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Carp Trade - It's a Delicate Business!

By Joe Cornwall


At the World Fly Fishing Trade Show in Denver this year as magazine made me stop and look back so fast I almost gave myself whiplash.  A very kind young lady with a British accent was staffing the booth, and I approached with what must have looked to her like a serious mental problem.  My mouth was hanging open, my breathing shallow.  My wife was with me and smiled patiently as though having her spouse melt down in a convention center was a normal thing.  My voice was temporarily gone so Dee spoke for me.  “He’s a carp nut” she said smiling.  The booth lady smiled back.  “We get them at home, too” was her response.  The stimulus that had resulted in my mental malaise was a spread of magazines targeted at, of all things, the carp fishing industry!


The British accent was explained when I saw that the magazine was a UK publication.  I found out this exhibit was an early foray into the US market, and that the idea of a carp fishing trade was something just beginning to emerge in North America.  England, on the other hand, has been civilized much longer.


It’s been six months now and I still look forward to every issue of Carp Trade.  I am constantly surprised at the level of attention Cyprinus carpio commands in the European community.  Carp fishing has the level of dedication, the array of specialized gear, and the competitive nature I see in our own walleye and crappie fisheries.  Yet the carp, in America, remains the bastard stepchild.  Loved by many, it is respected by few.  It is even loathed, seen as a spoiler of “better” species and surreptitiously (and wastefully) terminated by an ignorant few.


I couldn’t resist the urge to explore the differences in the carping sport here and across the pond.  I immediately began work to make contact with the editor of Carp Trade, Mr. Jerry Bridger.  Over a couple of months Jerry and I carried on an email dialog.  I can say right now that I made out the better in this deal.  While Bridger is an expert carper, my own experience has been limited to chasing them with a fly rod.  When I’ve caught carp on bait it was almost always been while I was targeting another species.  On the handful of occasions that I did ground-fish for carp, I used mostly cereal baits (Wheaties) and a dough bait whose recipe is a once-removed memory of a concoction a relative reportedly used four decades ago.  The world of high-end carping was a strange new place for me.  And, as it turns out, the idea of sight fishing to carp with a fly rod may have seemed a bit odd to Jerry.  Here is the interview (of a sort) that came out of our email dialog:


Here in the states carp fishing is very much an "underground" fishery that doesn't get much respect.  That’s starting to change, but we are quite a bit behind the Brits.  I understand that there are carp "clubs" that feature private water, etc. in the U.K.  Is this expensive?  Is this an "upscale" fishery?


JB:       In terms of the cost for carp angling the prices can vary somewhat depending firstly on location of the fishery, secondly the stock of fish within that venue and thirdly the type of fishery that it may be, either a private syndicate or club water. The private syndicates are often limited to a very select number of anglers and are often by invitation only.  They can cost in the region of £1000 (ed note- $1,960 in 2006) per year. Club waters are more readily available to anyone who chooses to purchase a ticket.  The prices of these tickets could be in the region of £150 per year and are often much busier.


Is fly fishing for carp practiced at all in the U.K. or Europe?  I seldom see mention of fly fishing for carp in the British magazines.  What is the history and current state of the sport in that regard?


JB:       I would have to say that fly fishing for carp is not widely practiced although certainly some anglers have tried this technique with some success.

Do you see interest from American anglers in traditional British techniques like trotting, etc?


JB:       The UK has always been seen as the home of carp angling, although the popularity of the species has greatly increased across the globe. It is interesting that the species is still viewed as being vermin in some countries, especially when a single 40lb fish in the UK could be worth between £5000 and £10000 (ed note: $9,800 to $19,600, yikes!) depending on the strain of fish.


You say a fish's monetary value is related to its "strain".  What do you mean by that?  Are these trophy fish from documented lineages?  What constitutes a valued strain versus an ordinary strain?


JB:       Certain heritage fish, which are in excess of 50 years old, emanated from a fish breeder by the name of Donald Leney. These Leney fish, which originally came from Belgium, were stocked around the UK many years ago.  They have been the benchmark for what constitutes a true and historic and aristocratic English carp. There are many other fish breeders who are stocking many venues across the UK, some of which hold more prestige than others. It is very difficult to pinpoint because to a large percentage of the paying public a carp is carp and whether it is a home-grown heritage fish or a legal import from Europe there is seen to be little difference in preference to catch these fish.


I see that there is a move in the UK towards adding specific amino acids into boilies and baits.  Some of the material I read indicates that specific amino acids and flavors are used at particular times of the year or in specific watersheds. This is pretty heady stuff.  When did this scientific exploration of carp fishing begin and what has been its driving force?


JB:       The bait formulation is a science in it's own right.  It’s incredibly complicated and I would need a degree in inorganic chemistry to understand the flavours, appetite stimulators, essential oils, palatants and such that have been formulated over the years in the pursuit of finding the best carp attractor of all-time. My perception is that this practice became more documented in the 1980's with the emergence of Carpworld in 1988, and with the writings of Rod Hutchinson and many more who were geniuses of their time when it came to bait formulation.


What are the popular baits for carp in the UK? Most American anglers are fishing with corn, worms, and various cereals.  There is a bit of an influx of prepared baits, but it is a very small section of the market.  How do various natural and "casual" carp baits stack up in your bit of the world?


JB:       Carp angling has seen a renaissance over the past three years with natural baits, worms and maggots especially.  This trend seems to be switching back to the boilies (boiled food baits).  Off the shelf carp baits have greatly improved in quality over the past five years, and many of the shelf baits are excellent fish catchers.


In the US, sight fishing to tailing carp in lake flats or shallow water areas of rivers and creeks is the rage - with a fly rod or with a spinning rod.  Is this sight fishing a technique used in the UK?


JB:       Surface fishing with floating baits is an incredible way of catching carp during favourable weather and is probably is closest example of "sight fishing" that you mention. In terms of market effect and popularity the cost of the floating baits, which are nothing more than dog biscuits, is negligible when compared with the cost of pre-prepared boilies which sell for  £12 per kilogram ($10 per pound).  It is practiced by many people, but not all year round.  Many anglers are simply too lazy to contemplate this active style of angling.


Carp are very common in many U.S. waters. In fact it's not at all uncommon to find 30lb plus fish in many public waters. 50lb fish are possible in larger waters in most of the states. Is there a "travel industry" for UK carp anglers? Is the U.S. a travel destination location for European carp anglers?

JB:       I would say that the US is becoming a more popular destination for European anglers especially because of events such as the World Carp Championship that was held on the St Lawrence river back in 2005 and the Specialist Tackle International Carp Challenge which is now in it's second year. Both of these events have been widely publicised within the angling press within the UK and have firmly put the St Lawrence river especially onto the map. The efforts of the American Carp Society have been massive in the past few years and these guys are a huge credit to the sport and their commitment to increasing the knowledge and participation of specialist carp angling within the US must be noted. Holiday companies such as American Carp Adventures, a company ran by Jerry and Marcy Laramay based in Massena, NY offer a terrific service for European and American anglers alike and this company particularly have heavily advertised within the UK angling press. I acknowledge that the average UK or European angler probably doesn't see carp angling in the US away from the St Lawrence, but that is obviously far from the truth.

There is currently something of a "gray market" for rods, reels and gear manufactured for the European market here in the U.S. It seems that U.K. carp culture is catching on. What do you see as the biggest difference in U.K and U.S. carping techniques?

JB:       Without sounding arrogant many of the tactics used worldwide for carp angling are based on tactics conceived and honed in the UK. Many European anglers in years gone by would refer to using "English Methods" because these were the yardstick and most successful tactics that they had used. To draw comparisons if people wanted bass fishing equipment, then most anglers would look to the country where the techniques were most advanced and where the key writers were based - this causes people to follow trends. Personally I have not carp fished in the US, so I cannot comment as to specific local tactics.

What is looming on the horizon for carp anglers? What are the new, emerging fishing techniques and tackle and what new products are you and other U.K. carpers who are "in the know" most anxious to see?

JB:       More of the same, possibly the biggest innovation in recent years has been a series of Underwater DVD's produced by UK-based tackle giants Korda Developments. This company in particular has focused on the key aspects of rig concealment and producing off-the-shelf products which aid presentation and concealment. In terms of what is the next revolution, or the next boilie or next hair rig - who knows !!


Would you like to learn more about British carp fishing?  Point your browser to Matt Hayes TV  to watch some of the finest video podcasts the FFOhio team has ever seen.  Excellent picture quality and great narration really bring the carp fishing experience to life.  This is some heady stuff!


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