November, 2006
Total Carp

February, 2002
  Watertown Daily Times

  September, 2001

more articles...



Karen Kelly
September 15, 2003

A strange phenomenon has been occurring on a river in the Great Lakes basin. Anglers from Europe have been arriving in growing numbers to fish for something most of the locals won't touch - the common carp. But that foreign interest is beginning to attract greater attention. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Karen Kelly reports that some believe carp fishing will offer new hope for a struggling economy:

(sound by river)

Many call the St. Lawrence River an angler's paradise. 750 miles long, it's stocked with gamefish like salmon, pike, bass and walleye.

But the area surrounding it is sparsely populated and a little rundown. It's never caught on as much of a tourist destination - until now.

(sound at registration)

It's ten minutes before the start of the first international junior carp tournament - and the scene in this Waddington, New York arena is one of organized chaos.

Clumps of teenagers are standing in line, impatient to register. Harried looking volunteers are handing out instructions and bags of free bait as quickly as they can.

"Your pegs are at the customs house, okay?"

It's the first time an international carp derby has been hosted on the St. Lawrence - and it's one of the largest ever held in the U.S. There are 92 registrants - and they've come from places such as Britain, Italy, Canada, California and Chicago. Top prize is 10 thousand dollars.

Martin James is a fishing correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation and an avid carp angler. He says in Britain, the carp reigns supreme.

"The attitude towards the carp in the United Kingdom, is it's the number one sports fish. There's more people fish for carp than any other species of fish. It's a billion dollar business.

(outdoors sound)

For people who grew up around here, that idea has taken some getting used to. Most locals go after fish they can eat - like walleye and bass.

According to the New York health department, carp is loaded with toxins. And so they've come to be known as trash fish, unsafe to eat.

There's even a bow hunting season for carp in which the fish are killed and discarded.

Local angler Doug Sholette is one of the marshals for the fishing derby. But he admits he's never tried carp fishing.

"So even coming into the tournament, you were a little bit skeptical about..." "Actually about touching it. I'm like it's a carp, you know?" "And you're the marshal!" "Yeah, I guess I...I thought about wearing gloves. But they gave us a rundown and what the Europeans think of carp changes your whole attitude."

That's what fishing guide Jerry Laramay has been waiting to hear.

For five years, he's been leading carp fishing adventures on the St. Lawrence for anglers from all over the world. He's also been just about the only local to try it himself. Laramay helped organize the tournament with the hope of convincing his neighbors that this so-called trash fish is a valuable resource.

"Can we affect the economy in this area? Absolutely. In this general area, it's an impoverished area, as far as our economy goes. I mean, we have to use these resources. God gave us the St. Lawrence River in front of us, if you're not going to use it, you're a fool.

(yelling – "There it is!")

Kids come running down the beach as 13 year old Josh Schrader pulls in the first carp of the day. It's a moment of excitement but also a learning opportunity. British angler Phil Saunders quickly hops into the water with a net and starts giving instructions.

"Okay, put him in the sling..."

Saunders carefully lays the fish on a padded mat and then lifts it up to be weighed.

(11 pounds 4 ounces. "Alright Josh!")

Saunders checks the fish to see if it has any wounds that need treating. Then he gently releases it. The Europeans never eat them. Before the tournament, both the adult volunteers and the kids in the derby were given a crash course in so-called carp care. The reasoning is simple. Take care of the fish, and the catches will grow even bigger.

But Jerry Laramay says, for him, the need for conservation goes beyond sport fishing. He says he's seen a lot of wildlife disappear.

"If we don't start protecting our natural resources, we're not going to have them anymore. And one day the carp will be gone also."

(We haven't even caught any big fish yet...)

As the day wears on, a clear winner emerges. Warren Dolan of London, England pulls in one carp after another, while most of the lines around him remain still. He's come to the derby with extra poles, bags of special bait imported from England and expert gear to deposit it over the water. The kids who live here rely on borrowed equipment. But three of them still end up in the top 10. And many more are going home after reeling in a 10 or 20 pound fish. Jerry Laramay hopes the experience will create a new generation of St. Lawrence anglers - and new hope for the communities where they live.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I'm Karen Kelly.

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