Guest Post by Anne Stine, one of our 2013-14 Hubbard Fellows:
The carp are so thick in one of our restored creeks near the Platte that their top fins stick out of the water like a shark’s and you can see small schools of their long bodies grubbing around nose-down in the shallows. Fish over a foot long fling themselves into the air above the creek’s slow pools when they’re spooked, seemingly at random. I noticed this abundance on my first day out on the prairie with Chris. With his blessing, it became my mission to harvest a quantity of this invasive fish-flesh in our stretch of creek near the crew quarters.
I found a beautiful fishing spot on a bridge over the pinch between two large pools. From the bridge, you could see carp and gar loitering below. The view of our pastures to the west of the bridge promised a lovely sunset for an evening angler. I baited my hook with corn kernels and cast it in.
Less than ten minutes later I’d hooked a carp as long and meaty as my forearm. Supposedly tricky to catch, these trash fish do love corn. The carp pulled and struggled while I attempted to tire the fish before hauling it in. I was wary- I’ve snapped lines before by reeling in too soon. One fish had gotten away after breaking my line above the bobber. I watched him tow my bobber around and continue to forage for the rest of an evening, the red bobber dragging behind him like a balloon on a string.
Carp are an invasive species for much of the United States. They are considered problematic because they become over-abundant and eat food used by native fish, and their foraging method stirs up mud and increases turbidity in the creeks, rivers, and ponds where they are established. It used to be illegal to throw them back in Minnesota. Nebraska and Iowa still host a “Carp-O-Rama” bowfishing tournament, with prizes awarded based on the highest total weight and the highest total number caught.
Carp’s bad reputation is bolstered by its arguably inferior flavor. Carp are generally considered trash fish because they can have an earthy taste partially sourced in a ‘mud vein’ running along their sides. They also have a complex bone structure that makes filleting a challenge. Common recommendations for preparing carp fillets include scoring the fillets in the diagonal strips so the small bones are softened enough to eat with ease. Smoking carp is also frequently recommended for the same reason. Naturally, I didn’t read any of this and assumed that Americans were just being snobby by snubbing this fish that is widely eaten in Europe and Asia. After catching two moderately sized carp, I went home to fillet the fish and fried them up for my coworkers.
I want to say the carp were delicious. I want to say “Everyone! Go out and help yourself to amazing, readily available fish. Do your river a favor and eat carp.” Frankly, carp is bony with a muddy aftertaste. I’ll try a few more prep methods, but my enthusiasm for utilizing this neglected resource is greatly diminished now that I’ve had it. Hopefully bunnies this fall will be easier on the palate.