You know how they used to say that only cockroaches and coyotes would survive the end of the world caused by a nuclear exchange? I think we should add carp to the list.
When I was a kid in East Texas, my little brother and I got our hands on a little blowtorch – we happily used it to fry the giant wooden cockroaches that slithered across the back patio when we lit outdoor floodlights just after dark. We were told that we could heat a wooden roach until it was red, and when it cooled, it revived and moved away. As amusing as it may be to believe this to be true, it simply isn’t. But no matter how many wood roaches we roasted on the cement, we never seemed to run out of wood roaches to roast. They were everywhere (except in my mother’s house – if she had found one inside, she would have burned down the house herself).
And, no matter how hard the mainland trappers and vermin hunters try, it seems impossible to completely eliminate the adaptable coyote from the landscape. In some cities they roam the avenues and neighborhoods at night with more bluster than street thugs, and, it seems, there is nothing we can do about it. Video doorbell images don’t lie.
Add common carp to the pest rolls that may be pests for eternity. And, I would say, unless it’s a biological necessity, stop trying to remove the fish from the waters where they’ve become as naturalized as any other non-native animal that now glides or roams or flies through the skies of the North America. Carp are the wood cockroaches of our rivers and they don’t go anywhere. There is no torch for this level of pestilence.
Instead, at a time when our trout rivers are getting too warm to be year-round trout rivers, and the polluted backwaters of urban drainage systems are too inhospitable to “respectable” fish, consider the common carp as the only resource that we, as trout anglers, can turn to in a pinch. Every spring and early summer some years, I can count on Common Carp to be the “shoulder season” to my fly fishing itch. Carp just might be the fish of all seasons – when the “hoot owl” regulations kick in and Madison and Yellowstone are too hot to reasonably fish for trout, when Silver Creek gets so hot and filled with algae that its dissolved oxygen levels are inhospitable to fragile trout, carp wander elsewhere and feed.
It’s the teflon fish. Over the years, while participating in carp pullout tournaments, I have caught hundreds and hundreds of carp from the Snake River in southern Idaho. And every year there are thousands and thousands of carp lined up to be fooled by a crayfish pattern, pulled a bit by the face and then deposited on the bank (when I was killing carp – and I don’t don’t anymore, because I realized I was just feeding the coyotes – I sent the critters out first There’s something inside me that keeps me from suffocating a living, breathing, cooking animal under the sun).
In addition, carp is a resource. All over the world they were grown for food. Hell, they were brought to the United States by the US Fish Commission under the Grant administration to help feed a nation on the brink of an industrial revolution. They are eminently edible (although, I admit, I haven’t enjoyed them that way yet). They make an excellent fertilizer for the garden. And they are great fun on a fly rod.
The latter becomes less and less secret. What was once a semi-enclosed community of enlightened trout bums is now a veritable cult of carp in the United States. Elsewhere in the world, carp are revered, and have been for centuries, both for their flesh and for their fighting ability. Although “revered” is a status the fish has not earned in the United States, it will eventually happen.
And it will happen because the fish that is revered – our angel trout – is in deep trouble from a warming world and a host of other environmental challenges that we are tackling at molasses speed in December. . I am certainly not suggesting that we give up the fight to protect the lands and waters that our wild and native trout need. Instead, I suggest that while we slowly work to improve our trout waters and ensure their habitat remains intact, we consider taking an 8 weight to the local drainage ditch, reservoir or river. and to pursue a fish that will likely be swimming in our waters long after the fate of our trout is decided.
I might even suggest that there are times of the year when trout fishing is simply an unacceptable business. The long, hot summer days that a few decades ago might have been ideal for a day on the river are now the least ideal time to go for trout. But the carp? Oh fuck, yes. Large omnivores are so adaptable that water temperature barely figures into the “should I stay or should I go” equation.
I caught carp alongside cutthroat trout in March and April and caught them casting largemouth bass when the mercury topped 100 degrees in August. Honestly, I’m sure I enjoy catching carp more than bass – the fight requires strong gear and an unwavering constitution.
Truth be told, if trout weren’t so beautiful and the regalia surrounding trout fishing effort weren’t so celebrated, I might also rather catch carp than trout. That’s a question I might have to answer in therapy, but it’s out there.
Where I live, it’s almost ‘carp season’, and I’m delighted. I have the RV cleaned, loaded with saltwater gear and the myriad of flies I’ll need to fool the smartest fish in the river. It will last about six weeks. Then the snow will be gone from the high country and I can walk through the woods with a weight 2 and chase my beloved cutthroats.
But when the water gets too warm to safely catch and handle wild trout – and it will – I may have to go back to carp. If you have the chance (and you probably do, given that carp swim pretty much anywhere there is water), I invite you to join the cult.
You may tell yourself that you are doing it just to protect the trout. This is my story, and I stick to it.