Into the Outdoors - The Lowly Carp

By Chris Henderson -

This week, we are going to look at a fish that we haven’t looked at for a long time in this column. That fish is the lowly carp.  In this country, the carp is, for the most part, considered to be the epitome of trash fish. They can live in dirty water. They’re really ugly. Their flesh is considerably less than delectable (more on that later).  They also root on the bottom and muddy up a body of water.

I should point out that we are referring to the common carp, as opposed to the invasive Asian carp, which is threatening the fishery in the Great Lakes. One type of these is known for leaping out of the water.  In fact, I have seen films of anglers wearing motorcycle helmets to help avoid injury from jumping fish.

Carp are members of the family cyprinidae. Our local carp’s scientific name is cyrpinus carpio.  Carp of one type or another are found in most parts of the world. Surprisingly, they are actually a type of minnow.  They spawn in late spring to early summer. Each female can lay up to a million eggs. Obviously, most of the hatchlings do not survive to maturity. They are a food source for many predators, including many aquatic forms as well as land based ones.  They are a real favorite of birds of prey, especially eagles and ospreys.  Those that manage to survive can live for up to about fifteen years, and reach genuinely huge sizes. The Pennsylvania state record is fifty-two pounds. The monster was caught in the Susquehanna River. If you’ve ever been to the Linesville spillway, where “the ducks walk on the fish,” you’ve seen firsthand how huge carp can get.

Why would anyone want to fish for carp?  First and foremost, I think, is fighting ability.  Unlike suckers, which come in like an old boot, a carp will give you a knock down, drag out fight.  You can even fish for them with fly tackle, as they will take both dry and wet flies with gusto.  A big carp on a fly rod is something you have to experience to believe.  My personal favorite bait for them has always been the traditional doughball. There are countless recipes for doughballs out there.  I like to mix flour, water and a lot of vanilla extract into a dough. I then place the dough in a plastic bag and boil it for awhile.  This gives it a texture that makes it much easier to keep on the hook.  When you bait up, keep the doughball small.  Even a big carp has a relatively small mouth. Years ago, I thought that big doughballs were better.  When a more accomplished angler than I told me otherwise, I had sense enough to listen to him, and I’m really glad I did.  Worms and insect larvae can also be productive, but I don’t think anything can actually consistently beat doughballs.

If you catch some carp, there are a number of things you can do with them. You can, as I prefer, throw them back.  Some folks use them for trapping bait or fertilizer. Still others eat them. That’s right. I said eat them.  In fact, carp are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. They are also beginning to catch on a little bit here in North America.  Not long ago, I saw a show on one of the food channels which featured a restaurant whose main menu item is carp.  There were people lining up to get in. I don’t know how they cooked them, but they looked pretty good.  Years ago, a guy brought some carp he had smoked along on a fishing trip.  It was good, although I don’t know what he did to make it that way. Anyway, if you’re feeling adventurous, you might want to give the lowly carp a try on the table. Good luck with it.

In closing, this is the time of year when many people get stung by insects.  Usually, this doesn’t amount to much.  Several years ago, I was stung by a yellow jacket. My arm got hot and swollen. The doctor said that I was close to blood poisoning from a staph infection. Do not take these stings lightly. Apply a disinfectant.

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