October 4, 2008

Big Heads, Aching Arms for Local Anglers

By Jeff Leonard

While working in the Sugar Lake area last week, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Agent Steve Nichols ran into a Missouri angler with not one but four great fish stories and some arms that ached from handling a fishing rod.

Millard McGlothen of Kansas City and his buddy had hooked up his boat and drove to the lake in hopes of snagging a few buffalo or other non-game fish, but what ended up at the end of their lines put them and their equipment to the ultimate test.

Using only 30-pound test line and treble hooks (about the same diameter of a golf ball), McGlothen located a deeper hole in the lake that a large number of big carp were calling home. By the end of their adventure, McGlothen and his buddy had landed two Asian bighead carp that tipped the scales at around 80 pounds each and measured approximately 48 inches in length.

While the two fish are truly leviathans, McGlothen told Nichols that they had snagged two others which were as big or bigger and had towed their boat all over the lake before finally breaking off. What makes the story even more amazing is that both anglers were more than 70 years of age and landed these monsters without any assistance.

Most people associate snagging with paddlefish in the spring, Nichols said, but there's a tremendous fishery for snagging in this fall season because these fish will get in deep holes, like these gentlemen found, and it's one of the best times to take advantage of this resource.

Much like a buffalo, which is a very flavorful and popular non- game fish, you're not going to catch them by traditional means. Snagging is about the only way to catch them, unless you're a commercial fisherman who uses hoop and other nets.

While many anglers may turn up their noses at the thought of eating big head carp, McGlothen told Nichols he personally likes the taste of them.

"You have to remember these fish escaped into the wild from a hatchery where they were being raised as a food source," Nichols said.

Since escaping from the hatchery during a period of flooding, these invasive carp have now spread like wildlfire. These fish have gotten into these oxbows when the river flooded and are thriving, said Nichols. Now they are established and are getting out of control as they take over these inland waters.

For those wanting to pursue these fish with alternate methods, Nichols recommends hitting the oxbows. Browning Reservoir, Bean Lake, Sugar Lake, Big Lake, and Lake Contrary are all full of them.

These spots are your best bet because the fish are going to be found in the deeper holes and oxbows are not traditionally known for having deep water. Anyone with a depth finder should be able to locate a few key holes and the fish should be stacked up in them.

"For two guys to catch four of these fish while snagging, that's a pretty high catch rate when snagging," Nichols said. "If you consider the size of these fish, the odds are better because a 48- inch-long fish offers a full 4 feet to set a hook into." Snagging often involves a lot of luck, but bigger fish like these stack the odds more in the angler's favor.

Another bit of advice is for anglers to be ready for a major battle, as big head carp will put up an incredible fight.

"When these fish make a surge they are so powerful you had better have your drag set right or they will quickly break you off," Nichols said.

This is a largely untouched resource, he said. These fish escaped from their hatchery in the mid 1990's and have spread through much of the central United States.

The snagging season commences on March 15 and runs through May 15 and then re-opens from September 15 through January 31. The daily limit when snagging is 20, though bighead carp, common carp, goldfish, grass carp and silver carp may be taken and possessed in any number. Special restrictions apply and anglers should follow all statewide regulations.

Outdoors correspondent Jeff Leonard can be reached at [email protected]

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