Carpe Diem

By Craig Gemming | June 2, 2001
From Missouri Conservationist: Jun 2001

Most anglers know that fishing for some popular game species often slows down during the summer. The fish are hard to find and, when you do find them, they're finicky. No wonder anglers sometimes say they have the "summertime fishing blues."

Keeping kids interested in fishing at this time of year can be especially tough. That's how it was with my kids until several years ago when we decided to "seize the day."

A solution to our summertime fishing blues materialized one sweltering day when my son, Nicholas, and I were bass fishing at Lake of the Ozarks. The fishing was particularly slow, probably because of the heat wave we were experiencing, and I could see Nicholas was fast losing interest. Before long, I heard him mutter, "Where are all the big fish?"

A few minutes later, we saw a large fish swim by and start searching for food in the shallow water near shore. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the answer to our problem. This species meets all the requirements necessary to provide any youngster with plenty of fishing action. The fish have an insatiable appetite, grow large, are easily caught, put up an incredible fight and can be found almost everywhere in the state. One of their best qualities, however, is that they continue to feed voraciously throughout the summer.

You've probably guessed by now that the fish I'm talking about is the common carp.

Though native to Asia, common carp were introduced in the U.S. as early as 1831. From 1876 to 1895, this exotic species was stocked in several North American states, including Missouri. At the time, carp were a popular sport fish in Europe. They soon lost popularity in the U.S., but they were already well established. The carp is now one of the most widespread and abundant large fish in the state.

The average adult carp weighs between two and eight pounds, but fish exceeding 20 pounds are very common. The Missouri state-record carp, caught in 1996, weighed 50 pounds, six ounces.

As with most exotics, carp have been detrimental to our native species. However, they are here to stay, so we might as well enjoy them. In addition to being edible, carp are also fun to catch. After all, that's why they were introduced here in the first place.

At first my wife and kids were skeptical about carp fishing, but I took to it with gusto. Once they saw how much fun I was having, they joined in. Carp fishing has now become a summertime vacation tradition for our family.

Gear and Bait

  • Fishing for carp is fairly simple and inexpensive. Just about any rod and reel will do, but I like to use ultra-light equipment to make it more challenging. Also, light test line tends to be more effective than heavy line. I usually use 4-, 6-, or 8-pound test monofilament line tied to a No. 8 or smaller bait-holder hook.
  • Even large carp have small mouths, so it's important to use small hooks. An ideal hook should be just large enough to hold two or three kernels of corn. A No. 10 or smaller treble hook is best when using dough bait.
  • Bobbers aren't necessary because you want your bait to sink to the bottom. A carp will drop a bait immediately if it feels the slightest resistance, so I rarely use a weight. If you are stream fishing in current, a weight may be necessary to keep your bait on the bottom.
  • Remember to set the drag on your reel properly. Hooked carp are notorious for making several long, quick runs. Your drag should be set fairly light to avoid line breakage. This is especially true if you are using 4- or 6-pound test line. It may take you 15 minutes or more to bring in a carp on such light line
  • Finding the right bait is not difficult because carp are omnivores, which means they eat just about anything. Aquatic insects are the most important item in their diet, but they also eat a variety of animal and plant material. Worms, dough balls and corn seem to catch the most carp.

How to Fish for Carp

Using corn for bait is effective, clean and inexpensive. I usually bait a site before fishing to attract more fish. Throwing the contents of five to 10 cans of corn in the water about 10 to 20 feet from shore will usually bring in a few carp.

Feed corn is cheaper than canned corn, but you have to soak it in water for a couple of days before using it. Some carp anglers mix oats, sugar, molasses, vanilla, garlic powder or some other "secret" ingredients with the feed corn to attract more fish.

You can increase your odds of catching more fish by throwing out more bait and prebaiting the site before fishing. Carp generally find a baited site within a few hours, but it may take a day or more before you see a large concentration of fish. Carp are very wary, so approach your baited site carefully to avoid spooking them.

Fishing in the backs of coves, between depths of two to eight feet, seems to work best. However, carp are such aggressive feeders that just about any site near shore can be productive. Make sure the area is clear of obstacles that could hang you up when you are fighting a big fish.

After baiting a site, put a few kernels of corn on your hook, cast it out and let your bait sink to the bottom. Carp are primarily bottom feeders and tend to feed more actively during morning and evening hours, but midday can also be productive.

After casting the bait, I generally close the bail on my spinning reel, but I don't reel the line tight. Instead, I leave a little slack in my line and set the hook quickly when the fish starts to tighten the line. Sometimes they just "tap" the line and move it slightly, so be prepared to set the hook. Once a carp feels the hook, it won't hold the bait for very long.

Experience has taught me not to leave a fishing pole unattended. Large carp can easily pull a rod and reel into the water. It's also not unusual to catch other fish such as bluegill, freshwater drum, channel catfish and buffalo while fishing for carp. Jeffrey and Nicholas, my sons, have caught several large channel catfish while fishing for carp.

Over two days, we commonly catch 150 to 250 pounds of carp and buffalo. Most fish run between five and 10 pounds, but we have caught several fish up to 30 pounds. Some of the larger carp and buffalo we've caught qualified for Master Angler Awards. The Master Angler Program was established by the Department to recognize the accomplishments of anglers who catch large fish in Missouri. To qualify for a certificate from this program, carp must be at least 32 inches long or weigh at least 20 pounds. To find out more about The Master Angler Program and the State Record Fish Program, contact any Conservation Department office.

Where to Fish for Carp

Finding a place to fish for carp is easy because they live in most lakes and large reservoirs and many streams. Our family primarily fishes for carp at Lake of the Ozarks, but you can find carp in almost any body of water close to home.

Our streams and big rivers provide some of the best carp fishing. In streams, carp prefer deep holes with little current near some type of cover, such as logs and brushpiles. In the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, look for carp in shallow backwater areas, side channels and scour holes or around dikes.

Just bait a site, wait for the fish to move in and then hold on to your rods! It won't be long before you're hooked on a cure for your "summertime fishing blues."

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer