Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fishing for carp and catching bullheads

* Editor's Note: not sure if they are bullheads, channel cats, or what... But they are certainly catfish.

A few weeks ago I "discovered" a new fishing spot. In fact, doing aerial research on it via google maps, I found my car parked next to one of the ponds the very day I first fished the spot. You can even make out a small blob that I'm pretty sure is me.

That's my car, and that little black blob is me
fishing this spot for the first time
That day I saw lots of frogs, but didn't catch anything out of the little pond. Looking at the spot via google maps, I realized there was a much larger body of water just on the other side of the pond. On my way home from work on monday I headed there to investigate. What I found was what seemed to be a very shallow, muddy body of water filled with carp. How do I know it's filled with carp? Every couple of seconds, carp parts would break the surface of the water; a dorsal fin here, a caudal fin there, sometimes I even caught glimpses of a little carp mouth. And this was happening everywhere- just a few feet from shore, in the middle of the pond, and everywhere else. Armed only with bass fishing gear, which proved very unsuccessful, I quickly headed home to grab some more carp-oriented gear.

Carp is one of the many species I've yet to catch. I've seen many of them in my fishing experiences. The first time I encountered them, I was in my kayak at Busse and had no idea what these giant fish were, bumping my kayak and splashing me with water. I thought they were jumping walleye. Of course now I know the difference between carp and walleye, but not much else! I've been doing a lot of "research" on carp and how to fish them. Although they seem to be looked down upon by many anglers, apparently they put up a great fight. Most of the carp I've seen swimming around are twice as big as the biggest bass I've ever caught. That is reason enough to pursue them in my book. (Don't know what carp look like? Check this out)

I returned to the pond, with two rods, tiny circle hooks, frozen corn, and half a loaf of cheap white bread. I proceeded to spend the next few hours soaking little bits of food. The spot I found is clearly frequented by other anglers- empty cans, bottles, paper, plastic bags, and even a used six pack of beer litter the area. I simply don't understand leaving trash like that, especially if you're going to come back! Do some people really want to sit in their own trash while they fish? Not to mention the fact that this is a public space, clearly shared by others. It is incomprehensible to me. Until I started fishing and saw all the trash, I thought littering was something we vanquished with after school specials and plain old common sense. Clearly it is still a problem.

That first trip out, I caught a tiny little yellow bullhead. On corn! Because my drag was set so loosely - based on the advice of internet carp anglers - the fish felt huge. When I reeled it in and saw the tiny little guy, all I could do was laugh. The circle hook did it's job perfectly- the fish was hooked nicely in the corner of the mouth, leaving it completely unscathed from the experience of being caught.

Baby bullhead.. isn't he cute?
I threw out corn into the area, the internet tells me that's a good way to get carp in the area, more likely to find my hooked corn. When I returned the next day, the carp had clearly found my corn and were cruising right around the area I had chummed. I chummed some more, threw my two lines out, and waited.

For many, fishing is an exercise in patience. Casting out a line and hoping a fish will find it, that is the way many fish. There's certainly nothing wrong with that approach, but I've never had the patience for it. My approach to fishing has always been cast, cast, hike, cast, cast, and cast some more. Always moving, always looking for new spots, always second-guessing my lures, always trying to find the fish. The opposite of passive fishing, active fishing I suppose. That's part of the appeal of fishing to me- it's part fishing, part hiking; although I move slowly, usually cover a lot of ground. Except for wading, due to my inexperience I tend to wade quite slowly.

Recently, learning more about the plentiful carp and catfish that inhabit almost every body of water and can grow much larger than bass, I've started to fish for these fish. Why spend all my time pursuing only one species? I love chasing bass, both the green and the brown kind, but there are many kinds of fish. By ignoring carp and catfish, I've probably been missing out on most of the fishing all around me, pound for pound. The static, passive method of fishing for these species always dissuaded me from trying it. In an effort to improve my patience (and species list) I've been pursuing these bottom-feeding species almost exclusively this week. My honey-hole retention pond is clogged with weeds and filled with spawning bass who are completely uninterested in my lures, so it was a good excuse to try a new kind of fishing.

My baby bullhead spot
Tuesday I caught three more little bullheads, each smaller than the last. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy catching them. For such small fish, they put up a nice fight- especially with my drag set so loose. I am wary of their fins, which the internet tells me are tipped with a toxin more painful than a bee sting if it breaks the skin. These little fish are particularly feisty and difficult to handle, so I've been lipping them as I would with a bass. Each one bites down on my fingers repeatedly, just as I deserve for cheating them out of their meal of corn and poking them with little hooks.

Last night I spent a little time before sunset soaking some corn, and once again caught some bullheads. One on corn, very tiny, like little toy versions of their bigger catfish cousins. The spot I'd been fishing had a big wooden plank to sit on, and something possessed me to move it. Underneath it were tons of little worms enjoying the damp darkness under the wood. Perfect! I grabbed a few, put them on a hook, and cast them out. Pretty soon another bullhead found them and ended up in another instagram picture with me.

After a bunch of hours this week fishing for carp in this one spot, I decided I should try another spot. Maybe for some reason they just wouldn't take the corn here. I tried a few different techniques to entice them: very loose drag, then I just opened my bail so they would feel no resistance, then I put a slip sinker behind a swivel and put the hook two feet farther down, but no carp. A few times I pulled up corn that looked like it had been sampled, but no carp came with it. I picked up my gear and headed to a smaller pond where a fisherman told me he'd caught carp before.

There were definitely fish there- I saw plenty of movement on the surface, which I guessed wasn't very far from the bottom. I waited, and waited, and waited. I heard some rustling in the grasses near me, and I carefully tiptoed to investigate. I saw a little otter (or muscrat) swimming away carrying a bunch of grass in his mouth. Reminded me of that image of a dove with an olive branch in it's beak. When the little guy saw me, he quickly submerged into the chocolate milk-like water.

As this picture was taken, the little
guy never stopped biting my fingers
And then I caught yet another bullhead, unless I was losing track it was my sixth one at this set of ponds. Although I could see the carp everywhere, they apparently wanted nothing to do with my corn or worms. Seeing them swimming all around, kicking up mud on the bottom, clearly feeding- that is the most frustrating part. I know they're there, I know they're feeding, but I can't get them to eat my corn. Out of frustration, I tied a little white twister tail to one of my lines and fished it slow along the bottom. I'd heard of carp and catfish occasionally being caught on such lures, and I couldn't take the waiting anymore. I got one set of bites which felt like little panfish, but when I recast to the area they were gone.

As the sun set, I packed up my stuff and headed back to my car. I caught three fish, which isn't bad compared to my average this year, but I still hadn't hooked into the elusive carp. One of these days, I'll get one on the end of my line. And I'll probably really like it. Until then, I'll keep trying. Working on that whole patience thing.

The bullhead pond right around sunset


  1. You'll get a carp soon. That first one looks like a bullhead for sure but that second one looks like a small Channel Cat. Tail gives it away but I am sure the face was not as stubby. Cool stuff Chris.

  2. A nice compromise to the waiting game is to try "stalking carp in the margins" as the Brits term it. Basically, you creep around the edge of the lake with a stiff rod, heavy line, and tiny hook and float, and quietly lower offerings next to or in front of carp that you see basking in the shallows. You can also pre-bait a small area that looks promising and come back some time later. It's a good way to target specific fish; and some really big ones have been caught this way...

    Also check out the hair rig and the bolt rig; also invented by the British anglers, who really pioneered and revolutionized modern carp fishing.

    Good luck


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