May 27, 2009
Carping for the Soul
Thomas Vielhauer, field technician and first mate for McGrath and Associates Carp Angling Services, holds a 27-lb. carp. The fish's scars, protruding snout and calloused lips indicate that it foraged for its food in a protein-rich ecosystem. (Photo by McGrath and Associates.)
Guide Mike McGrath used Kyogoi bait to attract this 15-pound carp. (Photo by McGrath and Associates.)
Oswego County is full of Carp.
Its namesake river is flooded with them; so are Oneida Lake and its outlet, the Oneida River; Lake Neahtahwanta swarms with them; the Little Salmon River and Salmon River estuaries, and North and South Sandy Ponds host great quantities, too.
Capable of growing in excess of 50 pounds, these gentle giants are members of the minnow family. They spend their time plowing through shallow water, cruising the deep, or swimming on the surface, sweeping up every morsel in their path with vacuum cleaner efficiency. Algae, grain, vegetable, insect, fish, it doesn't matter; so long as it's organic.
They're also the toughest critters in the drink, able to withstand water temperatures that would parboil a trout, and oxygen levels so low they would suffocate just about any other species. Sided with some of the largest scales in freshwater, they look like Civil War-era ironclads. And if you hook one, it'll subject you to a Spartanesque battle that will have your biceps screaming for mercy.
Like most Americans, carp are immigrants. Shortly after the Civil War, our nation's freshwater fish populations were nose diving from over-harvesting. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed the US Fish Commission to study the matter and offer solutions. The USFC's 1873 report “Fishes Especially Worthy of Cultivation” listed carp as the species offering the most protein for the buck. In 1877, 345 carp were imported from Germany. In no time, the states took to them like cats to tuna fish and stocked them into their waters where they prospered beyond belief.
This was about the time America's waterways were feeling the first effects of widespread water pollution. Instead of blaming municipal and industrial discharge pipes, our forefathers saw carp numbers mushrooming and blamed them. As a result, carp were treated with extreme prejudice for most of the last century.
Environmental awareness and our present day appreciation for all living things brought about a change in attitude. Currently, carp are rapidly gaining respectability again. And while wild specimens don't taste as good as walleyes, perch, pike, you name it, their fight when hooked is earning them a reputation as fresh water's bonefish--a highly-prized sport fish found on the shallow flats of Southern coastal regions.
Indeed, when word about our incredible carp fishing swept overseas--the species is a popular sport fish in Europe and Asia--foreign anglers started coming over here for carp fishing vacations. Americans climbed on the bandwagon, forming the American Carp Society, promoting humane, catch-and-release treatment of this freshwater behemoth.
Central New York boasts the state's greatest carp habitat, primarily in the Oswego River drainage--in fact, the Catch-and-Release Professional CARP tournament Series just held its Northeast Regional on the Seneca River in Baldwinsville, May 14-16.
The fishing is so good around here, Michael McGrath started a guide service: McGrath and Associates Carp Angling Services (315-469-5039; ).
A traditionalist, McGrath climbed his way to carp expert just like his Japanese counterparts: by apprenticing under a master. His teacher was the late Brian Holland of Waterville, NY. Hailing originally from West London, Mr. Holland is on record for two 50-pounders that he caught in France.
McGrath considers carp a thinking man's fish. Although they're ubiquitous, “you have to do your homework to take them consistently,” claims the American master. He's got the international carp fishing techniques down pat, everything from the highly specialized fishing tackle and bait (pastes comprised of grits and other grains) to the scaffold-type rod holders and electronic beepers that allow the human mind and body to do other things while waiting for a bite.
Although carp purists will spend thousands of dollars keeping up with state of the art equipment, these brutes can just as easily be taken by leisure-time anglers with standard gear, and baits found in every kitchen. Kernel corn, baked potato, and bread balls made out of white or Italian breads work fine. Enhance you chances for scoring by chumming--throwing in a bunch of bait around your offering to draw fish.
The cities of Fulton and Oswego, and the villages of Brewerton, Phoenix, and Caughdenoy offer lots of public access, complete with boat launches and bank access. Minetto is also a hotspot but access is limited. “We're working on it,” says McGrath
For sheer numbers in May and June, fish the pools and pockets in fast water; larger fish hang out in the deeper waters of the canal.
For more information go to www.visitoswegocounty.com or call 800-248-4386 and request an Oswego County Hunting & Fishing guide. For updated information on what's happening in Oswego County's big backyard, check out Spider's blog: www.fishingandhuntinginoswego.blogspot.com/.
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