Photo by AP Photo / Union City Daily Messenger, John Brannon
In this Monday, May 4, 2009, photo, Kara Jane Corum, 10, left; Bart Ashley, center; and Matt Corum, right, display some of the carp they caught at Reelfoot Lake near Union City, Tenn. The large fish ranged from 15 to 90 pounds and were caught with no bait. The fish were so thick that they could just be hooked and reeled ashore.
UNION CITY, Tenn. (AP) Fishing was not just good at Reelfoot Lake last weekend, it was great. Take-home sizes ranged in the 60- to 90-pound category.
It was not an event where traditional game fish such as bass, bream and crappie took center stage, not by a long shot.
Instead, it was carp and buffalo big boys that make a rod bend double and put heavy-duty line to a supreme strength test.
The fish ranged in size from two feet and 15 or 20 pounds to several feet and 80 or 90 pounds.
What bait does one use to attract such a finny quarry? No bait at all. No boats at all. At the Reelfoot scene, the fishing was done from the old spillway bridge or from the bank of the channel that diverts lake water into the spillway structure.
And that particular piece of landscape became a popular attraction when word got around that hundreds maybe thousands of carp and buffalo were thicker than sardines at the spillway.
Anglers young and old, male and female, stood on the bridge or on the channel casting into overflow waters rushing into the old spillway outlet built in the 1930s.
Each used a heavyweight rod and reel loaded with a heavy-duty test nylon line tied to a rig consisting of a three-ounce lead weight and a set of big treble hooks.
It's the simplest sport fishing in the world, according to the small crowd leaning over the concrete railing of the old spillway bridge.
Here's their formula for success: Just cast the rig into the swirling waters and reel it in. When you feel it touch something, yank back and set the hook. Then start reeling it in ... if you can. You better hang on for dear life and be willing to stay with it a while.
The action won't let up for a while. If the hook holds, sooner or later, that big boy on the end of the line will grow tired. Then you can reel him in where a buddy is waiting with a harpoon-like spear to stick it to him and land it once and for all.
Glenn Heskett of Lakeview community and his buddies, Marty Green and Rich Baggett, both of Tiptonville, were among the small group fishing from the bridge.
Heskett speculated that the carp may be crowding underneath the spillway bridge to spawn or the high water in the lake and the speedy flow of water through the spillway channel may be a factor in pushing them toward the channel outlet.
Heskett said he and his buddies started fishing early May 4 and what they say was an unforgettable sight.
"Somebody would get one on the line and that would stir up others," he said. "There'd be 20 or 30 of them just jumping and going crazy. I think they came in from the Mississippi River.
"I caught at least 20 and hung at least 30. I wouldn't be afraid to say there's been at least 1,000 caught right here yesterday and today. I've caught catfish on the Mississippi River that weighed over 50 pounds, but nothing like this."
Green said the biggest one the trio landed weighed 92 pounds.
Where does one get a weigh scale big enough to fish that big? As it turned out, they tried the new-fangled digital scales. "It like to have busted the guts out of that little scale," one of the anglers quipped.
And what did they ultimately use? "Cotton scales. Somebody brought over some cotton scales and that did the job," Baggett said.
What does one do with a grass carp that weighs anywhere from 20 to 90 pounds?
Some say they'll let them die and toss them back into the lake for turtles to eat.
"They're ruining Reelfoot Lake and all our waterways. These are the same kind of carp you see on TV jumping into boats. We call 'em 'ruiner carp,'" Baggett said.
Bart Ashley of Troy said he landed one that weighed 90 pounds, one that weighed 42 pounds and one that weighed 82 pounds. And he has no plans to toss the big boys back into the lake.
"We'll take 'em home, cut up the good part and make 'salmon' patties out of them," he said.
Kenneth Gaylor of Henning was one of the bankside fishermen. He said he arrived about 5:30 a.m. Monday and eventually had "a truck load."
"I caught one catfish, six buffalo, and 26 carp," he said. "I'm tired but still going at it."
And what will he do with his catch? Feed them to the turtles? No way, he said.
"I got an auntie who makes 'mackerel' patties out of 'em," he said.
"She feeds the whole neighborhood."
At the spillway, the big fish were so plentiful, the catch was so bountiful, that bragging rights brought by a 60-pounder were soon challenged by an even greater creature.
Shannon Peevyhouse of Yorkville knows. He caught a carp that weighed 75 pounds.
But fame is fleeting. His fishing pal, Faron Cruz, also of Yorkville, landed one that weighed 79 pounds.
Kara Jane Corum, 10, of Troy, landed one that weighed a respectable 43 pounds.
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