View Full Version : WSJ: For Some Anglers, The Lowly Carp Is A $1 Million Catch

02-16-2005, 01:06 PM
Wall Street Journal
February 15, 2005

For Some Anglers,
The Lowly Carp Is
A $1 Million Catch

Fans Hope to Boost Image
Of Pollution-Loving Fish
With a Big Tournament


ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- In weather so foul that most people won't leave their homes, at a power-plant discharge pipe most people avoid, Mark Metzger likes to sit for long hours hoping to catch a fish many people would like to exterminate.

Such is the lonely life of the carp fisherman, long scorned as the bottom-feeder of American angling.

"When you mention carp, it's sort of like a four-letter word," admits Mr. Metzger, wading shin-deep in slush on the snowy bank of the Potomac River on a 30-degree Sunday morning.

That's about to change, if Mr. Metzger gets his way. He and a few fellow carpers -- as they call themselves -- are making a bid for public acceptance, hoping to elevate the whiskered, rough-scaled, pollution-loving, bad-tasting carp to the rank of trout or walleye by bringing the 10-year-old World Carp Angling Championships to the U.S. for the first time this June. To sweeten the pot, the American Carp Society, a for-profit group, is offering a $1 million grand prize, an enormous sum for a tournament-winning bass, much less a carp.

In the U.S., the carp needs a face-lift. After all, carp are ugly, with down-turned lips and full-body slime. Most Americans don't eat carp. Many anglers consider them an invasive species, because they were brought to the U.S. in the late 1800s to restock dwindling fresh-water fisheries and feed a wave of Eastern European immigrants. Now they are thought to threaten the native fish and waterfowl.

The Global Invasive Species Database lists the common carp as one of the 100 worst offenders in the world.

Then there's the uncomfortable fact that carp survive nicely in the most polluted urban waters, an attribute that gives carp fishing all of the cachet of rat hunting. A carp-fishing tournament in Austin, Texas, next month wryly specifies that only carp -- not tires -- count for winning prizes.

Little wonder that BASS LLC., the bass-fishing organization owned by Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN network, boasts 550,000 members, while the not-for-profit Carp Anglers Group claims just 700.

But for carpers, carp have an attraction that many high-end, freshwater sport fish do not: They get very, very big and live almost anywhere. A monster common carp can weigh more than 50 pounds, with fish in the 20 pound to 30 pound range fairly common. The biggest large-mouth bass ever documented weighed 22 pounds, 4 ounces, and even a bass enthusiast might never catch one heavier than 7 pounds.

"The idea of fishing is to catch a big fish," says Mr. Metzger, a portly, 44-year-old custom clothier with a black goatee. "If you just caught small ones, what would be the point?"

Mr. Metzger caught the carp bug growing up in Glencoe, Ill., on the shores of Lake Michigan. As a boy he would sell carp to the local fish mongers, who turned them into gefilte fish, a Jewish specialty commonly found on the Sabbath dinner table. As he grew up he moved onto bass, perch and wahoo, but two years ago heard the call of the carp again when he ran into a Frenchman pulling a 24-pounder from the Tidal Basin, near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington.

Now he fishes in the mornings on the way to work, stopping afterward at a health club to shower away the carp scent. Even on the coldest winter days, Mr. Metzger lugs his gear across the railroad tracks, climbs down the Potomac River bank and fishes between the ice floes at the hot-water discharge pipe of a coal-fired power plant in suburban Alexandria, where the carp gather to enjoy the warmth. He is now the Washington chairman of the Carp Anglers Group, which has three members in the nation's capital.

It was no coincidence that Mr. Metzger caught the carp bug from a Frenchman. In the past two decades the fish has become enormously popular in Europe, where it is said to be a multibillion-dollar industry. European carpers travel to Romania and France to fish pay-as-you-go, catch-and-release ponds.

Britain is the mecca of carpdom. Anglers there carry antiseptic to treat the carps' wounded lips before they release them back into the water. London newsstands are stocked with Advanced Carp Fishing ("Voted Britain's Top Carp Magazine") and Total Carp ("The U.K.'s Biggest-Selling Carp Magazine"), which offer carp portraits for cellphone screens, toffee-scented bait sprays and package carp-fishing tours to Canada and France. The carp craze extends to Asia, where Koi, a goldfish-style carp, have long been revered. Restaurants in Baghdad maintain pools of live carp, and diners can pick the one they want when they order one of Iraq's signature dishes, mazgouff. The carp is then killed with a wooden mallet, splayed open and cooked around a firepit.

Now, American carpers figure this is their moment to break into the big time. These days they sell "Carpe Carpio" (Seize the Carp) T-shirts, put out a carp newsletter and disseminate literature singing the praises of carp. They organize carp socials, submit procarp articles to newspapers and print up carp-oriented business cards to give to curious passersby. One carp-promotion guide advises:

*"Know and pass on the history of the carp in the USA."
*"Fish in public places where lots of anglers can see you."
*"Teaching the ways of carp angling, as well as safety of the carp, should always be your number one concern."
Serious carpers go to great lengths to protect the fish from injury. They use barbless hooks to avoid tearing the carps' lips, and after they pull them from the water in special scale-safe nets, they place them on padded carp mats so they don't get scraped by the rocks.

The contrast in carp care was especially sharp in Austin, where Dave Moore, the 39-year-old co-owner of the 100-member American Carp Society, engaged in a fruitless months-long bureaucratic brawl with Texas bow fishermen over fishing rights. Bow-and-arrow fishermen inevitably kill the fish they shoot and often leave them to rot on the shore or bury them as fertilizer in gardens. Bow fishermen brag in online chat rooms of killing 1,000 pounds of carp in a single day. Mr. Moore, a financial planner, tried for months to get bow fishing banned in Town Lake, one of the premier trophy-carp lakes in the country. He was horrified at the thought of a European carp fisherman -- accustomed to paying big money for the right to fish -- visiting Austin for an angling vacation and seeing carp being slaughtered. "Talk about a P.R. nightmare," he says.

"If legally you can slaughter them by the hundreds," Mr. Moore says, "the public's perception is those fish must be worthless." The American Carp Society sells carp-fishing gear, and Mr. Moore figures that if the sport catches on in the U.S. as it has in Europe, he'll be well-placed to cash in on a huge industry.

A well-equipped carp fisherman might carry thousands of dollars in gear specialized for the art of catching the voracious bottom feeders, as opposed to the fast-moving cast-and-retrieve technique of bass fishermen. Typically, carpers set up adjustable racks called pods, which can hold up to three rods at a time. Each line passes through an alarm that beeps when a fish hits the bait. Mr. Metzger's usual pod setup costs $1,500.

The carper usually seeds the waters with kernels of corn or flavored dough balls called boilies, hardened to discourage nuisance fish, which carpers consider to be any fish that isn't a carp. Some even have radio-controlled boats that dump bait off shore. Mr. Metzger, who favors boilies scented with strawberry, pineapple and butter, uses a special jai-alai-style throwing stick and special carp slingshot to launch his bait 30 or so yards offshore. The idea is that when the carp shoal moves through the area, the fish will Hoover up everything on the bottom, including the chum and the hooked bait.

In the meantime, the fishermen wait patiently under special umbrella-like carp lean-tos and rest on reclining carp camp chairs. Mr. Moore even has a carp baby monitor so that he'll hear the line alarm if he falls asleep while fishing at night.

Mr. Moore and the American Carp Society were instrumental in luring the World Carp Championship to the U.S. from its usual venues in France and Romania. The open tournament will be held in June on a 40 mile-stretch of the St. Lawrence River near Ogdensburg, N.Y. Two hundred two-man teams from as far away as Russia will fish around the clock for 115 hours. The team that catches the greatest total weight of carp takes home $100,000. Anyone who breaks the New York State record of 50 pounds, 4 ounces for a single carp gets $1 million, paid out over 40 years. The prize is guaranteed, for an $11,500 fee, by a Las Vegas odds-making company.

Mr. Metzger and his fishing partner have put up the $2,500 entry fee, but he admits it has been a struggle trying to find corporate sponsors, like the ones lining up to get their product names emblazoned on professional bass fishermen. "It's kind of frustrating when...the door is slammed in your face," Mr. Metzger says. So far, he has managed to sign up a fishing-line company, a newspaper, an insurance agency, a crawfish farmer and a towing service.

"I'm hoping somebody rises to the occasion, because it's the next big craze in fishing in the United States," he says.

Write to Michael M. Phillips at michael.phillips@wsj.com
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02-16-2005, 09:42 PM
The google ad below this post was for "carp singles." Maybe I can meet an available carp for a date--I hope she's hot! (shh, don't tell my wife!)

Classic carp moment on the sudbury:
2 bass anglers drift by me in their bass boat, one is the expert the other one the novice. The expert ignores me as he goes by with the trolling motor--I've been on to a fish for about 10 minutes and the line is smoking off my reel again (he saw I was hooked up and kept his distance). The novice now realizes that I have a fish on and am not snagged and is getting very excited, but the expert ignores him. I slide a fish on shore just shy of 20. Now the novice is practically jumping out of the boat--its the biggest fish he's ever seen. The expert is busy flipping his jig into a fallen tree, not catching bass, still ignoring his buddy. Finally the expert says its just a carp, and motors off. I bet he was really proud of the 2 lb bass he caught that day.

They're just carp, they live in dirty water. Don't fish for them, anyone can catch one. right?

02-20-2005, 03:42 PM
I have yet to hook one on a fly. They are damn frustrating!