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Fishing: He doesn't carp about fixing bait

Sunday, September 28, 2003

By Deborah Weisberg

Steve Lojak spends more time fixing bait for carp than he does his own meals. He might settle for a Big Mac at the drive-through, but when he is at a lake, a species some call freshwater gluttons feast like gourmets.

"There's this big split in the Carp Anglers Group between the Euro-stylers and the guys you'd call traditionalists," said Lojak, a Sharon resident who straddles both camps as director of the Western Pennsylvania Carp Anglers Group. "I think the Euro stuff's somewhat over-rated. To me, dough balls and pack bait reign. But some guys think a carp introduced to a higher quality bait will acquire a more refined taste."

And greater respect from anglers -- which interests CAG members even more.

Americans treat carp -- a European import -- with a grudging acceptance since they flopped as a food fish and never caught on for sport like bass or trout. But in England, where the Euro-style originated, carp, a type of minnow, are handled with kid gloves. Anglers pay big money to fish for them at syndicate or members-only lakes, placing them on padded mats before removing hooks, and treating hook wounds with antiseptic ointment. Carp which reach 30 and 40 pounds are known by name. "When old Mary or Basil dies," Lojak said, "there's an elaborate ceremony. A huge fish could represent a $20,000 investment."

The Oct. 18-19 carp-in is free and open to non-CAG members. It's a chance to fish with carpaholics and see Euro-style fishing. Participants meet at Dugan's Run at Lake Wilhelm in Maurice K. Goddard State Park. There's an informal, optional contest. For details, contact Lojak at 724-347-6212 or e-mail

And when the British come to America they are bowled over by how common the common carp (cyprinus carpio) is, and by how many places there are to catch them. "They find Erie staggering," Lojak said. "Even [Lake] Wilhelm is bigger than most of their syndicate lakes."

Lake Wilhelm, in Maurice K. Goddard State Park in Mercer County, is where Lojak caught his largest carp, a 27 pounder, last spring. It also is the scene of the Western Pennsylvania CAG's annual carp-in, scheduled for Oct. 18 and 19. The first fish caught at last year's event was also a whopper, a 24 pounder. "That's about 10 pounds above average for Wilhelm," Lojak said, "but 15 pounders are common."

Some Britons make a living by organizing carp junkets to the United States and selling Euro-tackle to Americans. Boilies are hard egg-enriched dough balls in exotic flavors such as banana squid and shellfish peach. Pukka bait is a top-of-the-line nugget. If you want to roll your own dough balls, you can buy sausage guns that squirt out the dough in nice, neat strips, and roll-a-ball boards on which to form boilies. There's artificial bread, a realistic foam-rubber slice of the most classic carp fare right down to the crumbs, and corn kernels soaked in strawberry sauce at $3 for a small can. Those who want to spike their own pack bait will find all manner of potions, including Carp Cloud powder that turns water a phosphorescent green. Anise oil and geranium flower oil are go-to carp attractors. Lojak has luck with hemp seed and with hemp seed oil capsules. He likes Corn Puffs dipped in syrup, and mashed potatoes and oats dosed with Sprite, homemade wine or whatever else is on hand.

Lojak has kept part of Lake Wilhelm chummed all summer with an elaborate medley of chick peas, black-eyed peas, maple peas, hard field corn, hard wheat, hempseed and boilies that he catapults 50 yards across the water with a specially made slingshot. He also has a chumzooka for firing bait, and a spod rod with bait rocket that lets him chum and cast at the same time.

"This may be more trouble than it's worth," he said last Saturday as he bored a hole through a range cube with a bait drill, slipped it onto a hair rig and secured it with one of those tiny plastic crimps stores use to attach price tags to garments. To weight the rig, he packed a PVA bag -- a small biodegradable plastic pouch -- first with green-lipped mussel pellets, then dried crimped corn and finally powdered goat's milk, gathered the sack around a two-ounce sinker, secured it with an O-ring, punctured it with holes, and tied it to anti-tangle tubing at the end of his 50-pound braided line on a 12-foot rod.

He lobbed the rig 50 yards across the lake where the PVA bag began its meltdown, releasing its contents and eventually inducing a strike. The goat's milk clouds the water, creating the sort of conditions carp often create with their sucker-type mouths when foraging for food.

Hair rigs are a classic British presentation. It was on a hair rig that Lojak landed an unusual 19-pound mirror carp -- a genetic mutant with few scales -- at Lake Wilhelm. The hair rig also nailed the biggest fish, a 30 1/2-pound carp, at a tournament at Point State Park this summer, at which he bettered nearly 400 others.

Saturday, the hair rig hooked a nine-pound carp but was less effective than the egg-size wad of couscous Lojack had packed around three kernels of strawberry sweetened corn on his other rod. That nabbed an 18 pounder. Couscous and corn meal nabbed a 15 pounder for first place at a Paradise Lake pay-lake contest near Cardale recently. Lojak is a pay lake veteran.

"If I could have just one bait, it would be old yellow," he said. "That's pay-laker talk for corn meal."

Unless he's around other carpaholics, Lojak is usually the only angler who fishes with bite alarms that beep at the hint of a strike. He hasn't yet purchased the other Euro-toy -- a long-distance pager that comes in handy during fishing marathons, and Lojak has been known to fish for two days in a row. He'll sit in the rain, though Euro-tackle tents called bivvys and portable beds along with special tea-pots. And none of it comes cheap. "Some of the Euro-stylers are so into it, you expect them to start talking with a British accent," Lojak said with a chuckle.

Of course, nothing fancy is needed to catch a carp, said Lojak, who singled them out as his favorite species even as a kid because they were the biggest fish in Pigeon Creek near his Bentleyville home. All that's needed is a 6- to 7-foot medium- to medium-heavy rod, 8-pound test or slightly heavier line for the river, a size 10 or smaller treble hook or a size four to six regular hook with a wide bend, small egg sinkers and split shot ... and a loaf of sliced bread.

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