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Angler’s Quest For a Record

When Art Rafus informed me that the was going to try to break a New Hampshire record for catching a certain fish on hook and line, I was surprised to find that he was pursuing a species that is often looked down upon as a trash fish by American anglers — the carp.

Despite its dicey reputation in the United States, the carp enjoys the status of being the most sought after game fish in the world. In England, there are even carp tournaments much like the bass tournaments held in North American lakes. Rafus is so serious about breaking the record that he has even gone so far as ordering special tackle from the United Kingdom.

But he has his work cut out for him. The N.H. record carp caught on hook and line weighed in at 33 pounds. It was taken in Hinsdale, out of the Connecticut River. (The biggest carp ever harvested in New Hampshire waters was a 41 pounder taken from the same area by bow and arrow.)

To get an idea of how big those fish were, picture six or eight 5-pound bags of potatoes laid end to end.

Then imagine trying to reel them in while they strip out line.

Rafus is not just after the record — he genuinely likes to catch carp.

“Carp are called the ‘poor man’s bonefish,’ ” Rafus says, comparing the carp to the saltwater “ghost of the flats” which is known for its line stripping runs. “The initial run of a carp is insane. The second half of the fight is like catching a large catfish.”

He concedes that the biggest draw of the carp is their size. There’s aren’t many freshwater game fish in the northeast that exceed 10 pounds, much less lunkers that can grow to 40.

“How many anglers can catch a fish over 10 pounds in their own backyard on any given day — with the possibility of a 30-pounder on the end of your line?”

Of course, there is always a certain glory in setting any kind of record these days. Landing a record carp isn’t as prestigious as breaking the mark for the largemouth bass or rainbow trout, but it would still carry a certain distinction. Rafus, who is in the process of becoming a fishing guide, might receive endorsement offers from tackle companies.

If nothing else, a record catch would enhance his guiding credibility.

So how does an angler go about setting a record?

Rafus’s quest began with scouting. At the beginning of the fishing season, he searched for the perfect spot. He wouldn’t tell me where he was fishing, but I figured it wouldn’t be the Connecticut so there was only one spot left — Mascoma Lake in Enfield.

The carp is not native to New Hampshire, but I have related before how this fish came to reside in Mascoma Lake. The Enfield Shakers raised carp in a pond on their property which abuts the lake. A storm washed the carp out of the pond into the lake where they have thrived without becoming invasive species.

When he found the school, Rafus began to feed them with a special chum made out of corn. He buys dried corn at the feed store and soaks it in water for 24 hours. Then he adds sugar and lets it soak a few more days before he uses it.

Rafus fishes in the early morning or late evening when the carp are active. Since Rafus’s first choice is fly fishing, he actually developed a “corn fly” to imitate the chum. It took him more than a month to get a fish on, but the effort paid off.

“I caught the monster in the evening,” Rafus told me. “When the school swam into the area, I slowly pulled the fly into their path. A regular cast would have spooked them so I had to be careful.”

A big carp came toward the corn fly, searching the bottom of the lake for forage. It picked up the fly for a moment but then dropped it. Rafus held his breath. The fish circled back and picked up the fly again.

Rafus suddenly had his hands full. “The fish’s first run was incredible. All I could do was hold on.”

The carp swam for the same weed line where Rafus had lost big fish before. This time he managed to steer it back into open water.

After a prolonged battle, he put a net under the fish. It was bigger than he had anticipated. The wooden handle of the net snapped under the weight but he still managed to land it.

The lunker weighed in at 28 pounds, five pounds, one ounce short of the state record. Rafus was disappointed at not setting the record, but he was also excited about landing a fish that was almost 30 pounds. He released the fish to fight another day.

Rafus plans to switch to spinning tackle as he continues to pursue the record. He is also hoping to hook an albino or “ghost” carp, a highly sought after prize in the competitive world of carp fishing.

I think he just might have a chance to catch an albino. I have seen one near the Enfield Shaker Bridge. I’m not sure it was record breaker, but it was huge.

Though he has fallen short so far this summer, Rafus refuses to give up.

“The carp quest won’t end until I capture the record or winter blows in. Whichever comes first.”