The underestimated golden ghost
By Rodney Hsu, Fishing with Rod | Published in August 2003
On any given summer evening, one of my favorite pastime is to cast out a float, sit back on the chair and soak up the sun at a local slough. When pedestrians walk by, they often look on curiously and ask, "What are you fishing for?". "Carp." I reply. Puzzled, they often pause for a moment and reply with the remarks, "There are fish in here? And what is a carp?"
The name golden ghost is labeled on a carp based on its physique and behaviour. A carp is stealth, quiet and unnoticed in the water by most. Its typical day consists of strolling along slowly, searching for food and feeding with its protruded mouth. However, when startled or angered, its mood changes instantly. Using all of its conserved energy, this calm animal can transform into a monstrous being within seconds. To most, it's simply a stale goldfish that has been unleashed. To the diehard carp anglers, it's a mysterious species that is full of beauty and character.
Due to these qualities, there are anglers who are willing to spend a large sum of money to specifically target carp as a sportfish. Despite what most North American anglers believe, a carp is not a lazy fish that swallows the hook without hesitation and acts as a old rag as it is being reeled in. It's a magnificent fish that feeds delicately and fights like a freight train.
Around the world, carp can be found in lakes, ponds, sloughs, canals and slow-flowing streams. In Asia and parts of Europe, it's a commercially important fish species that is consumed by millions of people as a fine dining fare. Across Europe and Australia, carp is always the highlight in the coarse fishing world. Carp bait, floats, hooks and other accessories are constantly invented. In North America, carp was introduced by early European settlers. Like Europe, it is a popular gamefish in Eastern North America. It's a different story on the West Coast, most anglers are not aware of the golden ghost as we are often preoccupied by popular native sportfish such as salmon, trout and steelhead.
Being an avid coarse angler for many years prior to my arrival in Canada, it was surprising that I had not explored the carp fishery until recently. For the last several years, I have occupied myself with the so-called sportfish and neglected a species that I used to chase after. This year, I have been determined to land some Canadian carp. After many failures this summer, I am finally able to produce fish consistently.
To catch a fish, you must be where the fish are. This was especially important when it comes to carp fishing, as they move at a very slow pace. If you are not fishing at a location where the carp frequently visit, it can turn into a very long waiting game. Our first quest was to find out where the carp are in Southern BC. Ladner, a small city that is composed of both rural farmland and residential neighborhood, became our primary carp fishing spot this summer. It is only 30 minutes from Downtown Vancouver and there is a large network of sloughs that drain into the Fraser River. With the help of a few local anglers and some scouting around, we picked out several spots that looked extremely appealing.
Our first problem emerged as soon as we started fishing. There was a large number of smaller coarse fish that roam these sloughs. Redside shiner, a native minnow species, is between 2 to 6 inches long. These tiny critters are fast, hungry and often present in a large school. They can clean up your bait within seconds after it lands in the water. This became a real headache. To catch a carp, the bait needs to rest on the bottom for a long period of time. The fish needs to reach the bait, inspect it, before it decides to engulf it. With the bait disappearing so fast, it seemed impossible.
After some modification to the bait, the problem was finally solved. The key ingredient is corn meal. When corn meal is added into the dough, it seems to repel every single redside shiner in the water. For what reason, I do not know, but it definitely boosts up the confidence when I know my bait will stay intact before a carp reaches it.
Carp fishing requires a great deal of patience. It's not only a waiting game, but a test of your concentration. 95% of the time your rod tip or float will remain motionless, but your constant attention is required. A tiny tap on your rod, a wobble on your float can occur any second. You need to be ready to grab that rod and strike at anytime.
On July 14th, it finally happened, my first Canadian carp. While chatting, I could see some small movement on my rod tip from the corner of my eyes. It always amazes me how a tiny wiggle can raise your heartrate instantly! I quickly reached down, and waited for the next bite. The rod tip still moved slowly, but finally the line became slack. It was definitely a carp. The line immediately became tight again and at this very moment I pulled back the rod. There was a dead weight at the end of the line, it almost seemed as it was asleep. Within seconds, the fish started to tug the rod, and this was followed by a fast run. The burst of energy could be heard from the loud drag on the spinning reel. The furious carp tried to dive under reeds. Everytime when I was able to bring it up, it dove down again. After battling intensely for about five minutes, the fish was finally netted. The phrase intense battle is not an exaggeration. Although they lack the acrobatic movement that salmonids possess, a carp will make your life incredibly hard by taking long runs and diving under structures. A quick photo snap, and the fish was back into the water. Sensational! Although it was the only fish of the day, it only took one to regain my enthusiasm in carp fishing.
The techniques for carp fishing are very simplistic, however there are small details that require your attention to improve your catch rate. There are no lures involved. This is an omnivorous bottom feeder that detects its food by scent so bait selection is important.
There are general two grassroot techniques that can be used. They are float fishing and bottom fishing. Because it is a shy fish that can be spooked easily, light tackle with great sensitivity is required. For fishing line, I generally prefer to spool up 4lb or 6lb test line on my reels. The leader strength can range between 2lb and 6lb test, depending on the size of the fish that I am targeting.
When bottom fishing, a spinning rod that has a sensitive tip should be employed so small bites can be detected. The rod needs to have great flexibility, but at the same time it should be able to maintain its stiffness to withstand those long runs. The terminal tackle is relatively simple. Thread the mainline through a sliding weight and tie on a swivel. Tie a leader between 1.5 to 2 feet in length at the other end, this is followed by a hook between size 10 and 16. The sliding weight allows the fish to bite without feeling any resistance. The amount of weight used is dictated by the amount of current present in the waters that you are fishing.
There is a huge amount of science that is involved in float fishing for carp. A wide selection of floats is available in the coarse fishing market. Each float style is designed to suit the depth, water current, wind, lighting and other environmental factors on that particular day. Currently, my favorite float for carp is Drennan's Crystal Avon. It's sensitive, but it retains great stability even during strong current. You do not need an unique rod for float fishing, but it has to be slightly longer than others. I generally prefer 8 to 10 feet. This allows greater control when casting a float and setting the hook. The terminal tackle below the float is similar to the bottom rig, replace the large sliding weight with tiny split shots. Balancing the float is a crucial step. Your depth should be set so that the hook is lying on or just suspending above the bottom.
Coarse anglers love tiny fishing gadgets. If you ever attend a coarse fishing tournament, you will notice that each angler has several rods and a gigantic tackle box that is filled with hundreds of floats, hooks and weights. Their intention is not to catch more fish, but to be prepared for any condition that they may encounter. As a weekend angler, there isn't a need for you to carry so much, it would be an overkill. I usually like to have three or four different sizes of float with me, these are accompanied by a package of hooks, a spool of 4lb test line and a box of weights. In addition, a rod holder, a chair and a landing net are required. Carp can be slippery, and trying to land a 5lb+ fish on 4lb test line without a net can be messy.
What about bait?
As mentioned earlier, the common carp is an omnivorous fish, meaning it will basically eat anything that it encounters. Carp likes to swim along the bottom, browse and feed by sucking in bottom debris. It spits out unwanted objects and swallows desirable food. Carp feeds by scent, so it is a major factor that should be carefully researched when it comes to bait selection. There are several generic types of bait that you can use for carp. These include garden worms, maggots, dough, seeds, vegetable and bread. Based on these ingredients, you can then develop your own effective bait recipe. Dough can be a mixture of flour and other smelly ingredients. These ingredients may include cheese, peanut butter, shrimp powder, vanilla, etc. Seeds such as corn have been proven very effective, easy to thread onto the hook, but hard for the fish to digest so it is recommended that anglers do not use them in catch and release fisheries. Vegetables such as yam and potato can be hooked by chunks or their powder can be mixed with flour to form dough. Bread can be wetted and rolled into small balls before threaded onto the hook.
My favorite bait to use is definitely dough. It's cheap, its content can be manipulated to alter the scent, and it stays on the hook quite well. One of my most effective recipe involves three ingredients: White flour, corn meal and curry powder. Simply mix the three dry ingredients together (50% flour, 50% corn meal, one spoon of curry powder). Stir as you slowly add water to the mixture. Your end product should be a large firm dough that can be broken off into small pieces. The ratio of the ingredient is a personal preference. If you alter the ratio, it will change the hardness and stickiness of the bait, which may also affect its buoyancy. The curry powder provides a strong scent that can attract carp from a long distance away.
When baiting, simply break a small piece off the dough, roll it into a round ball, and embed the hook in it. Squeeze the ball several times to ensure it is secured to the hook.
To be successful in Carp fishing, a rod holder is a must. Keeping your rod as still as possible can allow you to detect more bites when bottom fishing, and prevent any sudden jerk that may spook the feeding carp. When fishing with a bottom rig, keep the line slightly loosened. Like goldfish, carp will initially test out the bait by pecking at it. When it decides to fully commit to the bait, it will suck it in and swim with it. Due to this behaviour, one should not strike when small bites are detected at the rod tip, but only pull when the line starts to tighten up slowly.
If you're fishing with a float, adjust the float depth so that the bait is lying on the river bed or lake bottom. If your float is freely drifting due to the current, that means your bait is not settling at one spot, increase the depth in that case. It is a norm to see the float bouncing up and down at times due to small coarse fish pecking at it. A carp bite can be obvious on a float, it will simply starts swimming around on the surface before diving down slowly.
Do not underestimate a carp, the initial run after hookup is explosive and enduring. After that, it will dives for structures such as weeds and branches that may cut the light line. Your job is to put on enough pressure to keep the fish out of these structures, but prevent the hook being ripped out of the soft mouth at the same time.
Don't forget that landing net, a carp is slippery, round and hard to grab. Trying to tail one while it flaps around violently in the water is almost impossible. Attempting to beach it will only break off your line. A landing net with a long handle and a large enough diameter can save you from getting wet and slimy during the landing process.
Next time when you're looking for a secluded location for a few hours of relaxation and possibly a few minutes of exciting battle, give carp fishing a go.