The common carp can be identified by their light gold to dark brown color. They have very large scales covering their entire body with fins that are often reddish and even orange.
Ask any fishermen what attracts them to the sport of fishing. One of the many answers and reasons you will get will be “the tug is the drug.” But yet the following fish the (common carp) “Gets No Respect” to quote Rodney Dangerfield. The average great lakes carp ranges in size from 15-32 inches and 4–31 pounds.
The Michigan state record for the common carp is 61.5 pounds. They can weigh up to 80 pounds and grow up to 5 feet in length. Average life span of a wild common carp is 20 years but in captivity they can live up to 50 years. So, in case you need me to remind you these fish can grown quite large and test any tackle.
What’s the World’s Number One Game Fish? You guessed it the carp! But in the United States this fish is considered a nuisance, trash or junk fish. However, one of the fastest growing parts of our sport in the United States is carp fishing amongst young anglers according to the American Carp Society.
Let’s be clear this species is not native to the United States. They were introduced here in the Mid 1800s to be used as food and for the fish markets. By the 1880s the US Fish Commission were stocking a German variety all over the U.S. as a food source.
Let’s not confuse the common Carp with some species we do not want in the Great Lakes. These include bighead, black and silver carp. We must continue our fight to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The common carp is found in every state but Alaska with the heaviest concentration in the Great Lakes Basin and in large impoundments throughout the south and west.
The common carp can be identified by their light gold to dark brown color. They have very large scales covering their entire body with fins that are often reddish and even orange. We have established these fish come with a large population, grow very large and are powerful—like them or not they are here to stay. Why not have some fun. Let’s talk about why you should give the hard-fight-ing carp a chance and how to catch them.
Locating Fish and Bait to Use
Due to the abundance of these fish an angler doesn’t have to drive far from home to find a resident population somewhere. To find carp look for large inland lakes, reservoirs, ponds, canals, swamps, drainage ditches, large or small rivers, etc. They prefer shallow muddy bottoms, with aquatic vegetation. So, they are readily available everywhere in the Great Lakes. So bottom-line travel expenses are at a minimum. You can even come home and sleep in your own bed at night. Whereas some species you may have to drive a long way to target or even stay in a hotel.
To locate carp go looking for them early in the morning just as the sun is rising and also in the evening before sunset. We commonly refer to the jumping as the crash out. As they splash about and feed these fish give away their locations. Look for reed beds, weed edges and lilies, they love to feed around those locations. Wear polarized sun glasses and look for the silhouette of a fish. The best scenario you can see is a tail sticking out of the water. Head down and tail up means feeding fish. Bubbles coming up in a pond or lake are also signs of feeding carp on the bottom. These fish are very wary so avoid being spotted.
You can find these fish fairly shallow and as deep as thirty feet, but most are caught in 2 to 15 feet of water. Look for shallow water that drops off into deeper water or the river and lake inlets.
Think these fish are easy to catch? Think again, the carp is very intelligent and wary. They have great eye sight, sense of smell and the longest memory span of any fresh water fish species. These fish can give you a run for your money on hook and line. Proper rigging and baits will help your success.
What are popular baits to use? They eat a variety of foods, including plants, insects, crustaceans and other benthic species. But a trip to the dollar store will do just fine. One of the most common baits used for carp fishing is a can of sweet corn or just rolled up dough balls. Talk about cheap fishing it’s hard to beat that, right? Carp have a diverse diet but pretty much will eat anything.
When it comes to tackle its suggested to have gear that’s more suited to medium heavy. Like a 9- to 10-foot rod rated 10- to 20 pounds will work just fine. Not to say you can’t catch them on ultralight tackle or even on a 7- to 8-weight fly rod. In Europe an average carp rod is 9 to 12 feet or even longer and they use a different rating system than us. A test curve of 2.75 – 3.5 pounds is a common carp rod rating there. The easiest way I can explain test curve is it’s the amount of weight needed to bring the rod tip to 90 degrees of the butt section.
Common line used for carp fishing is anywhere from 12 – 25 pound in either braid or monofilament. Not to say you can’t catch them on lighter leaders. However, most carp are hooked in the bottom lip so when they take a run after being hooked that line is dragging across the bottom. So, a line that is abrasion resistant will pay dividends.
These fish can be caught year-round so if you’re fishing in the winter, the braid can freeze under certain circumstances and may not be the best option. I personally use mono for my main line and braid for my hair rig.
A spinning reel is most commonly used in sizes 3000-6000. A larger spool is recommended that holds lots of line. Hook a big carp and you will see why. Many like to use a bait runner spinning reel. This is a reel that allows you to put the reel in free spool mode. This reel allows the fish to pick up the bait and swim off without feeling much tension. This is also used because when the carp takes off it doesn’t take your whole rod and reel in the water. Trust me this has happened to many people including myself as a child as I watched a rod and reel take off in the water and head down stream.
If you don’t own a reel like this or you’re on a tight budget simply open the bail or loosen the top drag knob very loose to allow the fish to run and hook itself. Next pick up the rod and just lift. Fish ON!
The common carp is the smartest freshwater fish we have, they spook very easily and are extremely wary. A soft presentation is key to your success. They take a bait very gently and methodically. When you see the carp take off like a bat out of hell and your drag is singing it’s because it felt that hook and basically hooked itself when running off. In my opinion this is to our advantage when they panic and spook.
The best carp rig to use in my opinion is the hair rig. The common carp is the smartest freshwater fish we have, they spook very easily and are extremely wary. A soft presentation is key to your success. They take a bait very gently and methodically.
The best carp rig to use in my opinion is the hair rig. The Europeans have developed so many rigs through the years to catch these fish that it can become daunt-ing when researching. But if you master the hair rig that’s all you need to catch lots of carp. Please don’t get me wrong you can catch carp with bait put right on your hook. But you will catch so many more if the bait is located below the hook point.
This rig is so easy to tie with many videos on YouTube to show you how to do it. This rig does require a few tools to complete but really is worth researching to learn. Next a Carolina rig with a sliding egg sinker or a stationary weight is all you need. Most carp anglers use weights from 2- to 4 ounces depending on conditions and how far they need to cast from shore to reach the fish. Please make sure your rod has a weight rating that high when casting heavy leads. If not, you can snap your rod tip very easily.
Many folks don’t like the carp for many reasons. It’s not for everybody. However, the common carp is going nowhere after 140 years and they are here to stay whether we like them or not. They provide a great local fishery to many folks young and old.
This fun can be had by all in very close proximity to almost everyone here in the Great Lakes. Some even keep a few for fertilizer for the garden. No matter what your take is I urge you to try “Ole Bugle Mouth” or “The Poor Man’s Bone Fish.” In my opinion carp may be considered as a trash fish, but if you’re not careful they will trash your reel’s drag, just sayin.