“Yuck!!! You mean to tell me you actually eat those nasty things?!” That’s the usual response I get when I tell folks about two of my favorite fish to catch and cook; the silver and bighead Asian carp. If you have your finger on the pulse of major conservation issues in the lower 48, I don’t need to tell you that the Asian carp epidemic is an ecological disaster which has infected the major river systems and surrounding wetlands of America. From southern Florida to the Canadian border, Asian carp are ravaging ecosystems, destroying native fish populations and wildlife habitat, and now threaten to enter the Great Lakes. These invasive species have also negatively impacted regional economies that depend on renewable natural resources for their financial health.
Natural resource experts have come to firmly believe that the only viable solution to the long-term management of these fish is to promote large-scale harvesting and utilization efforts through both commercial and recreational fishing. However, it’s been extremely difficult to motivate fisherman across the land to get after these fish for two main reasons. First, is a major lack of knowledge about these fish, and secondly, is the task of actually catching, processing, and cooking them.
Unbeknownst to most Americans, the silver and bighead Asian carp are actually two of the most nutritious and delicious fish on the planet! In thousands of blind taste tests, they have been preferred almost unanimously over catfish, tilapia, cod, walleye, red snapper, and other popular whitefish. The bottom line: these invasive fish which have been a curse to our native ecosystems have the potential to be a tremendous blessing if managed properly and utilized…especially at the dinner table.
These are all topics that I’ve covered in other blog articles, videos, and in much greater detail in my book Eat the Enemy. But for this article (which there is a video version of as well) I’ll be offering an overview of four of the most fun and effective methods for catching these fish.
Since the silver and bighead carp are filter feeders, which is one of the reasons they stay clean and healthy, even in not so clean and healthy water, this is also the reason that they generally cannot be caught using traditional rod and reel methods, such as using live or prepared baits or coaxed into striking a variety of lures. However, there are several highly effective and incredibly fun and challenging methods for harvesting these fish. Here’s a quick overview.
Boat and Net Method
The most common way that people “catch” the Asian carp is actually by accident. As has been showcased on news reports and countless YouTube videos, the jumping Asian carp leap out of the water en masse when startled by boats that pass by, or over, a school. Many boaters, jet skiers, and other water sports enthusiasts get clobbered by these fish, and sometimes get seriously injured. It’s not uncommon for recreational boaters to end up with many Asian carp on the deck of their vessel after zooming over a school of them. In fact, there are now fishing tournaments around the country aimed at reducing Asian carp numbers in which this is the primary method of harvest.
There is nothing too complicated about this method. It’s simply a matter of loading up a cooler with refreshing beverages and some snacks for the day and heading out for a cruise on the Asian carp-infested waters of your choice. You’ll know good and well when you have located the fish as they will jump out of the water all around you. Some people work in teams and go in circles or go back and forth through an area of water over a big school of carp to really get them stirred up and jumping like crazy. After the fish are good and agitated and leaping everywhere, it’s simply a matter of letting them jump in your boat or catching them out of the air with a big dip or landing net.
Rod and Reel Methods
As I mentioned, catching the silver and bighead species of Asian carp on traditional rod and reel is not generally an effective means, since they are filter feeders and consume microscopic plankton, not baitfish or other food items that predatory and omnivorous fish seek out. There are some exceptions to this though. Snagging Asian carp with big, heavy jigs and spoons, with large treble hooks attached, is a popular method. Or, simply using a large snagging hook such as those commonly used for catching paddlefish can work as well. While the snagging method is a viable means of harvesting Asian carp, it generally needs to be done from a boat for it to be most productive. Typically, fishermen using this method use a fish finder to locate large schools of Asian carp, then anchor right over them or slowly drift through the school and jig/snag in a vertical fashion. Done correctly, this style of fishing produces great results. To successfully snag large quantities, many fishermen set up right below dams or other obstructions where Asian carp tend to gather in large numbers.
Trying to catch Asian carp using the snagging method from the shore, however, is a little more challenging. Casting horizontally through large schools of fish startles and disperses them very quickly. It certainly can be done, but vertical jigging will produce much better results. There are also techniques for catching Asain carp on a fly rod, which utilizes a method commonly used by fly fisherman in Alaska for catching sockeye salmon.
In addition to the snagging method of harvesting Asian carp with a rod and reel of fly rod, there is Asian carp specialty gear on the market, most of which comes from, well, Asia! These specialized tackle rigs allow one to catch the fish in a more traditional manner. One popular Asian carp fishing apparatus, of which I have seen homemade versions as well, essentially looks like a small wiffleball with several short strands of stout fishing line protruding from it with small hooks attached. The slotted plastic ball is stuffed with a variety of prepared dough baits and fished under a bobber, as Asian carp tend to dwell in the middle of the water column or just below the surface. Ideally, as the dough bait disperses, it attracts the Asian carp, who start picking around and eventually snag themselves on the small hooks. While they can be caught with such gear, again, since silver and bighead carp are filter feeders, these rigs are much more effective on common carp, grass carp, and similar species.
One of the most popular methods of harvesting Asian carp, is bowfishing. In recent years, since the Asian carp population explosion, bowfishing has become wildly popular! It’s challenging, very effective, and it’s an absolute blast! Bowfishing can be done from a boat or on foot, stalking the shorelines.
A similar method to bowfishing, and even more exacting, is that of gigging Asian carp. Like bowfishing, the gigger stalks the shoreline or floats along quietly in a vessel of one kind or another to make an approach. Upon spotting a fish, one has to as stealthily as possible thrust the gig with enough accuracy and force to impale the carp and then quickly and carefully maneuver the fish out of the water without allowing it to flop loose from the gig and escape. Gigging is generally limited to very shallow water or in areas where the carp hold right under the surface within gigging range. Often, Asian carp will work their way back into narrow and shallow tributaries and feeder creeks along larger rivers. They may also be present in small isolated pockets of water in wetland areas due to previous flooding. Such settings are ideal for gigging.
If you’d like to find out more on these topics and much more, check out my book, Eat the Enemy, Turning the Asian Carp Invasion into Health Delicious Cuisine. It’s a complete guidebook to catching and cooking the Asian carp, including 50 mouthwatering recipes. Click on the image below to order today.