An infamous concrete park lake in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, where anglers daren’t fish alone or after dark, has produced a 50lb common.
The staggering capture was made intentionally by a member of a group known as the California Ghetto Carping Club and the fish was released back into its home.
MacArthur Park, squeezed into LA’s urban sprawl, has hosted scores of gangland murders and, when it was drained in the 1970s, was found to be home to dozens of handguns.
But it’s the amazing stock of 30lb-plus carp that make the risks worthwhile for a small band of dedicated local carpers.
Enrique Salmeron caught the huge-tailed 50lb common after taking inspiration from Ghetto Carping chief Sergio ‘Big Serg’ Talavera.
“He landed a mid-thirty,” Enrique told carpfeed.com from across the Atlantic, “then slowly but surely he noticed that it wasn’t just one or two big fish in there, but almost all them were mid-thirties. Smaller fish for us are now mid-twenties.”
Enrique paints an incredible picture of this busy, exhilarating waterhole in the middle of LA.
“The venue is a beautiful site. You can hear birds chirping, dogs barking and the locals singing and dancing.
“Since it's in the middle of downtown LA it's always busy. There’s not a normal day, there is always something happening.”
So how are huge carp thriving in this cauldron of activity?
“The answer I find simple,” said Enrique, “it’s in the busiest area in LA and you have your daily local citizens walking around feeding the ducks, and in that same lake you have crazy people who like to throw stuff in the water.
“From cabbages to watermelons, breadcrumbs, chillies, peas, steaks, hot dogs, burgers and anything else! Clothes, pants – man, that lake has everything one can imagine. That's why a lot of anglers tend to stay away from this type of fishing.
“There is just too much stuff going into there, one never knows what might pop up, but that lets me know that bigger fish lay at the bottom of the lake, and with persistence I knew I could land something bigger one day.
“I mentioned crazy people…well, I wasn't kidding! That lake needs at least two or four anglers to fish together just to have each other’s backs because this lake…it holds surprises in the water, it also holds surprises out of the water!
“You can see some people selling drugs outside their tents, which shouldn't be there, then syringes everywhere in the grass, then some engaging in adultery in other darker spots of the park. All of this in the day! One could only imagine what it’s like at night, and that's why we have a saying – once the sun goes down we get out.”
Like many American anglers, Enrique, a machine operator from nearby Compton, was initially unfamiliar with both carp and catch-and-release fishing.
“I had no knowledge of this until I met Big Serg,” he said. “One day I was walking with my four-year-old son Joel to teach him the values of fishing and having fun outside of the house.
“As we were fishing I saw this guy who had his rods facing the water but on the ground. I talked to him and asked him why he had his rods on the ground like that, then that's when he told me, ‘I'm carp fishing, it's really fun but I warn you, it's super addictive’.
“I continued to ask questions about the subject and he told me, ‘look, I don't just share what I've learned until I hear something from you, what do you do after you catch a fish?’
“I told him, ‘well, my dad always keeps them, but I just want my son to have fun so I let them go’.
“He said, ‘perfect, that's what I wanted to hear’ and boom, just like that, he became a mentor and a good family friend.”
That chance meeting with Big Serg three years ago led Enrique on a path that would eventually lead to the monstrous common.
His new mentor introduced him to hair rigs and boilies, and his carping passion was ignited.
“He told me when you hook up to that first carp you will experience the joy of carp fishing, and he was right. After I landed my first catch I fell hard into this sport – making boilies, doing rigs, and everything that comes with having the title ‘carp angler’.”
The biggest fish caught by a member of the Ghetto Carping Club is 62lb 4oz, but publicising catches comes with a peril British anglers can only imagine.
“Due to a fear of bowfishermen we tend to stay away from telling anyone about big carp because it would be a wrap and our sport would be at an end,” said Enrique.
Perhaps it’s MacArthur Park’s unique urban location that preserves the life of the 50lb common, which Enrique caught at the end of March.
Remarkably, a very British bait proved its downfall – a Mainline Pineapple pop-up.
“I had let it marinate in strawberry-flavoured olive oil,” said Enrique. “Since Mainline has a smell that lasts almost forever I assumed that by doing this both smells would infuse. Surely I was right!”
In tactics not dissimilar to those used on this side of the Atlantic, Enrique presented the pop-up on a hair rig and moulded pack bait (groundbait) around an inline method feeder. A foot-long 20lb fluorocarbon leader and a flying backlead completed the setup.
“The bite was off the chain, it made my bite alarms scream come get me! The fight was one I will never forget. It just felt like trying to hold a bull from running away. It was super strong!”
Unsurprisingly, the capture drew a crowd of amazed onlookers.
Enrique said: “First thing they said was, ‘oh my god! How did you even manage to pull it out on that line?’
“The word at that moment was OMG, almost in every phrase. It felt great to hear they were happy to see it. And the second reaction was, ‘I can't believe what I'm seeing, tell me that it's real!’.
“‘Very much,’ I responded!”
“The homeless guys were telling me to give it to them because they were hungry, so I gave them my leftover food; sodas, chips and some fruit to help them out a little bit.”
Enrique, whose passion for carping is clear from 5,000 miles away, is not done yet.
“This lake holds bigger monsters,” he said. “Last Sunday I managed to land a small 28-pounder but due to snags there I lost a monster that I couldn’t stop at all. It almost completely spooled me – 200-plus yards!
“There’s easily a 60lb-plus fish in there.”