For carper, heart of Texas is heaven

OUTDOORS

August 29, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

There's whining. There's kvetching. And then there's carping.

Put Tommy Robinson Jr. in the last category.

The Baltimore angler and his fishing partner, Mark Metzger of Silver Spring, went down to Texas this spring to see if the boasting about the state's carp was all hat and no cattle.

He was happy to learn that, if anything, the size of Lone Star State carp is bigger than the talk. Not only that, but the city slicker finished fourth in the Third Annual Austin Team Challenge with a total weight that included a carp that weighed 45 pounds, 9 ounces.

"They say things are bigger in Texas," Robinson said. "My catch is Exhibit A."

The catch caught the attention of the American Carp Society, which last month gave him a $500 prize for its annual "Big Fish" competition.

"Tommy is a skilled angler," said society director Wayne Boon. "We believe this startling catch is worthy of recognition."

Robinson, 32, has been fishing most of his life. But a year ago he hooked up with members of the Carp Angler Group and, "I put all my bass gear away."

With help from CAG members such as Pat Kerwin, who arranges the annual "Carp-In" at the Tidal Basin in D.C., Robinson began buying the sophisticated gear used by carpers. Sure, you can catch carp on the old Zebco push-button rig. But what's the fun in that?

No, serious carpers use rods 12 to 13 feet long matched with spinning reels capable of handling more than 400 yards of 12- to 20-pound-test monofilament and torpedo-shaped sinkers weighing 2 to 5 ounces.

The rods rest on ankle-high stands. Alarms, with red LEDs and buzzers, act as strike indicators (fancy models include pager-like devices that let the angler wander and talk to friends). Total cost for three rigs can exceed $1,000.

Suitably armed, Robinson headed for Texas on what was his first plane ride.

Town Lake, in downtown Austin, is part of a massive city park that straddles the Colorado River. With smooth, litter-free banks, Town Lake has become a major gathering place for carp anglers from around the world who call it "the new St. Lawrence River."

That's a high compliment when you realize that the river bordering upstate New York will be the site of the 2005 World Carp Championship, the first time the event has been scheduled for North America.

Carp weighing nearly 50 pounds have been caught at Town Lake, with many 20- and 30-pound "babies" reeled in and released.

The two-day tournament attracted 35 two-angler teams. The night before the tournament began, the competitors got together for pizza and a maize boil. The pizza was for the humans, the "boilies," corn-based chum, were for the carp.

Anglers have their own boilie recipes, with different flavorings and colors, but most are a variation on the basic flour-water-egg mixture. The mixture is rolled into balls and boiled until hard. The marble-sized boilies are shot into the water with a slingshot to bring the carp in close.

"I used to be a corn and dough ball man," says Robinson, whose e-mail address starts with "Mr. Doughball."

"I used to buy my boilies, but now I make my own. My wife gets mad because I leave the kitchen a mess," he says.

Tournament teams drew their "peg," or fishing spot, the morning of the event.

Robinson and Metzger got the same peg as last year's winner. They caught and released more than 200 pounds, with a 30-pounder and a couple of 20s. The second day, the monster from the deep struck.

"You hear the beep and you run like hell. You can't horse a fish that size in," he says.

The fish weighed 46 pounds on the first scale they tried and 45-9 on the second. Robinson, who like all serious carpers released his catch, used the conservative number.

The world record for common carp - 82 pounds - was set in 1998 at Sarulesti Lake in Romania. (The International Game Fish Association's record is a 75-pound, 11-inch monster taken from France's Lac de St. Cassien in 1987.) The U.S. record of 74 pounds was set in 1963 at Mississippi's Pelahatchie Lake. Maryland's record is 47 pounds, 8 ounces, set in 1997 at the Frederick County Farm Pond.

Back home, Robinson fishes Joppa Pond in Baltimore County for the smaller ones and the 10-acre Belle Grove Ponds in Linthicum for the big ones. He swears there's a state-record fish in there just waiting to be caught.

Robinson hasn't tried Cox Point in Essex, although the Russian immigrants who work the banks swear by it.

What he would like to see is a carp tournament in Maryland. He's been scouting for sites, but, "I'm having trouble finding a place that has a lot of bank space and it's clean.

"A lot of people look down on carp. They think they're junk fish. A tournament might help change some minds," he says. "I wish I would have stumbled on carp fishing 10 years ago."

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