The common carp, Cyprinus carpio, is a large omnivorous species that can be found in most Pennsylvania waters. Carp are members of the minnow family. They are native to Asia and were spread throughout Europe by the Romans. Carp were first stocked as a food fish in the US in the late 1870’s and were spread by state governments to most U.S. watersheds.
Huge carp can be found in almost every state. In most waters 10 pound carp are available and catches exceeding 20 pounds are not uncommon. Catching these big powerful fish has become more popular among anglers. So popular, that many fishing contests for these monsters are held.
Large populations of carp can be found in the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers and at Lake Nockamixon. At Nockamixon, there are hundreds of carp around the marina; unfortunately there is no fishing allowed in this area. At the marina, people are seen frequently feeding ducks and the carp. Throwing food into the water can cause a feeding frenzy. Many more local bodies of water also have substantial populations.
A typical adult fish can lay 300,000 eggs in a single spawning. Carp can spawn multiple times in a season meaning a single carp could lay over a million eggs in a year. Their populations stay steady though. Eggs and fry often fall victim to bacteria and fungi, and juveniles are preyed upon by other fish and birds including; heron, cormorants and osprey. There is also an increasing popularity in the U.S. for carp eggs that are used for caviar.
In rivers, carp seek deep pools and eddies where they can avoid the current. In lakes they can be found just about anywhere but they like coves, especially where feeder streams flow in. Plus, carp usually travel in groups.
They are typically considered bottom feeders, but they sometimes snatch food from the surface like flies and even chase bait fish. Carp use their powerful teeth to crush and eat a variety of foods other fish can’t. They are a true opportunistic omnivorous feeder but carp tend to be repetitious. Once they get interested in a certain food, they will seek it out and frequently ignore other foods.
Anglers catch carp on nightcrawlers, whole kernels of corn or by using some form of dough bait. There are many recipes for these dough baits which can be made out of rice, bread, millet, fish chow, grits, and oats. A good one can be made by mixing a quarter-cup of corn syrup or molasses to two cups of corn meal. Roll it into a golf ball size and wrap it in cheesecloth or a cloth rag. Place it in boiling water and cook it until it attains a rubbery consistency. These dough baits can also be used to attract catfish.
A good method for carp is bottom fishing with weight. The idea is not for the weight to simply hold the line down but to be heavy enough to actually set the hook on a fish that picks up the bait and runs with it. Rigging this way is usually referred to as a “bolt rig” because when the fish feels the prick of the hook, it bolts away and sets the hook on itself in the process.
Bowfishing is also another method used to catch carp. Specialized archery equipment is used to shoot and retrieve fish. Fish are shot with a barbed arrow that is attached with special line to a reel mounted on the bow.
Carp are bigger than most anglers are used to catching. This presents a number of problems when landing and unhooking a fish. Heavy carp are more prone to injury when out of the water. Take precautions when landing and releasing them. Place carp back in the water as quickly as possible by supporting it in an upright position until it is ready to swim away.
A carp’s extra weight can lead to getting wounded in typical knotted nylon nets. Often times they will lose scales or split their fins after getting stuck in the wide holes of this kind of net. It can be a big hassle to untangle a fish’s fins and may disfigure them permanently. To avoid these problems, a lot of serious carpers use “micro mesh” nets similar to trout landing nets, but much bigger. Even if you have a safe net, a large carp is hard to hold while you unhook it. Flopping around on the ground will cause a big carp to get hurt.