MEMPHIS — For a few moments, Tommy White and Adam Hopper thought they had tied into the fish of a lifetime while stripe fishing on the afternoon of May 30 in the tailrace below Pickwick Landing Dam.
The gigantic fish took a 6-inch swim bait in the boils at the base of the dam and ran so hard for the first two or three minutes that White had to chase it with the boat to keep it from emptying all of the line off Hopper’s reel.
Both anglers first thought they had tied into a striped bass that would weigh 30 pounds or better. But they soon realized it was something different — and after a 30-minute fight, they hoisted a 70-pound bighead carp into the boat.
“It was foul-hooked in its bottom dorsal fin, so it was just an accident that we caught it,” White said. “It tore some serious drag for about 10-15 seconds. Adam works out all the time, and he had trouble lifting it.”
Since Asian carp are filter feeders that eat mainly zooplankton, they’re almost impossible to catch on a hook and a line. They won’t bite artificial lures, and they even turn up their noses at old standbys like minnows and worms.
Besides accidental hookings like the one Hopper and White made last week, there are only two ways to do battle with them on a rod-and-reel — and they both require a little creativity.
Memphis resident Ron Wong is an avid angler and co-host of a weekly radio show “Outdoors with Larry Rea.” Every time the region experiences heavy rainfall like it did this week, he fishes for Asian carp in the 250-acre private lake near his home.
He uses a 7-foot bass rod, a reel equipped with 65-pound-test braided line, a one-ounce sinker and a 7/0 treble hook.
There’s no bait involved.
“Those fish like to feed on zooplankton in heavy current,” Wong said. “So every time a big rain comes and creates some current in the lake, there will be a lot of carp working in the current. All you have to do is cast the rig into the current and give it a big snatch.”
The technique, which is known as “snatching” or “snagging,” is legal on most reservoirs in Tennessee as long as the catch is limited to rough fish like carp and drum.
Tennessee law says nongame fish may be taken without limit, but all game fish, sturgeon and alligator gar are off limits. Catfish, paddlefish and skipjack can be caught and kept according to local limits.
There are several reasons Wong would like to see more people start doing more snagging for Asian carp.
“For one thing, it’s a lot of fun,” Wong said. “I always use that 65-pound braid with no backing on the reel because, if you hook a 40-pounder, it’ll strip nearly all the line off your reel before you can get it turned around.”
Wong and the people he’s taught how to use the technique have caught several bighead carp in the 50-pound range, and he says it’s nothing unusual to catch several hundred pounds of fish in a single day when the fishing is right.
Like other anglers who wish the invasive Asian carp had never found their way into the wild in the Mid-South, Wong believes every one that is removed from local waters is a step in the right direction.
“They’re working on some ways to process them into food for shipping overseas and to turn them into pet food,” Wong said. “If that ever becomes a reality, the commercial fishermen will start taking a lot of them. But for now, anglers are really the only thing standing between our local waters and a complete takeover by these fish — and I think we should keep every one we’re lucky enough to catch.”
Other ways to catch Asian carp include bow fishing — using a bow and arrow that’s equipped to a special rod-and-reel that allows the fish to be battled after it’s shot — and simply driving a boat through a school of the fish and allowing their natural jumping ability to do the work for you.
Contrary to popular belief, Wong said some people do enjoy eating them. He’s even watched people clean them before and been surprised by how white their flesh was.
But most people, including White and Hopper, place little value on them once the fight is over.
“It was a freak,” White said. “We didn’t know exactly what it was. After all that fight, we just threw it back.”