To catch a carp

SA fishing tackle suppliers have capitalised on the popularity of carp angling and the many ways to catch this voracious fish.

To catch a carp
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Throughout South Africa, one freshwater fish dominates the number of recreational man-hours and amount of money spent in trying to catch it. This fish is the carp (Cyprinus carpio).

Bolstering its popularity even further is the fact that carp fishing has an incredibly strong conservation ethic, with the practice of catch and release entrenched in the minds of particularly those who target trophy-size fish.

Indeed, so strong has this practice become, that fishery managers struggle to persuade anglers to keep juvenile fish and release only adult, sexually mature fish.

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There are only two legal ways of catching a fish – either by curtailing its mobility using nets, or by appealing to its seemingly limitless appetite by using palatable food items as bait in which a hook is embedded. The former method is legal only under a commercial netting licence. It is not quick and easy, as a complicated environmental study first has to be completed. This has led to an explosion of illegal netting in public dams as the demand for cheap, high-protein food escalates.

For recreational and sport anglers, however, the accepted practice is to create a feeding spot that will attract carp. This seemingly simple tactic has spawned a major industry in the manufacture of bait and in terms of carp fishing media.

Magazines, videos, television programmes and DVDs offer a multitude of “how-to” advice, while professional carp fishing guides have appeared to stake their claim in the growing carp fishing ‘industry’.

Carp bait is a subject that has dominated conversation and debate among anglers for decades, with everyone who casts a line for carp on an endless search for that ‘magic’ bait. This, of course, does not exist. Although a carp is, strictly speaking, an omnivore, plant material is high on its list of favourite foods. No one knows who the first angler was to discover that maize and wheat are extremely attractive to a carp. After all, these crops certainly do not grow in water! But the vast majority of carp bait is based on the seed of these two crops and their products.

From the earliest days of carp fishing, wheat flour and maize meal have dominated carp bait. Plain flour dough and maize porridge were highly successful, but anglers, being an innovative lot, soon began adding other ingredients, either as flavouring or as colourants, all for the purpose of grabbing and holding a gluttonous carp’s attention.

Today the basic maize and wheat baits are complemented by other crops such as seed of hemp (a legal variety of the species Cannabis sativa which contains a minute amount of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient that makes dagga a narcotic drug). Tigernuts (corms of Cyperus esculentus), sorghum and sunflower are also favoured, with mixtures becoming increasingly refined as bait manufacturers and anglers seek to outsmart the wily carp – and one another!

Anglers have also discovered that carp have a distinct preference for sweet foods, so sugar has become very important. Modern additives include a host of fruit flavours, with raspberry being highly popular, along with strawberry, vanilla and peach.

Flavours such as custard and curry are still successfully being used. Other popular and effective flavours include garlic and cheese. It is rare to find bait additives in a tackle shop with a common name on the label – manufacturers have dreamt up hundreds of fancy and esoteric names in an attempt to gain a winning edge in the extremely competitive bait-additive market.

There’s a similar approach to the colour of the bait. Red and green are favourites, and this is done by either dipping the bait into a powder or a liquid. Red and green fluoresceins (dyes) are the most popular additives.

A basic carp rig consists of a sinker on the end of the line, a loop tied above it that holds a hook, and another loop above or next to it that holds the ground bait holder. Most carp rigs use two hooks to double the angler’s chance of hooking a carp. The ‘business end’ of a carp rig is the hook tied to the line – its job is firstly to carry the bait, and secondly to penetrate the fish’s mouth.

Just as with baits and additives, manufacturers and leading carp anglers have, over the years, experimented and redesigned hook patterns to suit all the various kinds of bait imaginable. There are hooks designed to be used with soft paste and dough, hooks for use with harder particles, while some have been designed to turn inside a carp’s mouth for effective penetration, and so on.

The gauge of the hook steel also varies – competition carp anglers require lighter gauge wire, while specimen carp anglers need heavier gauge wire hooks. There are hooks with an inline eyes, while others have offset hook eyes. In addition to the hook design, there are also different sizes, with a #1 being larger than #12, and a 1/0 being smaller than a 12/0.

A lead sinker at the end of the line provides sufficient weight for the angler to cast the baited hook. Its other use is to anchor the baited hook in position at the bottom of a dam. Lead has been the material of choice for sinkers, but today other materials such as tungsten are increasingly being used.

Sinkers are available in various shapes and sizes – a ball, a bullet or a pear. Some are tied to the line, while others have the line running through them – it all depends on what the angler wants to achieve. Apart from the baited hook and sinker, a bait holder is used to hold a ground feed mixture. It is anchored close to the baited hook and serves to attract the carp to the baited spot.

Innovations over the years have led to the development of ground feed holders of various shapes and sizes. Some are designed to release small amounts of feed over a period, while others disperse the contents immediately.

• Eugene Kruger is a freelance angling journalist and leisure fishing consultant. He is editor-in-chief of two angling magazines and South African representative of the International Game Fish Association.

• Contact Abré J Steyn on 083 235 4822 or at [email protected], with “Field Sports” in the subject line.