The one advantage that we have is that not many people fish for the carp over here; the people here have that old buffalo mentality 'well, if it's not good to eat why fish for it'. Now that's to our advantage. Trouble is when they do catch one they invariably kill it and throw the 'Goddamn trash fish' up on the bank or sell it to the inevitable Vietnamese who always seem to appear out of nowhere when a fish is caught. Now there is our up-and-coming problem. These guys are smart and learn very quickly, everything they catch goes in the pot. That is another story and steps on sensitive ground. So back to the matter at hand 'CARP'.
Southern California hosts many acres of water. Some are vast reservoirs that dwarf the ones at home and some are relative in size to lakes I fish when I am back in 'Gods own'. (I crave for a decent pint every day.) Well, it was about a year and a half ago that I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I had just returned back to San Diego after a stint in Russia managing an Atlantic salmon fishing camp on the Kola Peninsular. I knew that there were plenty of carp around and decided to find them. Over the next week I travelled around, spinning rod in hand, walking around as many lakes and talking to everyone I saw fishing for bass, asking if they had seen any carp and if so how big. I would get mixed receptions as I expected but one day I ran into a young lad who was quite the bass fanatic and he told me that I should go to Santee Lakes "There are hundreds of them there and big too". Pay dirt. I immediately got the map out of my car, found their location and off I went full of piss and vinegar. Driving into the Santee Lakes Park I was not to be disappointed - I had found my Colne Valley of the Americas.
There are seven lakes all together, they were created when the San Diego water district built a dam. Two of the lakes, six and seven, are for campers only, there is no night fishing allowed. So I don't camp or fish them, although they have plenty of carp in them, so I am told. The other five have enough fish to suffice my needs. After walking around all the lakes with my spinning rod, catching the odd bass I was planning my approach. I came across two guys fishing, one of whom was playing a large fish which obviously was a carp. They played the fish to the bank and promptly netted it and put it on a stringer which already had four other fish on it. All were twenty plus with the most recent fish around the high twenties. Oh God, I thought, they are off to the local Chinese with the lot of them. After asking what they intended to do with the fish, to my relief they replied 'We put them in lake five because they will close this one for the winter, and this is where all the big ones are'.
They told me that they thought that the carp was a great fighter and a fun fish to catch. Now that was something I had not heard from our cousins before; there is hope for them yet! Before releasing the fish are tagged with a standard spaghetti tag. I sat down and watched them fish for an hour or so. In that time they caught two more fish around the high teens and broke off on one more. They would have got this fish but it just stripped them. Their method of fishing was six-pound test and a size sixteen treble; one AA shot with three pieces of sweetcorn. The fish they caught were well knackered out by the time they were in. The lake is pretty well snag free, that is why they got them. In the end I had to leave and prepare for the next days onslaught!
I already had a couple of 8ft 6in salmon rods that I used for down rigging in British Columbia when I was a guide up there. So, all I needed was a couple of Shimano Baitrunners and I would be set. I found those no problem $99.99 (around 66 quid). The next thing was rod rests. Well, off to the Home Depot, the biggest do-it-yourself store you have ever seen. There I found what I needed and went home to make everything up. Now groundbaiting (or 'chumming' as they call it over here) is against Fish and Wildlife regulations so I figured I needed to have some swimfeeders. I found these under the bathroom sink with all the other hair care products, bright yellow ones they were and just the right size. Now I was set for the big day tomorrow.
In the week the lakes don't open till 8am so I went to the local supermarket and bought four loves of white bread and a couple of big bags of frozen corn. 8am found me at the gates of Santee Lakes champing at the bit. One hell of a time to arrive at a lake to start carp fishing I know but it was totally out of my control.
In Lake Number One there is an island within easy casting distance and this is where I set myself up. I had made myself a spod and proceeded to break the law distributing one of the two-pound bags of corn on the right hand edge of the island. Out went the two rods with the feeders filled with a mix of mashed bread and corn. I had made some rudimentary monkey climbers, I put them in place and sat back to wait for the action. Around two in the afternoon I had smoking run and landed a fish of seventeen pounds, and that was it. The lake closed at 5.30 but not before I had put the rest of the corn out by the island.
The following day I was back in position in the island swim. I did not have to wait long. Off went one of the rods, which one I can't remember because they were both going off all day! In the end I had landed thirteen fish between seventeen and twenty nine pounds, two were double headers. I also had four catfish around the five to eight pound mark, they love that sweetcorn!
I returned to lake number one for a couple of more sessions. These were not as hectic as the second trip but I managed to land four more fish in the mid twenties. Then of course the inevitable happened; they closed Lake Number One.
Now I started to concentrate on Lake number five. This is a perfect lake for carp, full of points, bays and islands. It was not long before I had picked an ambush point. I also had a pleasant surprise due to the fact that the rods I had ordered from Cabelas catalogue had arrived. Believe it or not the Americans are making a range of rods called the European Predator Series and have done for some years now. So someone is buying them! I had arranged for two pairs of rods with different test curves, also a pair of Dam Quick FTS Baitrunners. So, now all I needed was a pod with alarms etc. These I now have on permanent lone from a buddy of mine on the East Coast of the states who had an extra set. He has slowed up on the carp fishing there due to workload, although it's still very productive. So now I could get serious about the whole deal.
I suppose that I should talk about rigs, not that you people reading this do not know how to catch carp, but just for your information. I had a friend send over some method feeders. These I used with a six inch, twelve pound test fluorocarbon standard hair rig with popped up maze. I had also been spodding heavy with crushed maze in all my swims by this time. Lake Five was good to me and produced my biggest fish of thirty-eight pounds. I also fished lakes two and four, all produced fish. In all I banked sixty-one fish in about forty sessions. I had quite a few blanks and this was due to sudden drops in temperature. These carp are true Californians and do not like the cold, even though it would be ideal conditions for our fish at home, they just don't like it. The smallest fish was twelve pounds with the majority in the mid twenties. I then had to go to work guiding rainbows in Alaska, so that knocked the carp fishing on the head for the summer. Anyway it gets way too hot in the Santee area and not being allowed to night fish make it hard to handle.
I returned from Alaska full of bear stories and covered in bug bites with five months of white skin to tan up, so the prospect of sitting in the sun was very appealing to me. Santee was kind to me that season and I banked forty-one fish in around thirty sessions, ten of those were total blanks. Five of my fish were in the very low thirties with one thirty six. All the fish I caught were fully scaled commons except for one twenty three pound half-scaled mirror or whatever you would like to call it. Commons are the norm over here but the guys that fish with the light tackle tell me that they have caught the odd mirror. I guess without selective breeding as we do at home, the fully scaled gene is dominant.
Carp fishing is becoming more popular in the States. People are finally beginning to appreciate its fighting ability, some are even starting to call it 'the freshwater bonefish'. In the Great Lakes, a couple of guides are polling flats boats to sight fish for the carp when they come up into the clear water looking for crawfish. They use bonefish jigs, and I even saw a show with the famous American fly fisherman Lefty Krey catching them on shrimp and crawfish patterns.
Santee Lakes are a fifteen-minute drive from downtown San Diego. The best time to go would be October and November, then the weather is not so hot and the campground has plenty of space. Sea-world and the Zoo are close by and the beaches are within twenty minutes drive. So you could take the family, get to carp fish and get brownie points to boot. British Airways fly in every day from Gatwick so it is not out of the question to have a mixed holiday.
If you need any information email me at Aquadrome @aol.com