5 alternative sportfish
Tired of following the crowd? Try casting for these less-popular species
It was lunchtime on a typical spring day in Ottawa when linguistics professor Rob Stainton grabbed his fishing rod and breezed out of his office at Carleton University. Upon reaching the nearby Rideau River, he started casting a jig tipped with a plastic grub. For Stainton, fishing for smallmouth bass was a great way to unwind, and soon the first fish struck-but it was anything but a bass.
Several heart-pounding minutes later, he landed a 10-pound fish with a leather-tough mouth and lead-coloured scales as big as loonies. A carp. Stainton smiled as he slipped the fish back into the murky water. A few casts later, he hooked, fought and landed its twin. A piscatorial conversion was in the making. “Since that day I’ve become a fanatical carp fisher,” he says. “I’m a total addict.”
He’s not alone. Thirty-seven-year-old Stainton is among a growing number of anglers who have begun fishing for a variety of species long ignored by the less-enlightened majority. Like the international visitors already drawn to this country’s overlooked fisheries, they see value where many others see garbage: less competition, a fuller season, more thrills and-often-a tastier meal.
What’s more, the rest of us can thank this new breed of angler for helping reduce the pressure on our favourite, mainstream gamefish-if we’re not thanking them first for introducing us to a whole new world of Canadian sportfishing, that is.
Carpers, as carp anglers like to be called, converge each spring on the St. Lawrence River near the southeastern Ontario town of Morrisburg. They come from England, Holland, France, Belgium, China and Germany, and they come for just one thing: the opportunity to catch huge carp weighing as much as 50 pounds.
Evelyn Marshall sees first-hand the excitement these fish can generate. She and her husband, Senator Jack Marshall, run Inn by the Park, a bed-and-breakfast in Morrisburg. Not only is Marshall a carper, her nephew, Kevin White, operates the Canadian St. Lawrence Carp Club out of her inn. Every year between May and October, White leaves his job as a cable repairman in Liverpool, England, to run this catch-and-release guiding service.
To international carpers, especially the British, the nearby St. Lawrence is carp heaven. “The boys just go crazy over here,” observes Marshall. In England, after all, carp are stocked and discussed with the same reverence North American anglers reserve for bass, walleye and trout. And these guys are definitely fanatics.
Clients depart the inn after an early breakfast and usually don’t return until well after dark. Sometimes they fish all night, sitting in specially designed chairs with retractable legs that fit the contours of the shoreline. If they doze off, they awake instantly when a bite sets off a beeping alarm with red flashing lights. When the weather’s bad, they take cover under domed tents.
Typically, they’ll battle as many as 40 carp, some approaching 50 pounds. And the only complaints you’ll hear will be about the local bowfishers killing or wounding the bragging-size carp they’ve come halfway around the world to catch and release. Not that carp don’t make for good eating-many even consider them a delicacy-but Kevin White and Co. are determined not to do anything to even chance undermining their coveted fishery.
And how does Marshall deal with all this carp mania? By slipping away herself for a few hours of carping. “I’m a big, strong woman, but these fish fight like crazy,” she says, noting that her personal record is 38 pounds. “You might think you have a 60-pounder on and it’s only a 30.” Carp, anyone?
Scientific name: Cyprinus carpio
Common names: European carp, German carp, leather carp, mirror carp
Range: Asia, Europe, North America (where they were introduced in the 1830s by way of England)
Habitat: clear or turbid water in low-altitude lakes, ponds and rivers with sub-average oxygen levels and good weed growth
Diet: worms, crayfish, shrimp, chironomid larvae, mollusks, seeds, some types of algae and aquatic weeds
Recommended tackle: nine- to 12-foot, medium- to heavy-action rods; 20- to 30-pound-test line; rod holders; bite alarms; bait such as corn, chic peas, trout pellets, earthworms, chicken livers, oatmeal doughballs and boilies (homemade or commercially manufactured baits made of various ingredients, including chopped luncheon meat flavoured with pineapple, banana and chocolate)
This article was originally published on March 1, 2002