Most people think carp were illegally introduced as an exotic species and have steadily invaded our lakes and waterways across the United States, but the truth is stranger than fiction.
Before 1870, all native North American freshwater fish from bass to buffalo fish were regarded as a vital natural resource. Millions of pounds of these fish were commercially harvested, iced down and shipped by rail to major cities.
The large harvests of freshwater species resulted in a decreasing stock of lake and river fish as our country's population was growing. As a result in 1871, Congress authorized President Ulysses S. Grant to appoint the U.S. Fish Commission to manage the nation's fishery and by 1874 the commission released a report called "Fishes Especially Worthy of Cultivation."
Mr. Carp was the star candidate. The report stated, "no other species except the carp promises so great a return in limited waters." It went on to say, "Because it is a vegetable feeder, and although not disdaining animal matters, can live on vegetation alone and can attain large weight kept in small ponds and tanks."
By 1877 the commission imported 345 fish that were placed in the Druid Hill Park ponds in Baltimore. The ponds proved to be inadequate so some of the fish were moved to Babcock lakes on the monument lot in Washington, D.C.
Within the next few years millions of carp fingerling were reared and shipped to every state in the union as well as Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico. From there each state propagated its allotment of carp fingerling and distributed them to the various lakes in each state. This was the largest stocking effort ever embarked upon by the federal and state governments. Commercial fishing started in 1900 and by 1950 annual catches reached 36 million pounds.
After World War II, refrigeration units replaced ice and frozen fish could be stored for longer periods of time. The United States fishery switched from increasingly polluted inland waters to saltwater where the oceans were perceived as pure and contained an everlasting supply of fish. As a result, the popularity of the carp, as a food source, dwindled but the fish continued to multiply and soon states were poisoning lakes of all fish in an attempt to eradicate the carp.
Carp are found in all freshwater bodies in our valley, especially Finney, Ramer and Sunbeam lakes and are a blast to catch. They exhibit a blinding burst of speed and long run when first hooked and many weigh in excess of 20 pounds.
This is the perfect fish to get kids interested in fishing. When I was young, most fish I caught were carp and I certainly didn't care that they were a trash fish. I can still remember the thrill of feeling my rod bent double while watching my line scream through the water fast enough to leave a vapor trail.
If you decide to go carp fishing, remember to not use a bobber. You can catch more carp if your bait is on the bottom. You also will catch more carp if you stay away from the regular baits and use dough balls instead.
The following is my secret dough ball recipe. It works so good it is outlawed in Montana. Just pinch off a bit of dough and form it around the hook.
1 cup liquid (strawberry Kool-Aid or strawberry soda pop)
1 1/4 cups ground cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
Bring the liquid to a boil. Lower heat and add cornmeal and flour. Stir over low heat for five minutes. Cover and put in double boiler on low for a half hour. If too thick, add water. If too thin, add flour. Knead dough when cool enough to handle. Divide dough into five parts. Wrap each piece tightly and freeze so it will be ready for your next fishing trip.
One final hint to keep you out of trouble. Release any grass carp immediately to keep the game warden off your back. The grass carp are the ones that don't have any little yucky whiskers around the mouth.
Outdoor Tales columnist Al Kalin may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.