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Fishing for Grass Carp

By David Graham: 3/6/2023

I remember exactly where I stood when I saw it - as big around as a 55 gallon drum, scales like silver dollars... it just sort of hung there partially concealed below a sheet of grass along the margins of a pond on the 10th hole of a local golf course.

My encounter with a giant grass carp along the edges of that golf course pond planted a seed of curiosity in fishing that made my hapless treks to local ponds with my brothers for bass something more intentional. I was maybe 9-10 years old and just starting to travel outside the confines of the neighborhood with my brothers in search of bass and 'bream' at the local ponds and creeks... but seeing a fish nearly as big as I was really sparked a curiosity in me that made travels to those ponds all the more frequent.

the exact location I saw my first carp... and the pond that my fishing journey really began

It wasn't until a few years later I actually caught my first grass carp, but in Arkansas... far away from the nearest beach, this species represented a scarce opportunity to catch a fish over 40 pounds. We would benefit from living on a private neighborhood pond in my young teens where the aesthetics of the water were maintained in part by grass carp that kept excessive weeds under control.

a nice grass carp from my pond in arkansas around 23 years ago

my first fish ever over 40 pounds was the grass carp I caught when I was about 13 years old

I imagine to my neighbors chagrin... I would watch through the blinds as they fed the local carp bread, only to run out with a rod and reel when they left. I quickly spoiled the carp's habit of coming to our side of the pond during the routine 'feeding hour' by booby trapping some of the bread crust with my hooks!

a little wild water grass carp I caught back in the old days!

Still, this was the first species I ever captured over 40 pounds... and I pulled it off in my own backyard. It was enough of an encounter with a 'monster' fish to really push me into a journey as an angler where size seems to trump all else... and a great starter fish for a kid to both learn that fish get BIG, but require patterns of approach that transcend beyond the days of bobbers and worms down by the local golf course ponds and creeks.

The grass carp, while formidable and 'monstrous' in size... is basically a giant fish cow. A herbivorous bruit that lumbers about sustaining its tremendous size by strictly eating vegetation. They are so efficient at simply EATING, that they are routinely farmed and used for the purpose of aquatic vegetation control. In fact, the overwhelming majority of grass carp one might encounter was born in a farming operation and completely sterile and incapable of reproducing.

A big grass carp from Lake Murray, SC

Grass carp grow extremely fast, up to 20 pounds in the first 2-3 years of their lives... and capable of reaching nearly 100 pounds. With an extremely powerful set of shoulders and capable of surprising bursts of speed, they present a very unique target for the curious angler looking for a unique set of challenges.

Similar baiting tactics for common carp are absolutely applicable with grass carp. A major difference being the grass carp has a terminal (forward facing) mouth as opposed to the subterminal (sucker like) mouth of the common carp. While grass carp will feed off the bottom, they can often be seen tailing like a redfish as they must angle their entire body downward while bottom feeding.

a nice Lake Moultrie grass carp in South Carolina

On the flip side of that, their forward facing mouths and large eyes positioned near the front of their face makes surface feeding all the easier - and they can frequently be seen clooping grass clippings, floating berries and other fresh plant matter from the surface. It was this same habit of casual feeding from the surface that led me to my first catches. Back as a child and to this day 20 plus years later I still explore floating bread as option A when I find an area that has grass carp.

A grass carp from a lake in Northwest Arkansas

Where to Find Them

In wild waters like large lake systems and rivers with more diverse options for feeding - grass carp are often less likely to rise on a piece of bread. 'Wild' grass carp can be notoriously timid and easily spooked. They will often times need to be coaxed into feeding in specific areas and that is generally best done by pre-baiting the area.

a surface caught grass carp from a wild South Carolina river system

grass carp tailing over a bait pile on Lake Moultrie, SC

Corn, oats, rabbit feed, horse pellets, alfalfa cubes etc can all be used individually or concocted into a mixture that will drive grass carp (and common carp) nuts. Learn your local rivers and lakes vegetation. Areas thick with milfoil or hydrilla are a good place to start your search as these are generally preferred food plants and frankly what they were often times put in the water to control in the firs place. Particularly large grass carp may begin to feed on waterlily roots or cattails but generally these are not what most grass carp are actively feeding on.

a grass carp from the residential canals of Miami, FL. caught on floating bread

Find the areas grass carp are already frequenting and then place distinct piles of pre-bait into openings in and around the vegetation they are cruising. At times this may be in only a couple feet of water. I have taken this approach countless times with grass carp and I have observed that they will often make multiple passes by and through the bait pile... cautiously making wide circles that creep ever closer each time before committing to feed. Once, however, grass carp key in on a bait pile and begin actively feeding... they are often so engaged in the food that you can come close upon them. They may spook, but they will seldom resist the urge to continue to circle back into the feed.

Austin Anderson with a nice grass carp

Using small size 4-8 hooks, kernel corn can be placed directly over the shank of the hook - trying to conceal the hook as much as possible OR utilize a hair rig that will keep the hook separate from the bait. Small balls of bread tightly bound around the hook can work effectively as well if trying to stay simple. In some instances - pack baits may offer an advantageous pile of feed around your hooked bait that will bring the carp off the bait pile and to your rig.

Josh Dolin holds a grass carp caught from a South Florida canal system on bread

In more residential ponds or canals, grass carp may be less weary of people and willing to rise to surface baits like bread. This could be due in part to being fed, but neighborhood ponds and canals are subject to landscaping runoff and blow off like grass clippings, trimmed hedges, landscaped fruiting plants along the margins of the ponds for looks etc. Because grass carp in a more controlled environment like a small pond or canal system may be capable of diminishing aquatic plants (as intended per their stocking source) they will be more opportunistic in the way they feed as opposed to selective feeding fish in wild waters.

A grass carp I caught on floating bread from a pond in Fort Myers, FL

In a pond or canal, pre baiting is still very effective, but often times you can walk the perimeter of the shoreline on a calm day or evening and throw handfulls of bread onto the surface in spaced out areas... wait until the grass carp begin taking the surface bread. As mentioned earlier, once they key in on the food source, they quickly snowball into full blown feeding mode and can be crept up on to present a bait fairly easily. A single unweighted hook embedded into a loose piece of bread (not balled up) will stay buoyant. To assist with casting distance, I will often times use a small clipon cigar float... not as a strike indicator, it floats right alongside the actual bait... but the added weight will allow for further casts.

my biggest grass carp ever, 62 pounds!

I have noticed for whatever reason... grass carp seem to be more susceptible to hook trauma and just dying after a fight that many other fish. It is important when handling grass carp to move very quickly to land, unhook, take whatever photos if you need, and quickly release the fish. They often become extremely taxed and exhausted from vigorously fighting. It generally will require a short period of revival and holding the fish in the water prior to release.

The grass carp presents a unique opportunity in US waters to pursue and capture a fish in freshwater over 40-50 pounds or more.... and doing so as a herbivorous grazer. Their habit of being selective and timid, especially in wild waters can make them be an especially challenging fish to intentionally pursue and successfully capture.

my wife Erin holds a monster Lake Murray grass carp

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