- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2008

Several fellows flew in from England just so they could catch an American carp; one came from from Serbia, another from Canada, and the rest from just about every corner of the United States, including Al St. Cyr of Texas, who some time ago won $250,000 in a fishing contest. They all arrived at Hains Point in downtown Washington in the early morning hours to hook common garden variety carp, of which the Potomac River has an abundance.

Please don’t ask the local bass and striper fishing fanatics what they think of carp and what should be done with them. You’ll instantly get a hand motion across the throat and plenty of sneers. The poor dears simply don’t know.

The bass hounds would probably change their minds if they’d shown up to observe the nearly 60 participants line up against the rain-soaked railings along the Washington Channel, rods at the ready, to compete in last week’s CAG Carp Classic, a North American carp fishing championship. CAG stands for Carp Anglers Group, and its members are as devoted to their sport as any you’ll ever meet in other fishing circles.

Talk to Paul Ockenden, 44, of Stilton, England, who came to Hains Point in a rental car, carrying a heavy backpack filled with carp-baiting materials such as marble-sized boilies - a cooked, dyed and flavored dough bait. He also carried an enormous pail filled with kernels of corn and something he called range cubes that are made of ground grain. “It’s gerbil food on steroids, and the carp love it,” Ockenden said with a smile, while fellow Englishman Phil Saunders nodded approvingly. Saunders is from Essex, England, but currently lives in Annandale.

Before long we ran into Mark Metzger of Silver Spring who serves as CAG’s national marketing director and also is the District’s CAG chairman.

Metzger, the proprietor of a custom apparel shop, Highcliffe Clothiers, in Middleburg, Va., ran the CAG affair with military precision. Each contestant was assigned a certain spot along the lengthy railings that only hours before - during a very high tide - had been half-submerged. All the contestants brought long, slender spinning rods and high-class bait-runner reels filled with monofilament line. Ockenden’s reels were loaded with 15-pound-test mono to which he attached a footlong leader of very thin braided line and a size 6 hook, with a 3-ounce sinker dangling below a sliding fish-finder rig.

Most of the anglers used three rods that rested on special contraptions outfitted with sensitive electronic buzzers, warning systems that sounded off sharply the moment a carp (or catfish, as I saw several times) sampled the baits. They also brought “catapults,” which Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would have called slingshots. They were used to “seed” the water with corn and other goodies, hoping to draw carp to any given area.

The CAG members at the Hains Point event paid $25 in annual dues and now vied for a championship trophy, a “jewel-encrusted” belt buckle, and a trophy for being the Fox International Carper, the contestant who caught the four biggest carp. Ockenden won the belt buckle in 1996 when he caught the biggest carp in a similar contest.

The Englishman has hooked carp up to 44 pounds in his homeland; his biggest American specimen was a 38-pound, 10-ouncer. (A 75-pound, 11-ounce common carp caught in 1987 in Lac de Cassien, France, is the all-tackle world record, and in 1983 local angler David Nikolow hooked a 20-pound line class world record in the Potomac’s Tidal Basin that weighed 57 pounds, 13 ounces).

During all carp outings, the fish are carefully netted and placed on small, soft rubbery blankets with handles known as “unhooking mats.” The fish are measured, weighed and quickly released, perhaps to be caught again.

“A carp is like a freshwater bonefish,” said Metzger, whose pickup truck tag frame says “World’s Greatest Sportfish.” “The only difference is that carp have shoulders.”

It’s a salute to a tough-fighting bruiser that does not give up as easily as a bass might.

James H. Hopkins of Silver Spring totally agrees with Metzger. “I enjoy this type of fishing immensely,” he said. “I began targeting carp in 1997, and I’ve been a member of CAG since 2001. It has been a wonderful experience.”

When it was all over, Indiana’s Rick Slinker won the title of North American Carp Champion for catching the “Big Four” - the heaviest four carp. Slinker also won the Fox International Carper trophy (named for a British carp tackle manufacturer) for the biggest total weight caught. Slinker’s best four fish weighed 68 pounds.

Pennsylvania’s Tim Petrak caught the biggest single carp, a 26-pounder. He won the title of CAG Carp King and received the coveted belt buckle.

cLook for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Gene Mueller’s Inside Outside blog on www.washingtontimes.com/sports.

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