The carp are still there for the taking

May 04, 2008|By BILL ANDERSON

Carp fishing has always had a following locally.

When I was too young to drive, friends and I would bike over to Dam No. 5 and soak doughballs made of oatmeal for the carp that were plentiful in that section of the river. In fact, the carp are still there, and the fishermen still line the banks to fish for them.

Many fishermen think of carp as trash fish, that they are fish of dirty waters and trashy environments. But that is not true, for I have caught carp in some of the most famous trout rivers in the country. The truth is that carp are found everywhere as they do well in just about all major water systems.

In this area, carp are quite common in local rivers and streams, and can also be found in most lakes and ponds. They are extremely prolific and will feed on a wide variety of food sources, including aquatic vegetation, aquatic insects, small fish and crustaceans. More than 40 years ago, veteran river fishermen told me about carp and crayfish, and that shelled crayfish tails are great bait for carp.


The subject of baits for carp is an interesting one, because there are many popular approaches. In my opinion, the uncomplicated approach is to use doughballs made from oatmeal. You take a small handful of dry oatmeal and dunk it into the river, squeezing the oatmeal into a small doughball big enough to cover your hook. Soak the bait in an area that carp are found and you will usually be rewarded.

Carp often take a bait with a powerful run, so you need to keep an eye of your rod or you may get to see it go skipping into the river.

To fully enjoy catching carp, you should use tackle that requires some finesse. A medium-weight spinning or casting outfit with 10- to 15-pound test line is usually about right for Potomac River carp that probably average 12 to 18 pounds, but can go as heavy as 25 pounds. I've caught and landed carp on lighter tackle while fishing for river smallmouths, but the fights can go on for much too long in my opinion.

Some fly fishermen around the country have discovered that you can spot and stalk tailing carp in much the same way that you fish for redfish or bonefish. Obviously, this approach requires clear waters that allow you to see the fish as they work the shallows for crayfish or hellgrammites. Some of the carp you catch will have scars near the nostril area from turning rocks to find crayfish and hellgrammites.

Late summer is usually the best time for this sight fishing, when the river water levels are low and the waters are clear. Several fly fishing guides in Pennsylvania now do a lot of late summer trips, specifically targeting Susquehanna River carp. They call them Susquehanna bonefish. The fishing requires good casting and presentation and a 20-pounder on fly tackle will test your skills and tackle.

If you are a longtime bass or trout fisherman, you probably won't ever want to make carp your favorite fish, but carp can make a great change up fish. And they give you a chance to tangle with one of the toughest customers swimming in your local waters.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail. He can be contacted by e-mail at

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