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Scary stuff? Anglers hunt for biggest carp

SARULESTI, Romania — Somewhere, rumor has it, there's a 90-pound carp lurking at the bottom of Sarulesti Lake here.

And more than 200 fishermen from 30 countries — with good reason to believe this is no tall tale — recently descended on this bleak plain to reel in the elusive creature.

"That's why we come all this way — for the big fish," 41-year-old British angler Steve Briggs said at the halfway point of the fishing World Cup, a six-day tournament.

An 82-pound carp was caught in the man-made lake in 1998 by an Austrian, and that remains the world record for common carp. (Although, the International Game Fish Association recognizes a 75-pound, 11-inch specimen taken from France's Lac de St. Cassien in 1987 as the all-tackle record.)

This carp haven was a collection of four villages 28 miles from Bucharest until the 1980s. Then former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu dammed the Danube River to flood the area in a misguided attempt to expand waterborne shipping.

Residents were given 72 hours' notice that their homes would be submerged.

In 1990, former tennis coach Robert Raduta leased the lake and land from the state and chased away poachers. He then built a hotel and stocked the lake with fish, building it into "the carp angler's Everest," according to the June edition of British Carpworld. He held his first World Cup in 1999.

There are two parts to the competition — the biggest individual catch and the total weight of fish over the week.

Contestants pay nearly $2,600 to enter and might spend as much on bait during the competition. Many doze by their rods, struggling out of sleeping bags when awakened by alarms of a fish biting.

"It's one of the best places in the world for carp," said Kurt Grabmayer, who runs a rod and reel shop in Vienna, Austria, as he tenderly put a fish back into the water after it was weighed.

Grabmayer is part of the Austrian team, which took an early after a night of bountiful fishing. They reeled in five big ones, weighing a total of 198 pounds.

Opinions differ on whether they're good eating, but the men who stalk them agree that carp are cunning and shy. They can live to be more than 50 years old, have long memories and are attracted by cherry- and orange-scented bait, which resemble candy.

With swollen bellies and large scales, the carp in Sarulesti Lake grow big on a rich diet of crawfish, worms and mussels. They are so sharp they cut anglers' lines.

"There are massive fish. It's good genetics," said Robbie Green, a cigar importer from Johannesburg, South Africa.

"You have to build a picture in your mind, and find out where the (carp's) food lies," Green said.

Raduta, who emigrated in the early 1980s and worked as a tennis coach with Ion Tiriac, the former manager to Boris Becker, expected the fishing frenzy to peak later in the tourney.

Although he believes the "big feller" probably is too wily to be hooked, he said the winner of the individual trophy most likely will pull in a fish weighing more than 55 pounds; a U.S. competitor had landed one weighing 44 pounds.

"My luck is that I took on this lake for pleasure," he said. "People are now realizing that fish is not only for eating."