Hooked on Carp Fishing in the Ohio Valley
Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler by Mary Syrett
Hunting and fishing writers aren’t supposed to be at a loss for words. Yet I cannot explain why many Ohio Valley anglers ignore carp—especially when even novice fishermen can consistently catch trophy-size fish. That’s exactly what happened in October when I spent a day on Burr Oak Lake, catching carp that weighed 10 pounds or more every 30 minutes or so—and all the while dozens of anglers in nearby boats passed me by without catching a single fish. When and where was the last time you hooked a dozen or so big, bold, beautiful bruisers—no matter the species—in just one afternoon of fishing? I had to pinch myself to make certain I wasn’t dreaming.
History. First introduced into the United States from Europe in 1876 as a potentially valuable food source, carp were stocked throughout much of America in the 1880s and 1890s. The species spread rapidly, so much so that by the early 20th century, a fish still highly esteemed throughout much of Europe was considered a pest in the United States, a reputation that, with few exceptions, it retains to this day.
Carp Characteristics. Carp are distributed throughout eastern North America and are found in many lakes, reservoirs, rivers, ponds and streams. The fish thrive in moderately warm, shallow water that contains considerable aquatic vegetation. They adapt to a variety of conditions, tolerating most types of bottoms and water, from clear to murky. Tough and scrappy, carp are capable of great speed, grow large and at times battle ferociously. It’s oftentimes more effective to fish for them from a river or lake bank than from a boat.
Carp Fishing Hotspots. Many of the lakes in central Ohio–Buckeye Lake east of Columbus in particular–have good-size carp populations. In northeastern Ohio, head for the Portage Lakes area south of Akron (North Reservoir especially), as well as Nimisila Lake, which is located just south of the Portage Lakes. Also, Berlin Lake southeast of Akron, Mosquito Lake north of Youngstown, and Pymatuning Lake on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border all have sizable carp populations.
In southeastern Ohio, excellent carp fishing can be found in the Lower Muskingum River, the Ohio River, Burr Oak Lake, Salt Fork Lake and Senecaville Lake. In Southwest Ohio, head for the Ohio and Great Miami Rivers. (Burr Oak Lake is also noted for its populations of largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, white crappie and saugeye.)
Fishing for Carp. Early morning and late evening are prime times for going after carp with a rod and reel. Carp often hang out near an area of a lake or river bottom that’s composed of sand, clay, gravel or mud. Little boat traffic or overhead disturbances should be present, as carp are wary and spook easily.
Occasionally I set up shop in the Ohio Valley along boardwalks where people feed birdseed to ducks or geese and carp pick up feed that waterfowl miss. These brainy fish are smart enough to establish daily feeding patterns; once they find a good thing, they are inclined to keep coming back. Carp possess phenomenal senses of taste and smell, which senses they use to lead them to protein-rich foods.
A 2009 spring fishing trip on the lower Muskingum River illustrates how finicky even an actively feeding carp can be. My friend Ray Authement and I were fishing in running water in a location where the water had overlapped the bank by a few inches and had flowed into thick green weeds. We were anchored crosswise to the current with Ray’s end of the boat within a yard or two of the bank. He had the best shot at finding carp cruising the outer edge of the weeds, but I could also reach the edge by making a long cast.
Ray’s secret was to bait a No. 1 hook with a single river worm doused in anise flavored carp attractant. Meanwhile, I was stuffing as many worms on a No. 1/0 hook as it would hold and dousing the bait with an attractant based on carp pheromones.
Basically there are two ways to fly fish for carp—sight casting and blind casting. Sight casting involves seeing carp in the water and casting a fly to approximately two feet in front of them. While this is not always possible, it sometimes is and provides some of the most exciting carp fishing to be found anywhere.
An analogy is often drawn to fishing for saltwater bonefish. Like bonefish, carp can often be seen tailing in the shallows. Like bonefish, carp devour whatever marine organisms they find or can scare up from the bottom. And like bonefish, when carp take your beautifully-tied fly, expect a long hard run.
Blind casting takes two forms. You can cast to places carp are likely to be and hope you’ve guessed right. This is usually not a high percentage fishing technique. It’s better to cast to where you know carp are likely to be.
Baits used to attract carp include doughballs, large kernel corn, liver paste and breadcrumbs rolled into small balls, boiled potatoes, earthworms and prepared bait called “boillies”. You can buy the latter in many baitshops; they come in a variety of flavors.
Use a treble hook to attach a doughball to the line. Place the doughball on the hook and replace whenever it gets soggy. This bait can easily be made at home. Inquire at baitshops for a recipe.
Umm Good! “Don’t ask if carp is good enough for you to eat. Ask instead if you’re good enough to eat carp.”—-Anonymous
Carp fishing is oftentimes discussed as a legitimate sporting activity in the Ohio Valley. However, in the U.S. generally, people may fish for carp for fun, but it’s considered a trash fish and not edible. Which is odd, because in Europe, where a large proportion of Americans originally came from, the carp is not only considered edible but is a traditional Christmas meal in many countries.
Come December in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, in Germany and Poland, street corner vendors offer live carp for sale. They are taken home (the carp, not the vendors) and kept alive, often in the bathtub, until Christmas Eve when they are served up with much the same kind of ceremony that Americans lavish on the turkey. In both Europe and Asia, carp are an important farmed food fish.
Handling Carp. The key to delicious eating is the proper selection and handling of caught carp. If the fish are taken from waters that may have bad tastes or odors, sniff the gills. If they have a musty odor (not every fish taken from the same water will), then the flesh will likely taste bad unless you hold the fish in clean water or off the bottom for about a week. If it smells fine, bleed the carp by cutting the artery near the tail or a large artery between the gills. Gut it immediately and place the fish on ice.
Preparing Carp. After filleting, remove the skin and scales by placing the fillet skin-side down and cutting through the tail meat to the skin. Move the knife-edge so that it is parallel to the skin and cut while you lift the meat away from the skin.
Carp have a series of small, thin bones found about one third of the way beneath the muscle surface. These bones can be broken up by lightly cutting through them using shallow, parallel strokes. Cooking will further soften them so that they are rarely noticed when eating.
Carp can be baked, roasted, broiled, fried, barbecued, poached, smoked, marinated, or used in casseroles, chowders, chili or quiche. Try some of these recipes or substitute carp in your favorite fish-based meals.
Barbecued Carp. Place fillets on an oiled grate 4 to 6 inches from the coals. Allow oils to drip from the fish but keep water handy to douse flare-ups. Turn with a spatula and brush with butter and lemon juice when done.
For Carp Roasted with Onion you need one pound of carp, one cup grated onion, one-fourth cup dried parsley, cooking oil, lemon juice, salt, caraway seeds and cumin.
Cut up cleaned carp into large sections. Then cut out small pockets in the meat. Mix grated onion with parsley and a little oil. Rub this mixture over the carp. Fill the holes with this mixture. Spread caraway seeds over the meat and pour lemon juice on top. Roast in the oven at 350 degrees F. for about 30 minutes or until done. Serve with mashed or fried potatoes.
Carp fried in beer batter. You need 1 cup beer, 1 cup flour, 2 eggs, slightly beaten, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Blend flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add beer and eggs and stir until batter is light and frothy. Dip carp fillets in batter and deep-fry until golden.
Carp is basically one fish, but depending on where you live and your piscatorial point of view, it is regarded as a delicacy to be farmed, fattened and feasted upon, as a sporting quarry to be respected, or as inedible piece of old shoe leather.
Why aren’t carp among the most popular game fish species to be found in North America, as they are many other places in the world? I cannot definitively answer that question.
I suspect that part of the reason is that carp are too common, and familiarity can breed contempt. I also suspect that many American anglers don’t like carp because the species is extremely intelligent compared to many other fish and can be frustratingly hard to dupe into taking a baited hook. What red-blooded American angler wants to admit a carp has outwitted him or her? Believe what you want, but I have found it exciting to fish for carp in the Ohio Valley and do serve it occasionally on the dinner table. Enjoy.