Avoid live carp as bait to protect lakes

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JEFFERSON CITY MO - Silver carp and bighead carp are non-native Asian fish that can cause big problems. This year, biologists have noticed them congregating below dams and outlets for levee and wetland systems.

While fish from both species can top 50 pounds, regarding lakes, it’s the young carp that fishery biologists are worried about this autumn. They swim up shallow creeks and rivers to spillways and stilling basins below dams, which puts them within easy reach of casting nets, seines and minnow traps used by anglers to capture catfish bait.

“We don’t want them transported out of the river systems into the lakes,” said Jake Allman, a fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “It’s illegal in Missouri to use Asian carp as live bait.”

Large silver carp can leap 10 feet into the air when startled by boat motors, which can cause serious injuries to passengers in moving boats and tear up gear. Both silver and bighead carp are plankton feeders and they deplete food used by native sport fishes such as bass and crappie when they are young. One native sport fish, the paddlefish, feeds on plankton through its entire life cycle.

“If we get them in reservoirs,” Allman said, “we could see our largemouth bass numbers decline. These things are prolific spawners. They can fill up a system.”

Silver carp and bighead carp were imported into the United States by commercial fish farmers. Due to releases or escapes caused by flooding, they’ve spread in recent decades and thrive in many rivers.

The most likely way that Asian carp will reach a lake is if anglers carry them in water-filled bait buckets onto the lake. A live fish being placed on a hook can flop into the water, live bait can escape from hooks and anglers are prone to dumping unused bait into a lake when the trip is over.

Anglers traditionally use cast nets in lakes and shallow waters to catch small fish, such as gizzard shad, for catfish bait. But, there’s a close resemblance between shad and small Asian carp that are two to six inches long.

“At some dams in northwest Missouri, thousands of shad and Asian carp are swirling together this fall in spillways. They are drawn by water rich in the plankton upon which they feed,” Allman said. “Plentiful rains this year have led to strong water releases, which helped attract large numbers of plankton feeders upstream.”

Anglers can use Asian carp as bait if the fish are dead. It is recommended that netted bait fish be placed on ice in coolers. The temperature shock kills the carp but keeps them fresh for use as bait.

Anglers should use caution when using live bait in any lake or river, including small community lakes. Unused bait from any source should be dumped in the trash rather than into the water.