Kirk Deeter
For most Americans, the common carp represents the ultimate trash fish, the bottom of the piscatorial totem pole. But for the rest of the world, carp fishing is all the rage. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, a world of “boilies,” “rod pods,” and “spods,” where anglers will travel great distances to camp in one spot for countless hours for a chance at baiting and hooking golden monsters of the deep – sometimes for big bucks. And there’s a growing underground of carp aficionados right here in the United States who think this semi-twisted realm may be the wave of the future. Kirk Deeter
Last fall, I ventured to the American Carp Society’s Annual “Tournament of Champions” at Lake Hominy, Oklahoma. By the time I met tournament director David Moore lakeside, the teams of anglers had already been on the job for three days (the tournament ran 100 consecutive hours) in the pursuit of “Ol’ Rubberlips.” Moore rationalized their dedication this way: “It’s the fishing equivalent of turkey hunting. Get yourself in position and bring your quarry to you – it’s tactical warfare.” Kirk Deeter
That “tactical warfare” starts with setting a trap on the lake bottom. Every angler has their own special “home brew” of stinky, slimy goo, containing corn, grains, or other food stuffs, which they sling out into the lake by a variety of methods, ranging from the medieval to high tech. When the bait is concentrated in certain spots, the carp start sniffing, and hopefully grubbing, in the area where the angler slips a baited hook in the mix. Kirk Deeter
This is a “spod,” a little crud rocket which an angler fills with bait mixture, then casts with a long spinning rod to the target zone. As the spod flies through the air, the goop is held in place by centrifugal force. Upon splashdown, the rocket rights itself, and a cloud of bait pours onto the lake bottom. Serious carp anglers can pinpoint their baits with remarkable consistency and accuracy. Kirk Deeter
Tommy Riley of Chicago is one of the country’s top pro carp anglers. Here, he cradles a 25-pound, 9-ounce mirror carp (so named for its elongated shiny scales) he hooked in the dead of night during the tournament. “This fish was worth the whole tournament, the drive from Chicago and all – it was a personal quest,” he beamed. Moore thinks he may have caught this same fish in Lake Hominy 10 years earlier, noting that mature carp can survive for up to 50 years in some places. Kirk Deeter
Granted, a lot of the carp fishing game involves sitting and waiting for the fish to bite. How do you keep yourself entertained in slack hours? Well there’s the standard fishing diversions, like drinking beer and telling stories – but carp anglers have fun with the baiting game. Mix up your grains and syrups to create food ammo, called “method balls,” and fire at will into the depths of the lake. It’s like declaring “food fight” and opening up with heavy artillery on the fish. Kirk Deeter
Roman Grigar prepares to let fly with a method ball from his surgical tube catapult. Believe it or not, by using the same tension and trajectory, this catapult could drop baits with impressive accuracy and consistency. We watched Roman fire three shots in a row, with each method ball splashing down inches apart, maybe 70 yards offshore. Kirk Deeter
For closer-in action, a manual throwing tool does the trick. Teammates Doug Reed and Rod Mills met over the Internet, and now routinely work the tournament underground. Note the camp they’ve set up at their “peg,” a pre-assigned spot on the lakeshore where they’ll spend the 100-hour tournament. “If you like camping, and if you like catching fish, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t like carp tournaments,” explained Mills. That is, assuming you find a partner you don’t mind setting up your bivvy (tent) next to for over four days. Kirk Deeter
Once the bait trap is set, anglers use a “hair rig,” a hook with trailing baits on a line behind it. Corn is a standard bait for carp fishing, but most anglers like to spice their baits up by dipping them in scented syrups or “glugs” that reek of everything from chocolate to pineapple. Apparently, chocolate-corn-pineapple servings are the carp equivalent of Bananas Foster. Each angler is allowed three-rod setups in the tournament format. Kirk Deeter
Anglers use 12-foot or longer rods to hurl heavily weighted baits toward the middle of the lake. Load up and heave it with all your might – the reel sings as it pours line through the rod guides. Because the tournament anglers have to pinpoint their casts at the submerged bait piles, sometimes 100 yards away, their casting skills are remarkable, they stack up against some of the best surf casters. Kirk Deeter
When a tournament angler catches a fish, they put it in a submerged mesh sack (apparently carp thrash less in a cold, wet sack) and wait for tournament officials to arrive at their peg with a certified scale for periodic weigh-ins. Here Roman places an 11-pounder on a “release mat” before weighing it. All carp must be at least 10 pounds to count (the team with the most total pounds after 100 hours wins), and all carp are released unharmed. Carp anglers, therefore, treat each carp with kid gloves. “Americans don’t realize how good we have it with our carp,” said Moore. “We have carp in 49 states (all but Alaska) in cities and in the country. People in Europe pay big bucks to catch fish like we have.” Kirk Deeter
After releasing a fish, it’s back to business. Cast your bait, set your rod in the rod pod, and wait. Each of the rods on the rod pod is attached to a sensitive bite alarm that beeps when a bait is nudged in any direction, and lets out a loud scream when a carp picks up a bait and runs with it. Sometimes, the larger carp (20 pounds plus) can take up to a half hour to land on 15-pound monofilament line. Kirk Deeter
David Moore, the tournament director, has a graduate business degree and runs a financial consulting firm, but he also operates a moonlight venture, Moore says his warehouse-based business that carries all the gizmos, baits, and gadgets needed for carp fishing is growing by leaps and bounds, as the American carp underground swells. His website gets as many as one million hits a month. Kirk Deeter
Tomasz Falszewski and partner Grzegorz Zaliszewski prepare to weigh, then release a 25-pound common carp. They would end up third in the Tournament of Champions with just over 210 pounds of carp landed. The winners had 331 pounds, 6 ounces. Kirk Deeter
Whether or not classic carp fishing will ever truly take off in America is still open to debate. But there’s no arguing against the abundance of carp in this country. And as more anglers seek diversions that don’t involve boats and burning gas, it’s clear that one option is literally a cast away, in most places. Carp fishing may indeed be the soccer of the angling world – everyone else on the planet gets it, but we don’t. At least not yet. Kirk Deeter