We’ve had a mild winter so far, but I am off the bank till the spring. I may only have a slight case of the winter blues at the moment, but I am already in the midst of preparing for the upcoming season. This means evaluating my current tackle situation, re-uping bits and bobs and purchasing any new items that I have deemed necessary.
I’m not a huge “tackle tart”, but I like having what I need. It’s important to have the right gear and it’s important that you understand why it’s necessary. I’m not saying you cant catch carp with “normal” fishing kit, but when you are playing a 20lb fish you want to eliminate as many risks as you can. It goes both ways, I would not want play a 2lb bass on carp gear. You want the right tools for the job. Carp are big strong fish. Even a 10lb fish is capable of amazing power. Catch and release fishing means you intend to return a fish back to the water with little to no harm done to it. This can prove difficult with small fish and with carp the difficulty is multiplied by one hundred thousand.
In the summer, I joined my trout-y angler friend on a charter boat to fish for striped bass (stripers) and bonito tuna. These fish, along with blue fish and false albacore are the prized sea fish of our little state. Striped bass are extremely hard fighting fish and I can’t help but compare the runs they make to a carp run. Carp runs are a lot shorter but I would say they are almost as strong as the stripers. Could you land a striper on a trout rod? Maybe? Would anyone recommend you try that? No. Beyond the disappointment you’ll experience loosing the fish of a lifetime, you’ll leave many fish trailing your rigs around for the rest of their lives. I’m a web developer for a living and there is a term that I have used to describe catching carp to my programmer friends. In the programming world we have a term called “web scale”. Web scale basically represents the effect that having millions of users simultaneously using your website or application at once. Its one thing to write software that works when one user is using it, but how will your software perform at scale? Carp fishing is fishing at web scale. Does your rod have the power to turn a 20lb fish? How will you land this fish without damaging it? Is your line capable of pulling a big fish through thick weed? To have sustainable success, you need the right gear.
I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about what you need or don’t need, but I will share with you things I believe are necessary or have been very useful to me. Carp rods are typically 9 – 12 feet long and are usually rated in something called “test curve”. In the US we are more familiar with terms like “lure weight” and “power”. A test curve is how many pounds (lbs) it takes to bend a rod tip 90 degrees to the handle and it encapsulates these two ideas. Using heavy “leads” or “sinkers”, as we call them here, is a common practice in carp fishing and carp rods generally are capable of casting them. The leads are usually 2+ ounces, not including any “ground bait” that you may pack on it. During my first winter spending spree I looked high and low for American companies that sold anything reminiscent of a carp rod. At the time, I hadn’t found a way to order carp specific gear in the U.S. and it was too expensive to ship anything from the U.K. In the end I picked up a 10 ft steelhead rod and a 10 ft surf rod, neither of which I use for carp these days. The surf rod, while having the power to cast heavy weight, felt big and awkward and once I bought my “real” carp rod, I realized that it really was. Again, I’m not saying you can’t use a surf rod, but I think you’ll find a real carp rod to be a much better experience. I carried the steelhead rod with me for the first part of season. I would use light leads (1 ounce or less) with this rod and it seemed to “feel” ok. That was, until the day I did hook a common on it. My rod buckled over and my alarm let off a single tone. I ran to the rod, lifted it out of the rest and leaned into the fish. The rod felt soft and I didn’t feel like I had the right amount power to stop the fish and before I knew it, it had taken me into a snag. Trying to “give it more stick” was a no-go. I didn’t have the right tool and I lost the fish. After this experience, I decided to buy another carp rod. Remember, this was my experience; your experience may be different. I think if you asked any “serious” carp angler, they would advise you to get a carp specific rod. Well, now that we have hooked and fought the mighty carp, lets land it using our carp net.
A carp net is nothing more than a net capable of holding a very large fish. They start at 42 inches, but you can get them bigger or slightly smaller. It may seem like a silly type of expense if you are use to lip locking fish or picking them up by the gill plates, but please, consider the fish’s well being before you try handling them like you would bass or any other game fish. A carp’s lips are soft unlike a bass’ bony mouth. Trying to lift a carp with your hand or a Boga grip will result in you damaging the fish’s mouth. Lifting a carp by its gills, means you are lifting a potentially heavy fish by one of the most sensitive areas fish have. Imagine someone sticking their fingers in your nostrils and lifting you off the ground. These are not effective ways to land a carp. Not only will you needlessly hurt them, you may not get a chance to even get it on the bank. You are better off using the right tool for the job; a net that could hold the fish safely. Once we have the fish netted, we may want to weight it. For that we’ll need a scale, and rather then impaling the fish on the hook dangling from the scale, we can weight it by looping the scale to a sturdy part of the net or you can use a sling.
A sling lets us move the fish around safely and we can hook our scale safely and securely to the loops on it. Just a side note; you can weight most fish in some sort of sling. For example: if you want to weight a largemouth bass, you could put it in a plastic grocery bag, then loop your scale on the handles and the fish would be perfectly safe in there.
The last thing I’ll mention is, if you have to set the fish down on the bank, make sure it is in a safe area like a nice patch of grass. Dont plop the fish down on top of rocks where it will damage itself if it starts flopping around. You can purchase something called a “unhooking mat” from places that carry carp gear. You can even make your own, I’ve seen people make them from old baby changing table pads.
Why all this trouble and expense to take care of a fish? I believe the answer is obvious. There is no excuse for causing harm to the carp, or any fish while we are enjoying our sport, no matter how “undesirable” they maybe. As anglers we should appreciate the privilege we have when we connect with a nature through our rod and line. What other sport is like this? Its been proven time and time again, if we neglect our responsibilities to care for nature, we limit the time we have to enjoy it. Make sure you have the right gear to do so.