Record Carp in North America

Just how big do carp grow in North America?

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.

Daniel Slaby 5604
Daniel Slaby’s stunning 56lb 4oz common
Adam Cieplik with a 53lb 8oz common
Adam Cieplik 53lb 8oz common

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.

Pawel Salomon 55lb 6oz
Pawel Salomon 55lb 6oz

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.

 

Bowfishing…

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California bow record at 67.40 lb

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?

Paul Hunt's 50lb 9oz St Larry common
Paul Hunt’s 50lb 9oz St Larry common

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:

USA Carp Records 2014

Matt Janiszweski with his 53lb common
Matt Janiszweski with his 53lb common

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

 

Unofficial Records…

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.

 

Record Payouts!

The 50+ from the CT River.
The 50+ from the CT River.

 

 

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.

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Luis Montes with his 55lb 11oz common

 

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.

Luis Montes 62.04 003 Luis Montes 62.04 004

 

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.