The Tournament… my view
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.
Day Two – October 13th
LT: 10.43 AM (Hartford)
Hurd HT: 12.23 PM (2.9 Feet) LT: 7.27 PM (0.2 Feet)
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
Big Fantail: Craig Welch (OH) 23lb 13oz – $250 Saxon Tackle Voucher
Daily Big Fish $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.
For more information plus entry details for the 2016 event visit: Carp Tournament Series