Waddington, N.Y. For two days, Stewart McKenzie and John Tilbrook had been living on Red Bull energy drinks and cappuccino boiled over a camp stove, and they looked like it.
"Oh, god! My stomach is in knots. I haven't been this stressed since my wedding day," said McKenzie, 30, a graphic designer from Round Hill, Va.
Tilbrook, his 40-year-old teammate from Virginia Beach, said: "We haven't eaten anything solid. Once we realized we were still in it, we were too nervous to take time to do anything that could cost us a fish."
McKenzie and Tilbrook were among 100 teams from around the globe that paid $2,500 to compete in the World Carp Championship. They fished day and night for five days on the banks and islands along 40 miles of the St. Lawrence River.
It came as no surprise that the winners were English professionals Tim Paisley and Steve Briggs. From noon June 5 to 10 a.m. June 10, they landed 80 carp that weighed 1,590 pounds, 5 ounces, earning their second world title, $50,000 in cash and two Chevy pickups.
But second place and $7,500 were up for grabs in the waning minutes, and McKenzie and Tilbrook, who started carp fishing in England before moving to the United States, held a precarious lead over another American team and two Romanians.
Largely dismissed as "trash fish" by Americans who pursue smaller species like bass, trout and walleye, the carp has been a premier sport fish in Europe for 400 years. The St. Lawrence is the Promised Land for carpers, offering Europeans a chance to catch more 20-pounders in a day than in a lifetime at home.
By Day 2 of this event, Paisley and Briggs had posted a heavier total weight than 300 anglers did in five days during the last world championship, in Romania in 2003. The biggest carp in this event weighed 43 pounds, 7 ounces.
The North American debut of the World Carp Championship was remarkably glitch-free. One team lost fish to hungry otters that attacked its keep-nets in the wee hours, and an official had to tell some Russians that U.S. etiquette forbids fishing naked.