Challenge of catching carp lures hunter to water

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2000

RICHMOND, Minn. (AP) -- Most of Minnesota's million anglers probably would be pretty happy to pull 300 pounds of fish into the boat in a single season. That would translate into enough walleyes, northerns, bass and panfish to put a smile on any ordinary angler's face.

For at least one man, however, 300 pounds of fish doesn't add up to a good season. It's just an average day on the water for Ben Leither, carp hunter.

''I'm thinking of changing the name on my boat from Bass Tracker to Carp Killer,'' Leither said recently as he headed for a quiet, weedy bay on the Horseshoe Chain of Lakes near Richmond. ''There's been more carp in this boat than anything else.''

That, of course, probably won't make many anglers eager to spend a day in Leither's boat. Carp disgust many people, and although smoked carp has its fans, few set out to bring carp home for supper.

What is it, then, that motivates Leither and other carp hunters to put a reel on their bows, attach a line to an arrow and pursue their scaly quarry?

Spend an afternoon battling fish that make an 8-pound walleye look like a small perch, and you'll know why.

''If you like action, this is just a fantastic sport,'' the 24-year-old Kimball resident said as he dumped his first fish of the day, a smallish 15-pounder, into the 55-gallon barrel that sits in the middle of his boat. ''On a prime-time spawning day like today, I could shoot hundreds of times. There are times when I've filled that barrel in an hour, and not with little carp, either. All 15-, 25-pounders.''

Using polarized glasses to help him see beneath the water's surface, Leither slowly drifted his boat along the edge of a weed bed on Long Lake. Although the action hadn't really heated up yet, many carp were breaking the surface, the males pushing the egg-laden females up and out of the water.

Fish on the surface can provide easy shooting, and 20-yard shots are not unusual. Leither's skill and equipment, however, mean that even carp that stay below the surface can be in serious danger.

''I'm shooting 62 pounds, and straight down, I can shoot 5 or 6 feet deep pretty effectively,'' he said. ''There's guys that'll shoot deeper, of course. The more pounds on the bow, the deeper you can shoot.''

An ordinary arrow wouldn't pack much penetrating power 5 feet under water. Leither shoots an arrow with a fiberglass core surrounded by an aluminum shell. The arrow has no fletching, and it's much heavier than an arrow used for deer hunting.

It has to be.

''I've only broke one arrow on a carp,'' Leither said as he pulled an arrow from his latest victim, a solid 25-pounder. ''That's how durable they are. You get a 30-pound carp splashing around on the end of your line, and they'll beat the heck out of your equipment.''

Earlier this spring, Leither bagged a true monster of the deep, a fish he could barely lift into the boat. When he saw the scale reading of 41 pounds, he knew he had realized one of his long-held goals.

''When I started shooting some big ones a few years ago, my goal was a 40-pounder,'' Leither said. ''Now, I don't know if I'll ever top my 41-pounder. I'll try. I know there's a lot bigger ones out there.''

Leither, a dedicated deer hunter, sees carp hunting as having some similarities with this other, more accepted pursuit. Big carp may not find their place in many trophy rooms next to 12-point bucks, but they certainly have Leither's respect.

''Big carp are old,'' he said as he drove to the second location of the day, Leither's secret ''hotspot.'' ''Like anything else, they don't get big by being stupid. They're really spooky, and they don't come into the shallows like the little ones do.''

At the new location, carp were breaking the surface everywhere. The wind picked up, and as the boat drifted through thick weed beds, Leither's words proved true. Many smaller carp lingered within easy shooting range, but when the big ones came drifting in like submarines, the slightest movement often spooked them into a hasty retreat.

As the day wore on, carp after carp found its way into Leither's barrel, including two that topped the 30-pound mark. He estimates that last year alone, he killed more than a ton of carp, a service that, according to Area Fisheries Supervisor Paul Diedrich, is a potentially good one.

''The reason carp are so undesirable is because of their habit of stirring up the bottom and uprooting aquatic vegetation, causing the lakes to become less clear than they would be ordinarily,'' Diedrich said. ''Secondarily, there might be some competition, some indirect effects, maybe the eating of gamefish eggs.''

Unfortunately, one hunter alone can't make much of a dent in the carp population. That's why Leither can't understand why more hunters don't try his favorite sport.

''There's how many bowhunters in this state, and such a small number of them bowfish,'' he said. ''I just don't understand. I mean, I'm addicted to this. I could do this all day, almost every day, and never get tired of it.''

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