I have lived in many states including Missouri, Tennessee, Maryland, Kentucky, Florida and most recently Michigan. I am an avid barbecue enthusiast and have written a bbq blog about it for 8 or 9 years at this point. I used to compete in professional barbecue contests, but rising costs and a lack of corporate sponsorship priced me out of that hobby. While looking for a new hobby, I found a few carp videos on YouTube.com.
I caught my first carp at Ford Lake in Ypsilanti, MI in July 2013.
If you are like most of the people in my family, close friends and a few co-workers I have told about my carp fishing exploits; you might not be familiar with fishing for carp. You might be familiar with or fished for bluegill, crappie, bass, red fish, snook, and maybe even grouper; but unless you already fish for carp you may not realize their true potential as a sport fish.
So please keep an open mind and continue reading, I’ll do my best to convince you that the common carp are getting a bad rap and hopefully convince you that fishing for carp is a great idea.
Early Years: Angling for Bass and Bluegill
I started fishing in the family pond in Missouri.
After receiving an honorable discharge from the Air Force as the Vietnam War was winding down, my dad purchased a small farm near Jamestown. We lived in a 12’ x 60’ single-wide trailer located in the northwest corner of a former cow pasture.
The farm had 1 acre pond that was well stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and a few channel catfish. The pond had a large rock on the north bank. During periods of heavy rain the rock was completely submerged, but in drought conditions the rock was completely visible and made a nice place to fish from. My earliest memory of fishing is when I was about five years old my dad and I spent Sunday afternoon fishing at the pond for the first time. He sat me on the rock with a Zebco 404 reel mounted on a 6-foot fiberglass rod. The rod was rigged up with a standard fishing line in the neighborhood of 8 lb. test, a single-barb hook with common red wiggler onboard, and a medium-sized plastic bobber.
I don’t recall whether I actually caught any fish that day or not, but I do remember my dad caught several catfish. Seeing the fish and the fun of it all piqued my interest. It was all quite simple. Throw out a hook with a worm. Watch the red and white plastic bobber and when it sinks below the waterline; pull hard and start reeling as fast as you can.
Those were the days before satellite service and cable television. We were lucky to get the three primary over-the-air national networks ABC, CBS, and NBC. The traditional rabbit ear antenna was useless where we lived. There were too many hills, trees, and distance between the transmitters. So my dad mounted a bigger antenna outside next to the house. My mom would stand in the living room with the door propped open while my dad manually rotated the large antenna outside with his hands. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it did not, so we spent a lot of time outside in the summertime.
Lucky for me those summer evenings included periodic return trips to the pond. Sometimes the entire family would go; mom, dad, brothers and sister. One time, I remember running up to my dad for help tying on a hook with an artificial worm and almost stepping on a water moccasin. Or could it have been a cotton mouth? At any rate it didn’t make any difference to my dad because he immediately loaded us all back in the truck and our night of fishing ended almost as quickly as it started. We returned to the house empty handed many times, but we probably caught at least one fish 2 out of 3 trips to the pond.
Most of the time, we traveled from the house to the pond in the back of my dad’s pick-up truck. My dad and mom sat in the cab and with four kids, poles, and tackle box sitting in the bed of the truck. My dad would back the truck up to within a few feet of the pond’s edge and drop the tailgate. We didn’t always to it, but I can remember fishing at least a few times while actually standing in on the back tailgate.
My mom or dad helped thread a red wiggler on the hook. Sometimes my dad would cast the pole and hand it to me. When I got a little older, I learned to cast it myself. By the time I was seven or eight, I could fish completely by myself.
I continued fishing in that pond for the next several years whenever I could convince my mom or dad to take me there. After I got a little older, I even convinced them to allow me to ride my bicycle back to the pond by myself.
The only thing that would keep me from fishing was periods of dry weather, because we had to dig our own fishing worms for bait. Hard, dry ground made finding fishing worms very difficult. To a fourth, fifth or sixth grader; worms were a valuable commodity. No worms meant not fishing. A ready supply of wigglers offered hours of free entertainment. We didn’t know what a video game was at that point and I think we would have chosen fishing over “Pong” in those years anyway.
One Sunday morning I convinced my grandpa to help us and he suggested we dig behind the chicken house where water ran off the roof and the ground near the building was shaded for a big art of the day. We hit the jackpot and found a lot of worms in that spot. It’s a little unclear to me for sure, but back then we counted everything. I think we dug somewhere north of 60 worms that morning, which provided worms for several trips back to the pond. Thanks to the lesson from grandpa we learned that during the driest months the hog pen and shaded side of the well house would usually produce 15 or 20 worms amounting to a couple of hours’ worth of fishing.
One time in the early 1980’s when I was 12 or 13 my brother and I caught 17 bluegills in less than 2 hours one September afternoon. Another time we actually had the school bus drop us off at the alfalfa field on the way home, so we didn’t have to walk the extra distance to the pond all the way from the house. That day turned out to be one of the best days of fishing I can remember as a kid. We would barely get the worm threaded on the hook and tossed into the middle of the pond before another fish jumped on the line for us to reel in.
A year or two later, we moved away from that farm to a house in the very small town of Lone Dell near St. Louis. I wasn’t crazy about moving there at all. To an eighth grader, moving to a new school is a pretty tough proposition. I left the basketball team, baseball team, and few friends that I had for the unknown.
It was a long drive following behind the moving van, but 3 hours later we arrived at our new home. All was soon well with the world though because our new home had a pond in the front yard! I fished there every chance I got. It was a bigger pond, but as luck would have it this new pond was under-stocked with fish. Catching fish of any size and more than a couple here and there was a tough proposition, but doable with a little patience. Within a couple of years we moved again and access to fishing was extremely limited for while.
In 1990 during my senior year of college at Westminster College in Fulton I rekindled the fishing bug again. It was spring, good weather and the school year was winding down. Looking for some more free entertainment, I headed to Wal-Mart and purchased a Shimano spin caster, some 12 lb. monofilament and a Shakespeare Ugly Stik. I fished at the city park, the county park, the pond behind the grocery store, and anywhere else considered public property that I could walk up to and cast out a line.
Fishing styles had changed since my days sitting on the rock in our farm pond. Single hooks and bobbers yielded way to plastic worms, plastic spinner baits. My favorite lure that year was the dual diamond blade Strike King variety. It made a big commotion in the water and was the perfect lure for anyone with a short attention span. Fishing that lure was pretty simple by casting and retrieving; casting and retrieving all day long. It also happened to be the lure of choice that year for the fishing gurus hosting the Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon fishing shows on TV. There were several of them that I watched religiously. Roland Martin from Florida, Babe Winkleman from Minnesota, and Jimmy Houston from Oklahoma were all very popular, but my favorite at that time was Bill Dance from Tennessee.
I became reacquainted with fishing techniques and theory by watching Bill Dance Outdoors on Saturday and Sunday afternoons on The Nashville Network (TNN). At that time in the early 1990’s the guy wearing the University of Tennessee baseball cap with the friendly southern drawl, was the best known fishing personality on TV, in commercials, and at appearances throughout the country. I listened to every word he said about fishing and must have watched a hundred episodes.
If I’d had more money at the time, I’m sure I would have spent a lot of it on fishing tackle that he recommended on the show. I spent hours and hours flipping through the Bass Pro catalog day dreaming about having enough money someday in the future to buy a fiberglass Ranger bass boat, with a foot operated trolling motor, live well, Hummingbird Fish Finder, and 4 cylinder Mercury outboard. While reading the Bass Pro catalogs page-by-page, I could vividly imagine and almost literally feel the sun’s warmth on my arms, wind whipping through my hair, and water spray hitting my skin as I piloted the boat across the lake on the way to my favorite bass fishing spot. I would have even settled on an inexpensive metal bottomed Bass Tracker or Lowe sans the live well, powered by an inexpensive Johnson outboard. I had the fishing itch – real, real bad. Some called it a bass fishing fever supplemented and spurred on by regular episodes of Bassmasters on TNN highlighting bass fishing professionals like Denny Brauer, Guido Hibdon, Jimmy Houston, Rick Clunn, and Kevin VanDam.
After class and on Saturdays in March and April I made the short drive to the Little Dixie Wildlife Area between Fulton and Columbia. It’s a 205 acre lake that is well-stocked and maintained by the Missouri Department of Conservation. I haven’t been there for many years, but in 1990 there was plenty of shoreline fishing access. I caught many, many bass there using a Strike King spinning bait with the popular yellow and white colored skirt. I must have caught 30 to 40 bass that spring on the same lure. One afternoon I even caught enough bass to bring some back to the fraternity house. I cleaned them and we served them for supper later that evening.
After college graduation, I moved to Kentucky for my first job. Up to that time, I was fishing every day or two in Missouri. But in Kentucky, I had more difficulty finding small lakes and ponds that were accessible for fishing from shore. Kentucky has some fantastic bass fishing lakes, but access is much better with a boat. I later moved to Tennessee and found it to be very similar for someone without access to a private pond.
Not having a boat, and not having friends who did, put an end to my bass fishing adventures.
I didn’t fish again for 24 years.
Beginner Carp Fishing
When I started fishing exclusively for common carp I must have performed 30 or 40 Internet searches for “how to carp fish” and “catching carp”. Many of those searches on Google.com, Yahoo.com and YouTube.com returned very informative videos, blogs, and discussion forums about how to fish for and catch carp. Many of those resources helped me tremendously and shortened my learning curve and helped me catch carp sooner versus later. I skipped over a lot of the trial and error experimentation that would have occurred without those resources.
I caught my first carp July 21, 2013. My wife and I headed out to Ford Lake in Ypsilanti, MI after work for a few hours of fishing. Totaling 975 acres, Ford Lake was created by Ford Motor Company to generate hydroelectric power for their manufacturing plants in the 1930’s. It’s just a few miles from my home in the nearby Belleville/Van Buren Township area, so there will be many, many more trips to the lake which is one of the best known lakes in Michigan for carp sport fishing.
During my second visit to Ford Lake specifically for the purpose of catching carp, I hooked a large carp within 90 seconds or so of the first cast. It was so fast that I hadn’t even set up my fish net yet. As you might imagine there were a few anxious moments trying to reel in the fish and grab the net, which wasn’t even unfolded yet. It was definitely a Bad News Bears fishing moment, but predictable I guess since it was early-on in my carp fishing exploits.
If you want to catch big fish from the shoreline without a boat, give carp fishing a try.