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Amos Behanna learns fast, wins Carp Classic

Amos Behannan Indianman who reigned as Chicago Carp King with 22.7-pound carp packs bait Montrose Harbor during Chicago Carp Classic.

Amos Behanna, an Indiana man who reigned as Chicago Carp King with a 22.7-pound carp, packs bait at Montrose Harbor during the Chicago Carp Classic. | Dale Bowman~For the Sun-Times

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Updated: November 10, 2011 9:40AM

I t took only a couple broken lines inside of Montrose Harbor for Amos Behanna to learn Chicago ways.

The Indiana man learned quick enough to win the jeweled belt bucket that goes to the Chicago Carp King. He caught the big fish (22 pounds, 7 ounces) in the Chicago Carp Classic on Saturday.

The CCC originated as a lark in the early 1990s along the south bank of the Chicago River downtown. Within a few years, it ballooned into an international event drawing color spreads in European magazines. Then the CCC wandered North America for various reasons.

The nomad returned to Chicago this year and was held for the first time on the lakefront, on the south bank of Montrose Harbor.

Chicagoan Bogdan Tarean caught the second-biggest carp (19-8) in the final hour to go with an earlier 9-9 to earn the title of North American Carp Champion and Wacker Baits Most Fish Winner.

“[Tarean] had [prefished] it half a dozen times with no fish, so he started it with low expectations,’’ said Paul Pezalla of Wacker Baits, organizer of the event.

Behanna had no expectations when he arrived to fish Chicago for the first time Friday. But he learned on a couple fish runs inside Montrose Harbor.

“Zebra mussels tore my line,’’ he said. “I added something.’’

That was a 4-foot piece of Leadcore line, a tougher leader.

On Saturday, he drew peg 3 (pegs are designated areas drawn by fishermen) to the far east of Montrose’s south bank.

Just before noon, he had a fish hooked.

“It was a pretty stout fish,’’ he said. “He kept diving for the bottom.’’

After a 10-minute battle, the fish was landed. After weighing by stewarts, it was released.

Asked why carp fishing, Behanna said, ‘‘Personally, I find it relaxing. I have been doing it since I was a little boy growing up [in Washington, Pa.]. I love the fight of them. I have tried trout, bass, muskie and walleye.’’

What started as a fun time in Chicago — his wife, Page, said, “I came along to see the city. I usually fish with him.’’ — turned into a championship weekend.

The ground bait or oat pack for Behanna’s big fish was southern-influenced: 18 ounces of quick oats, 24 ounces of old-fashioned grits, 18 ounces of homemade bread crumbs, 3 ounces of instant grits, one can of creamed corn, one can of drained sweet corn and two packages of banana pudding.

“Smell it,’’ he said.

It smelled like bananas. Or maybe victory.

He packed it in a ball to hold until cast out as chum. His actual bait was a few kernels of sweet corn on a hair rig.

Carp fishing in America has come a long way in a short time.

When I bumped into Marcin Szydlowski, an Arlington Heights man with champion honors around North America, I asked the worth of his three rods and stand.

“A little less than $4,000,’’ he said. “The new models show up; now it is much cheaper.’’

All the same, it costs him $100 just to put line on one reel.

Serious modern carp fishermen use beepers on their lines to tell when bites come. It makes an odd cacophony by water’s edge when fishing is good.

At 4 p.m., fishermen shouted down the line. Yes, it was time.

The 49 entries were half what was expected. The south bank of Montrose is my favorite view of the city. But the earlier setting of the CCC downtown on the Chicago River was world class. I asked Pezalla if CCC could return there.

“I don’t think the river is even possible,’’ he said. ‘‘No place to fish basically: tour boats, flower beds, wine bars. Can’t do it.’’

Derbies and doings

Fishin’ Buddies! and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County present their 20th annual fishing derby on Saturday at Wampum Lake in Lansing. It’s free, but preregister at . . . Henry’s Sports and Bait holds the eighth annual Salmon Classic at Northerly Island from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday. Registration begins at 6 p.m. Call (312) 225-8538.

Stray cast

That front-page spread in the floppy newspaper last week touting its football coverage reminded me of cheesebait: you know, putting what was once something else to some use.

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