Invasive (silver and bighead) carp were imported into the United States to clean algae from tanks in commercial fish farms and sewage treatment plants. Due to releases or escapes caused by flooding, they’ve spread in recent decades and thrive in many rivers. They are also becoming a threat to lakes.
Fish from both species can top 50 pounds. 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.
The most likely way that invasive 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 invasive carp that are 2 to 6 inches long.
Anglers can use invasive 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 contained and put into the trash rather than dumped into the water.