By John Kruse
Wondering what to do on the water this month? Due to the mild temperatures this winter many Eastern Washington lakes don’t have safe ice for hardwater fishing and most anglers have their boats put away until spring. Never fear, Carpe Diem, or “seize the day”, as they say and target carp in a lake or river near you!
Carp can be caught in many open bodies of water year-round. They commonly average three to five pounds in size and can reach up to 30 pounds. In Washington State no license is required to fish for the common carp, there is no minimum size requirement and no limit on how many you can keep. Why is this? Probably because they are considered a trash fish by many these days and harmful to the environment. They grow in numbers fast and carp can take over a lake or waterway, especially shallow ones, in just a few years. As bottom feeders they often uproot shallow rooted plants and muddy up water, covering eggs and nests from more desirable game fish.
Carp didn’t always have a bad reputation. In fact, they were introduced to America from Germany by the United States Fish Commission in 1876. Since that time carp have spread from coast to coast. In Europe, the common carp is still considered a fine eating fish but today in our country, most don’t consider them for table fare. However, noted American angling author A.J. McClane wrote, “The carp is a good fish to eat when properly prepared. It’s important to skin them and trim out the dark flesh…Carp is excellent when smoked and the roe is edible and often sold in canned form. Carp flesh is an important ingredient in making gefilte fish.”
My first experience with carp was at a shallow lake near Greeley, Colorado. I was six years old and my grandfather took me to the deserted body of water that was full of carp. My grandpa baited my hook with canned corn, tied a couple of split-shot a couple of feet on the line above the hook, and cast it out. In short order I was wrestling with a fish far bigger than the bluegill and pumpkinseed I was used to catching and I’ve had a special place in my heart for carp fishing ever since.
The dead of winter is usually when I target carp, largely because there is little else going on in the fishing and hunting world during this time. My go-to offering is to use a nightcrawler on a bait hook, tie on two feet of leader to a swivel, and then put a sliding egg weight above the swivel. That way a carp can pick up the bait and swim away with it before it senses the weight attached to it, giving you time to get a good hookset into the bony mouth of these fish. Carp put on a good fight. They don’t jump, but they do pull and run and catching a few makes for a fun day on the water.
In addition to using bait like corn, nightcrawlers or bread dough (a traditional carp offering) you can also catch them from time to time on artificial lures and even with a fly rod. Large rabbit hair streamers in natural colors can be a good bet and sight fishing for carp with a fly rod became so popular in the 1990’s that some anglers started guide services catering to catching carp this way and a number of articles about this were published in fishing and fly-fishing magazines around the country.
Fly fishing for what one writer called “golden tarpon” moment may have waned as a fad but casting a line for the common carp can still be a fun affair if you are looking to tangle with a sizeable fish when few other options are available.
John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com
1. Russell Johnston with a nice carp caught last winter in the Columbia Basin – J. Kruse