How To Catch Carp
When you fish for carp you can be as simple or as complicated as you like. In The
British Isles and many parts of Europe carp fishing is an art. The tackle, baits and
techniques used are very refined and foo-foo. You can use the long match rods and fancy
rigs on Utah Lake if you want but it is like bringing a gun to a knife fight. Not necessary.
In truth, all you need is a medium weight spinning rod, a decent reel with a good
drag system and 6 to 10 pound quality line. That will handle any carp in Utah Lake. Some
folks prefer heavier tackle or baitcast gear. It is all a matter of personal preference. You
usually do not have to make long casts with heavy weights and most fish will average under
about 5 pounds. That is big enough to challenge your fish handling skills but seldom too
much for average gear…if you don’t try to horse in a fish before it is ready to join you.
When fishing close to shore for cruising and visible fish you do not need to add
weight to your baited line. Just cast it out and then watch the line for twitches. Carp often
nibble lightly…even the big ones. If you need help in detecting bites…or want to keep the
bait up off the bottom…use a small bobber. Set the hook whenever you detect anything
different. Then hold on and make sure your drag is properly set.
Carp are mainly vegetarian…dining on aquatic growth and the blooms, leaves,
roots and fruits of shoreline plants that drape or drop in the water. In early spring they
can sometimes be seen slurping windblown lines of cottonwood fluff from the surface.
Utah Lake carp are omnivorous…eating a wide range of food items. They have to be to
survive. It is very competitive with all of the fish in there and with the limited amount of
food during some times of the year.
These “buglemouth bass” dine on both the larval and adult stages of the abundant
midges in the lake. On some calm early mornings you can see individual fish moving
slowly along a surface “wind drift” line of bugs that have emerged and died the night
before…and have fallen into the lake. A good time to bring out the fairy wand.
Utah Lake has a lot of muddy bottom that is host not only to the aforementioned
midge nurseries but also to hordes of leeches and other invertebrates. To a carp these
goodies are all on the menu. They become patterned to slurping up almost anything that
looks edible and has a “food” smell. That is probably why plain old worms are so
universally effective for carp. Carp love worms and seldom turn them down.
UL carp are also piscivorous and cannibalistic. They eat their own young and those
of other species. It is not uncommon for anglers dragging a minnow for cats or walleyes to
find a set of ugly golden lips attached to the hook meant for other species.
Okay, so carp will eat a lot of different stuff. But carp are carp…and carp
everywhere will respond to bread and dough baits. You can often catch them on nothing
more than a piece of moist bread wadded up and pinned on a hook. It may not stay on the
hook long but if there are hungry carp below it won’t last long anyway.
You can buy prepared dough baits for carp…and you can make your own. There
are lots of recipes on carp fishing websites. Some are pretty exotic. But even the simplest
will usually do okay for our unsophisticated and competitive Utah Lake carp.
Surprisingly, there are lots of carp caught on the jigs, spinners and hardbaits fished
for other species in Utah Lake. These fish are omnivorous and opportunistic. If something
potentially edible enters their feeding zone they will often take a swipe at it. They are
especially susceptible to small jigs “sweetened” with bits of night crawler…being fished for
white bass, crappies or bluegills. However, if you are specifically targeting carp you will
usually do better with the aforementioned natural baits.
Possibly the one exception to the last statement would be when using flies. A good
fly flinger with a good assortment of flies can sometimes get into more carp action than
someone soaking “natural” baits. Carp eat a lot of aquatic invertebrates so they are
accustomed to sipping in the bitty bites when they appear before them. They usually just
sip…not strike…so you have to be attentive and know when the sip occurs. Lots of finesse
techniques in fly fishing for carp. Almost like fishing for finicky troutskis.
One final method of catching carp…by use of fishing tackle…is “force feeding”.
This is the refined euphemism for snagging. Almost anybody who has fished artificial
lures for other species has had the enjoys of battling in a snagged carp. These are variously
classified as “side smackers”, “tail takers” or “dorsal diners”. And, in spite of the
professed disappointment expressed by the anglers…at least to their fishing buddies…these
incidental bouts are often welcomed as providing some kind of action on days when
nothing else wants to play.
There are plenty of anglers who deliberately try to snag carp…either for bait or just
to “stretch their string” on something besides rocks. Carp often cruise near the surface or
form large “carp clumps” in the early mornings. When they do they become good visible
targets for those that want to “force feed” one. It is usually a simple matter to cast the jig
you have been throwing for white bass or walleyes across the visible fish and then drag it
into them. Wait until you feel the pressure of the fish and then set the hook. Jerking the
hook into the fish before feeling them is not usually as effective.
When trying to snag carp with small jigs you might be surprised once in a while to
feel the thump of a solid take and find yourself attached to a carp that sucked in the jig and
has been hooked in its ugly kisser. That is a good argument for just swimming your jigs
into the fish rather than trying to snag them by jerking. Carp do hit lures. Fighting one
that is hooked in the mouth is more fun and less work than dragging one in by the tail.
But, if your objective is just to kill carp and help the Junies (June suckers) you can
rig up with heavy gear and a big treble hook…and you can jerk away as hard as you want
to. When you can get close to a carp clump you don’t even need any weight…just the hook.
And, a word of advice, it is illegal to use a weighted treble hook even for carp. If DWR
catches you with a deliberate snagging rig you could be eligible for a contribution to the
state wildlife fund.
Carp fish come in many different species which are unique and highly sought after. Catching carp is not hard especially if you are familiar with the required techniques not to mention that their population is high and especially along their feeding areas. Carp can be caught both during the day and at night hours and fishing for this species is always fun and rewarding. Fishing can be done using various equipments and techniques with some of the most commonly used being baits, rigs and chumming.
Chumming is normally a great way whenever you want to lure carp to an area where they can easily eat thus giving you a chance for the catch. This method should however be allowed within your fishing area to avoid trouble with the authorities. You can use bird seed, corn flour, bread or fishmeal among other types of food to chum carp fish before throwing your line into the water.
Carp can also be caught using baits and this is a very popular method among many fishermen. The most commonly used type of bait is that of boiled paste or dough made from a combination of fishmeal, soya flour, milk proteins, semolina, eggs and bird foods. Commonly referred to as boilies, these baits are highly attractive to carps as they crave proteins and can therefore be attached to a hook which you cast into the carp-inhabited waters and wait. Patience is key when using the bait.
You can also use a fishing hair rig as a bait for carp fish. Normally, before swallowing their food, carps will mouth it and then casting it out of their mouth. You can therefore use a hair rig which has a tiny line connected to the hook bend thus holding the bait. Due to its size, carps will easily inhale the bait with ease and is hooked as the fish tries to throw the bait out of the mouth thus giving you a chance for the catch. Carp fishing is one of the best ways to learn fishing and these simple techniques can really be helpful.
Carp are somewhat less than loved. They are ugly, they cause a lot of damage, they
ruin fisheries and they have been found to be “blessed” with high doses of PCBs in Utah
Lake. That renders them unfit for human consumption even for those who might
otherwise want to invite them home for dinner. Not much incentive to fish for them.
Howsomever, carp are worthy opponents on the end of your line if you can overlook
all of their previously listed negative attributes. More and more anglers fish primarily
catch and release anyway. And more and more anglers of all ilks are swallowing their
pride and taking up rod and reel to do battle with buglemouths.
If you do a comparison of carp against most of our more popular “game fish” the
carp will stack up favorably on many points. Good looks? Nope. But, if you consider that
they have good eyesight and are wary of anglers you can put them on a par with most
trout. Willing to take a fly…but only if properly presented. Just as tough as a wily old
brown trout. Size? Not many other fish in Utah grow as large or as fast. One of the best
candidates for putting a bend in your stick and stretching your string. Hard fight? They
are arguably better battlers than bass of comparable size. And a tough 10 pounder can put
a whuppin’ on even an experienced angler with stout tackle.
So, let’s say you don’t care what your family or your fishing buddies might say and
you wanna catch some carp…on purpose. Where do you go and what do you do?
There are probably more places around Utah Lake where you can catch carp than
where you might not be successful. But there are obviously going to be some spots that
have more carp, more of the time, than others. And there are times and places where the
carp are more likely to be receptive to bait, lure or fly than others. Likewise, there are
some approaches that are going to be more successful than others…most of the time. Let’s
explore the variables.
When the early Mormon pioneers first found Utah Lake it was clear, clean and full
of big cutthroat trout. So great were the numbers of these trout that they were harvested
wantonly over the next few years…commercially and for sport. Countless trout were also
killed by careless irrigation practices that diverted water from the Provo River directly
into farmers’ fields…often during the trout’s annual spring spawning runs.
By 1880 the trout population was decreasing greatly. European immigrants were
instrumental in getting carp introduced into Utah Lake. They were raised on carp in their
countries of origin and had no prejudices toward them. It was supposed that carp would
survive well in this lake and provide an additional source of fish for the settlers to eat.
Carp survived TOO well. They proliferated and destroyed most of the aquatic
vegetation that other species in Utah Lake needed for spawning and protection. This also
resulted in a degradation of the overall habitat by reducing oxygen and increasing
sediments. The carp were doing fine but most of the native species…including trout…were
At one point during the early 1900’s Utah Lake fell to an average of only about 1
foot deep…due to a combination of overuse of the lake’s water by farmers and industry
and by a prolonged drought. Bye bye trout but Katy bar the door for carp. When the
drought was over the lake rose again and the carp population exploded. They have been
the major part of the total biomass in Utah Lake since then. By the early years of 2000 it
was estimated that carp comprised over 90% of all fish in the lake…by total weight.
Since the native June Suckers were put on the national endangered species list there
has been a federal June Sucker Recovery Program. Part of this program includes funding
for the commercial netting and destruction of many tons of carp annually. The plan is to
aggressively remove carp until the population can be reduced to the “tipping point”, where
natural mortality and predation will keep the numbers of carp more or less constant.
There are a lot of predators in Utah Lake. They eat bajillions of young carp each
year after the spawn in the spring. White bass, walleyes, catfish, bullheads, perch, crappies
and even the larger bluegills gorge heavily on newly hatched carplets…from sac fry stage
until they grow too large to gulp down. Unfortunately, baby carp grow fast and by the end
of summer they are already several inches long…too big for anything except larger
walleyes and catfish. Predators are not keeping carp numbers in check.
One of the positive things about carpkind is that they make good bait. If you are
able to find and harvest a good quantity of the fry…in the 2” to 5” range…you can freeze
them for year round offerings for white bass, cats and walleyes. All UL predators love
carplets…at any time of year. Hungry fish don’t take time to do the math and figure out
that the 3” minnows you are feeding them in September are too small for that time of year.
Similarly, strips of carp meat are good bait just about any time too. I like to fillet
and skin the carp I keep for bait and then freeze small chunks of the skinless boneless
fillets. I thaw it just before going fishing and then cut it into the proper sized bait pieces
while on the water. You can use big pieces…to catch bigger fish. But I catch more cats
and sometimes bigger cats by fishing smaller “bite size” pieces. The important thing is to
keep it as fresh as possible. Catfish seem to like it best fresh and bloody.
As mentioned, there are carp all over Utah Lake. Far too many carp. But, there
are a few places where they like to congregate and fishing is likely to be both easier and
more productive. If you like to wade and fish you can walk into the water at many points
around the lake and watch for visible fish before putting out bait or casting flies or lures.
Lots of good shoreline access and this type of fishing can be fun and rewarding.
If you fish from a boat you can launch at any harbor…or from some shorelines if
you have a small enough craft. If you will be fishing from a float tube or pontoon you have
a lot more launch options. Fishing afloat will not only allow you to cover more area but
will also help you to locate and work on the offshore cruisers…and the carp clusters that
often form on the surface early in the morning. These fish are not always actively feeding
but will sometimes suck in a fly carefully dropped in or near them.
If you are strictly a ”bank tangler” you need to look for spots that are easy to reach
on foot and which offer safe access to the water’s edge for dealing with hooked fish…if you
are lucky. Most of the harbors provide good access and are also popular gathering spots
for large numbers of carp. These fish like it inside harbors because of all the people who
feed the ducks with pieces of bread…or whatever. That can make it even easier to “get
connected” to a carp. Just put a hook in a piece of bread and cast it upon the waters.
Popcorn works too. Properly programmed carp will suck it up.
There are large areas of accessible shoreline at both The Knolls and across the lake
at Lincoln Beach where you have free access and easy fishing for grundles of carp. Of
course your success will depend upon the water temperatures and clarity, season of the
year, recent weather patterns, natural food availability, etc. But if you set up in a likely
spot in a comfy lawn chair you will usually have a chance at a parade of passing carpinskis.
PROPER USE & DISPOSAL
Believe it or not, carp are good eating. They have a firm flaky flesh that is
surprisingly mild in flavor and responds well to many methods of cooking…especially
smoking. The major downside is that they have a lot of small flesh bones that require
special filleting and stripping to remove them before cooking…or special cooking to
neutralize the bones.
That being said, it is not recommended that you keep Utah Lake carp for human
consumption. There is a Utah Fish Advisory (at http://www.fishadvisories.utah.gov/) that
lists carp from Utah Lake as being contaminated with unsafe levels of PCB. While studies
are still going on about what safe levels really are…and what the consequences are from
excessive consumption…it is probably not a good idea to conduct your own tests. Plenty of
other good fish to eat that are not listed on any advisories.
That brings up the question then…”What do I do with the carp I catch from Utah
Lake?” The first part of the answer is KILL THEM. Utah Lake does not need more
carp…and there is actually an eradication program in place. Many of us have an inner
reluctance to wantonly kill any creature that we will not be putting to good use but we
should learn to suspend that feeling when it comes to carpkind. It ain’t like they are a
fragile and endangered species. To the contrary, they are largely responsible for the
decline of many other species…in Utah Lake and elsewhere.
The second part of the answer has a lot of variables. First of all, do not leave them
floating or laying on the shoreline. Dead carp are sometimes eaten by birds and shoreline
animals. But they seldom eat all of each fish and there is plenty left to rot and stink on the
bank. That is unsightly, unsanitary and unfair to others who come to the lake to enjoy it.
If you only catch the occasional carp…accidently or on purpose…you might want to
save it for catfish bait or take it home to “enrich” your garden soil. Otherwise you should
kill each carp, perforate the air bladder and let it sink to the bottom of the lake. There it
will decompose and will add nutrients back into the ecosystem.
Let’s say you participate in a major slaughter of buglemouths…bow fishing,
snagging, angling or whatever. Good for you…doing your part for the Junies. But how do
you dispose of large numbers of expired carp? Again, you can ventilate them to reduce
buoyancy and then take them out into deeper water and “release them unharmed”…to
sink into the ecosystem. Or you can get permission from a commercial interest with a large
dumpster and “make a deposit”. But this is best if you time the “download” to coincide as
closely as possible with the next pickup for the landfill.
If you plan to make regular large “withdrawals” from the carp ATM at Utah Lake,
you might consider contacting farmers that raise pigs…or mink…or other animals that
would welcome these scaly meals. Otherwise, the best and most sanitary option is to make
a personal run to the closest available landfill operation to dispose of your haul properly.
Don’t just dump them on public land or in somebody’s driveway…unless you REALLY
REALLY dislike them.
It is also suggested that you do not dump them in a dumpster without permission.
Many businesses pay high fees for waste disposal service and they get touchy about
someone using their available capacity for something as lovely as a truckload of dead carp.
It can only be hoped that as the June Sucker Recovery Program continues, and as
more people become involved in the carp eradication program, that there will be facilities
established for public disposal of dead carp.
THE CARP ERADICATION PROGRAM
For several decades…and several generations…the Loy family of Utah County has
maintained an ongoing commercial seining operation for the carp in Utah Lake. Over the
years they have harvested countless tons of them. These fish were once in high demand for
the once-prolific fur breeders…mink farms. It was also popular with big city ethnic
markets, with populations from countries where carp were more appreciated as food.
In late 2005 tests were conducted on a few carp from Utah Lake and they were
found to contain unsafe levels of PCBs. That effectively wiped out the commercial market
for Utah Lake carp and potentially put the Loy carp seining operation out of business.
However, since part of the June Sucker Recovery Program included aggressive reduction
of the carp biomass in Utah Lake the Loys were contracted to continue seining them. But,
instead of being able to sell them they have to dump them in a landfill.
The federal government is funding the ongoing carp removal program. New funds
must be approved each year…for a specific tonnage of carp. It is hoped that within a few
years enough carp can be removed from the lake to reach a “tipping point”…at which the
predators and natural attrition will keep the carp numbers within a “manageable” level
and help restore a semblance of ecological balance to Utah Lake.
It is still questionable whether or not a “limited” reduction program can ever
succeed in dropping the carp biomass to a point of natural sustainability. After all, the Loy
family has been removing vast numbers of carp every year for decades and the carp
population is still astronomical…an estimated 90% of the total biomass of Utah Lake.
To see a video of the actual seining process…both open water and through the
ice…you can view the YouTube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6u7r0dbw1I
The picture above shows how the seining operation works in open water. Two boats
work together to stretch the seine around a school of carp and then pull the ends together.
Winter seining requires that the nets are fed into a hole and then pulled out across
the area to be netted through a series of connecting holes cut around the large perimeter.
Long wooden slats are used to push under the ice from one hole to the
other…attached to the end of the pull line. When it finally reaches the opening of the
“catch hole” the end of the rope is pulled out and attached to portable winches.
The ends of the haul ropes are attached to the portable winches and the first phase
of the haul begins…pulling in the ropes until the ends of the net appears in the hole.
As more of the haul rope comes in the ends are taken a distance away and the rope
is coiled into plastic tubs for the next use.
Both ends of the net come up through the catch hole and the bag of fish is secured.
Note that there are several species in the net…including white bass, crappies, bluegill,
catfish, largemouth bass and walleyes. Most of the “bycatch” is measured, weighed
released by members of DWR who attend many of the netting sessions.
Hoisting the carp into a small trailer which will take them across the ice to large
trucks waiting on shore. There is a conveyor belt that loads them onto the truck.
Since carp are not a protected species they are legal to shoot with bows…but not
crossbows. It is also illegal to shoot them with firearms. But if you have an old recurve
bow…or a modern compound bow dialed down to a pull of about 30 pounds…you are set
to go perforate some carp. You don’t need a big hunting bow for close range carpin’.
In the shallow waters around the edge of the lake you only need some old field tip
arrows. But you should also have a big net to chase down fish that do not roll over at the
first arrow. In deeper waters, where you are at risk for losing arrows, you should rig your
bow with some kind of fish arrow, line and line storage system (reel).
You can find carp on or near the shoreline around many parts of the lake through
most of the warmer months of the year…especially on warm, calm mornings. But the best
shooting happens when the carp swarm the shallows all around the lake during the spring
spawning activity. This can happen beginning in April and extend clear into June. It is
dependent both on water temperatures and weather. They prefer water temps above 65
and reasonably calm conditions. Otherwise they just swim around offshore and rush in to
spawn during brief periods when everything is just right for them.
Carp start clumping up and then rolling in the shallows about mid-April most
years. It will vary from year to year depending upon weather patterns and the number of
warm spring days that add some heat to the shallows. Look for them first either inside
protected areas, like harbors, or in shallow flooded fields where the water warms up faster
than the deeper water in the main lake.
The area around Lindon is typically a good place to start looking for frisky carp in
the spring. They hit the shorelines around the inside of the harbor any afternoon that the
sun brings water temps up around the 65 degree mark. There are also some spots on both
sides of the harbor that have flooded areas behind the reed beds that the carp seek out
when they warm up as well. There are almost always some surface slurping carp clusters
early in the morning, all over the lake, when the time is nigh for spawning. That activity
seems to be some kind of carp dating service.
Some of the best carp shooting is around the Lincoln Beach area. There is a big
shallow cove to the south of the boat launch channel. It receives some warm water from
nearby springs as well as being shallow and protected…so it warms sooner than many
other areas. I like to go out fishing early in the morning and get an idea of the number of
carp clusters on the surface. Once the water warms the clusters disappear and I start
hearing the sounds of fish wallowing in the shallows. That is my cue to return to shore in
my float tube and trade fishing tackle for a bow and some fish arrows.