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Some fishermen complain that carp are taking over Lake Mendocino

They're big, they're dreaded and they lurk in the dark depths of Lake Mendocino, usually.

Carp were making a splash closer to shore in recent weeks, raising concerns among anglers who believe their ranks are growing.

Some fishermen call carp trash fish and say they crowd out the more tasty game fish, like bass and crappie.

"The lake's going to be no good for fishing if they're not removed," said Noah George of Cloverdale.

But the lowly common carp has supporters.

"They're becoming alarmed over nothing. Clear Lake is loaded with carp and it's the best largemouth bass fishery in the United States," said "Catfish Ed," a retired postal worker who lives in Lucerne and also is known as Ed Nassarre.

He said he enjoys catching and releasing carp because they're one of the best fighting fish in Clear Lake.

George, though, is no carp fan. He said he became alarmed when he saw hundreds of carp splashing and carrying on as they spawned in coves along Lake Mendocino's north shores.

"I started fishing that lake when I was 8 years old. I've never seen that many carp combined in one area," said George, 32, a former commercial fisherman who now drives a truck.

He estimated he saw about 500 carp during a recent fishing expedition.

"They were so thick you could snag them," George said.

The spawning fish have since returned to deeper waters, but anglers fishing the lake and adjacent Russian River last week in a drizzling rain were acutely aware of their presence.

Fernando Zizueti said he recently caught three carp as he fished for striped bass.

He freed the unwanted fish, but other anglers think they should never be released.

"I'd keep 'em and put 'em in my garden" for fertilizer, said Ukiah area resident Bill Ownsbey as he and friend Jim Belvin of Willits prepared to launch his fishing boat.

George, Ownsbey and Belvin think something needs to be done to stop the apparent carp expansion.

Ownsbey said a dent could be made in the population by scooping the fish up in nets when they're spawning in big groups around the shoreline, as they were last week.

"They ought to have a tournament," Belvin suggested.

Clearlake holds an annual carp shoot, during which people with bows and arrows take aim at the fish, which lacks the protections given other fish.

Neither Fish and Game nor Army Corps of Engineers officials have any plans to battle carp in Lake Mendocino. Lake Sonoma has no known carp, officials said.

The common carp -- Cyprinus carpio -- is unwelcome but isn't considered an imminent threat to other fish, and the only way to eliminate carp would be to drain the lake, said Lake Mendocino park ranger Kevin Heape.

"They're in a lot of lakes," he said.

The Asian, or silver, carp introduced into the country a century after the common carp and which has been found in the Ohio and Mississippi rivers is another story. They can weigh as much as 60 pounds and leap several feet out of the water when stirred by motors and other noises. The flying fish have been known to whack boaters and are considered dangerous to water skiers.

The common carp, which weigh up to 80 pounds but are more commonly hooked in the 30-pound range, are less aggressive. But they put up a good fight when hooked, attracting a growing fan base. There are national angling organizations dedicated to hunting carp.

"They take off like a bat out of hell," Nassarre said.

The fish -- introduced into U.S. waterways in the mid-1800s -- may not be native, but neither are most other fish in local lakes, which typically are planted with bass and other game fish.

"There's no such thing as natural," Nassarre said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.

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