GLEN FERRIS — Without warning, Jack Ellis’ fishing rod got yanked forward. Only his quick reflexes kept it from going into the drink.
“There’s a fish!” he shouted as he grabbed the rod and set the hook. “Uh-oh. It’s a big one!”
The stiff rod snapped into a deep arc as the fish bored deep into the heavy current, stripping line off Ellis’ reel. With practiced skill, the 15-year-old countered the run. Within minutes, he had the fish subdued and ready to net.
“That’s a nice fish,” said his father, Chris Ellis, as he scooped the big carp from the big pool at the foot of Kanawha Falls. “It might be big enough for a citation.”
Sure enough, the Ellises’ unique approach to carp fishing had indeed yielded another bragging-sized fish. It measured 31 inches in length, a full inch over the minimum required to earn a Trophy Fish Citation from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Over the past several years, the Ellises have refined an approach that, so far, has brought them more than their fair share of oversized carp. Their secret? Chumming, a technique used by saltwater anglers to attract sharks and other fish drawn to food scents.
“It’s not really ‘our’ technique,” said Chris. “Mark Scott, a DNR fisheries biologist, suggested it to us when we were trying to figure out how to catch big carp. He said he used canned whole-kernel corn for bait and creamed corn for chum.”
Scott said he worked out the unique approach as any scientist would — by experimentation.
“I knew that some guys liked to fish for carp using whole-kernel corn for bait, but I wasn’t too crazy about that idea,” he added. “I wanted to attract the carp, not feed them. I figured that creamed corn would put a lot of scent into the water, but not a lot of food.”
The swift currents of the New and Kanawha rivers disperse the chum’s scent relatively quickly. Scott said he sometimes uses several cans of creamed corn in a single outing.
The Ellises use plenty of creamed corn, too, but Chris and Jack also fish at carefully selected spots where the corn’s scent doesn’t dissipate as quickly.
“I like to find eddies where a portion of the current swings back upstream along the bank,” Chris said. “Fish like to hold in the ‘seam’ between the downstream and upstream currents. The chum scent circulates around the seam and draws the fish in toward the bank.”
Oftentimes the carp come in surprisingly close. At the Ellises’ favorite spot at Kanawha Falls, they often hook 10- to 15-pound fish with 3 feet of the bank.
“We sight-fish for them,” Chris said. “When the water is clear, we can see them coming. The trick is to put the bait in front of them without spooking them.”
Large carp are notoriously finicky. If they detect any resistance when they pick up a bait, they immediately drop it. If they see a hook or a sinker, they won’t bite. Chris said it took a lot of trial-and-error to find the right tackle.
“We settled on relatively heavy line — 20-pound test monofilament,” he explained. “But we use really small hooks, the size you’d use for trout. Our circle hooks are size 10 or smaller and our treble hooks are 12s and 14s. The weights we use are sometimes as light as 1/16 ounce.”
Chris and Jack aren’t full-time carp anglers by any means; they usually fish for trout and smallmouth bass. They started carp fishing to satisfy a wish Jack had when he was much younger.
“He was watching the cable TV show, ‘River Monsters,’” Chris recalled. “He came up to me and said, ‘Dad, I want to catch a river monster. I want to catch a great big fish.’ So I started trying to figure out a way to make that happen.”
He thought about muskellunge, but soon realized that “the fish of a thousand casts” might tax Jack ’s youthful impatience. He thought about big flathead catfish, but couldn’t imagine Jack wanting to sit on a riverbank all night.
“I realized we were blessed with some big carp in this river, so I decided to try to get Jack hooked up to a real big carp,” he said.
Carp outings have since become a part of the Ellises’ summertime fishing routine.
“Where we live, in Fayetteville, we can get to the New River in no time, and we can get to Kanawha Falls within 20 minutes,” Chris said. “It’s easy to come down here after work and get in two or three hours’ worth of fishing before dark.”
He said fishing for big carp has taught him and Jack how to fight and land trophy-sized fish.
“It’s great practice,” he added. “Carp aren’t glamor fish, but when you have an animal that size on the end of your line, you learn how to use drag, and how to turn and control the animal. All those things are good to know, because if you fish a lot, sooner or later you’re going to hook a big one — and you need to know what to do when that happens.”