The Rise of the Lowly Carp


Larry Case

Courtesy Photo Jack Ellis with a carp taken at Kanawha Falls, on the upper Kanawha river in W. Va.

By Larry Case

Guest Columnist

Smoked carp tastes just as good as smoked salmon when you ain’t got no smoked salmon.” Patrick F. McManus

We humans are a fickle lot. Fashion and public opinion can change like the wind blowing over Cheat Mountain. What you and your neighbors think is just peachy one day may be considered uncool the next. So right about now you are starting to think “OK Larry, what are you rambling about this time?” Well, I’ll tell you, it’s the lowly carp.

Now you fishermen out there know all about this fish, and you know the status of the carp has really not been that great. The carp of the world, recognizing this evidently hired a new PR firm because in the past few years as this fish has definitely climbed the social ladder. Once thought of as an undesirable scavenger, now you may very well see a carp in a high end outdoor magazine being held aloft by a fly fisherman, that right, I said a fly fisherman. Not only that, but a fly fisherman all decked out in Orvis attire. You know that you have made it when you associate with the fly fishermen, the upper crust of the fishing world.

Just so you know of where I speak, I have quite a bit of experience with the carp tribe. During much of my misspent youth I pursued these fish often with an intensity that my parents and teachers would have liked to have seen directed at homework and other boring endeavors. I of course could not be bothered by such mundane activities, I had fish to catch. Sometimes that was carp.

The carp is an omnivore in his feeding and will eat most anything, and I do mean anything. This trait has had much to do with his low position in fish hierarchy. In choosing bait for catching carp however, fishermen have long known that carp have a weakness for bread and for carp bait this takes the form of doughballs. You can make a very serviceable bait by simply mashing plain white bread into doughballs and putting these on a hook. True carp devotees go way beyond this method and have elaborate recipes for their bait.

You understand I cannot divulge the details for my own secret recipe, but it well known that carp have a sweet tooth (well, they don’t actually have any teeth, but you what I mean) and in mixing the dough to make my own carp bait sensation I always added strawberry Jell-O. There are other ingredients of course but the Jell-O is essential.

The common carp is actually a member of the minnow family (Cyprinus) even though carp in the 90 to 100 pound class have been caught. These fish are native to Asia but have been introduced over much of the world and reportedly were stocked as a food fish in Europe by the Romans. This is where we broach the delicate subject of the edibility and tastiness of the carp. I can imagine an early Roman dude having a fish fry with some of his buddies.

Claudius: “Hey Cassius, what kind of fish is this?”

Cassius: “The guy at the fish market said it was “carp”.”

Claudius: “Any good?”

Cassius: “It’s OK, just put a lot of cocktail sauce on it.”

One variety of carp has been bred for ornamental fish in garden ponds and are known as koi and some are very expensive. These fish are brightly colored and will often attract predators that the owners do not want to see around. In my years on the job I would occasionally hear about raccoons, otters, kingfishers, and Great Blue herons having koi fish for dinner. Slow moving, bright gold fish in a tiny pond are easy prey for a heron, and once when I was checking out such a complaint from a landowner I was privy to a pair of herons discussing this as they speared some koi for a snack.

Fred: “Hey Ed, what kind of fish are these?”

Ed: “I think they call them koi.”

Fred: “Any good?”

Ed: “They’re OK, just put a lot of cocktail sauce on it.”

In the angling world what matters to most of us is the pull on the line. This is where Mr. Carp shines, maybe above all other freshwater fish. He may not pretty, he may not be a finicky eater, and he may come from the wrong side of the tracks, but once you set the hook, hang on to your hat. Carp are dogged, bullish fighters and they can get pretty big. A twenty pound carp is common in most areas and they can get much larger. So in the end we have a large, great fighting fish that is very plentiful and fairly easy to hook. As to the eating part, I will leave that up to you.

You may just want to use a lot of cocktail sauce.

(Larry Case is a guest outdoor columnist. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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