once again and this time big fish were being caught with some big 20lb+ fish present!
Nikki was the first one to land a hog on Saturday at a whopping 27lbs 14oz, which was her bonus fish! It was approaching lunch time when I landed my largest fish of day one, which was a very fat 24lb+ carp. I ended up using this as my bonus fish which was a mistake as you will find out later.
Once lunchtime hit everyone was getting excited, the reason for this was we had Rod Mills cooking our lunch! Rod makes some of the best bank food many of us have ever consumed in our lives, thanks Rod! A little while after lunch news soon spread that Jathan from Indiana had just landed a 33lb+ carp which was a personal best, congrats Jathan! Jathan used this as his bonus fish which caused him to jump up to first place! Amos from Indiana walked down there to help get pictures of the beast but not without a price. While Amos was down there one of his rods which was right next to me proceeded to scream off! Everyone then began yelling to Amos whom was very far away so I was told to start fighting his fish until he arrived back. Once Amos was back I handed the rod back off to him and after a long fight he landed a 28lb+ pig which was another personal best! A lot of fish continued to get caught throughout the rest of the day including many 20lb+ carp with another 27lb+ landed by Tom Daugherty!
Brendan fished very well on day one landing about five fish with his biggest being just under 20lb. I finished day one with ten or so carp which all came on the new WCB maize which has produced many great fish for me this year! The results on day one had Jathan in 1st place, me in 2nd place, and Dave Ash in 3rd place.
After a long night in the hotel it was time to wake up for day two of the tournament. Since we were having a snake draw I had the pleasure of choosing my peg close to last but this did not bother me much as I chose peg 13 down to the right of my day one peg which was not a bad spot. The area where Jathan got his 33lber was pretty much vacant day one but filled up fast on day 2. Everyone expected day 2 to be incredible because of all the bait that had gone into the water, this ended up being quite true. Once all the rods where in it did not take too long to start hooking into fish, and quite a bit of them! My first fish of the day was a chunky 21lb+ which was a very good start to day 2! Dave who was inhabiting peg 12 to my right started to haul fish with me! We were hooking quite a bit of fish but no sizeable fish were being landed. After what was probably a couple hours mine and Dave’s fishing started to slow down. That was about the time I had a nice run and picked up into what I told Dave right away felt like a big fish! As I was fighting this fish I was sure it was big. She would take long slow runs and I was able to do nothing with her. Eventually when I started to gain line on the fish it felt like I had a sack of potatoes on the end of my line. After what felt like an eternity I had her just below the wall and when I saw her I thought it was in the high 20’s. Boy was I wrong, once we netted her and lifted the fish out of the water I couldn’t believe what I was looking at! The girth on this carp was ridiculous and I knew right away this was in the mid 30’s. So we zeroed out the sling and hoisted her onto the scale. The needle shot around to 36lbs on the dot which was a new lake record! I was kicking myself right about now for using a 24lber as my bonus fish and not this one, but at that point it did not matter to me.
After that fish there have been multiple 20’s landed by anglers all over the lake! Brian, Tom, and Daniel were all catching a lot of fish over where Jathan got his big fish! They all had 20’s including an awesome 27lb+ for Brian and a new personal best at 24lbs for Drew who was right by me, congrats! The funny thing was as Drew landed his 24lb I landed one at the exact same weight as his! Brendan was on fire as well he had caught a couple 20lb+ fish including a super long and lean 28lb tank that he got on a snowman rig that he threw out for big fish!
A little while later I decide to give Andy Sprinkle a call and see how they were doing and I was speechless when I heard their results so far! They were up to over 40 fish and the day wasn’t even over and on top of that Nikki landed another pig at 27lb! As the fishing came to a close on day two everyone had landed some incredible fish I couldn’t even begin to guess how many 20lb+ carp were landed, that number would just be too high and to add two mid 30’s were caught! Day 2 exceeded all of our expectations!
After a very long tiring day of fishing for everyone it was time to call it quits. We all gathered in one area to hear the final word on who had won and would take home the wooden shoe for big fish and one for 8 fish total. Nobody had a clue of who would take either of the shoes so we all sat in anticipation waiting for the final word to be spoken. Once all calculations were made Dave Ash the host of the event awarded Nikki Sprinkle a shoe for her total 8 fish with 192lb congrats Nikki! Tom Daughtery finished in 2nd place for total 8 fish right on Nikki’s tail being only a pound behind her! I finished in 3rd but I took home the shoe for big fish with a 36lber.
Overall this was a great event and I think it is safe to say everyone had a blast. Not only were many big fish caught but there was quite a few personal bests caught as well! I think I can say that I will see many of the same people back next year! I would like to thank Dave and Jen Ash who hosted the event and for all their hard work putting this together, we could not have asked for better hosts!