Every year about this time the Discovery Channel has their Shark Week. If you are a pointy-headed fisheries biologist like me, you think that is pretty cool, especially when great white sharks are munching on seals (Ah, poor seal.) Unfortunately, Nebraska has some really cool toothy predators, but alas no sharks. To piggyback on the whole shark week thing some have thought it would be fun if we had “Carp Week” at the same time. OK. If we are going to have a “carp week”, let me offer some perspective.
There are several species of carp found in Nebraska. None of them are native. Carp are actually members of the minnow family and we have lots of native minnows, and lots of native suckers, but none of the carp species found in Nebraska are native. The common carp, Cyprinus carpio, has been present in North America for so long that many folks believe they are a native species. They ain’t.
As I recall, the first “special edition” published by NEBRASKAland magazine was done 35 years ago, Sportsman’s Scrapbook, A 100-Year History of the Outdoors.
I thought that was a great publication at the time, one of the best special editions ever, and I still refer to it often. In that special edition there was a quick review of the history of common carp in Nebraska:
Curious to note that back in the day they were referred to as “German” carp? From what I can tell, all of the carp species originated in Asia, but some have been transplanted around the world and have been transplanted for a long time. Apparently, if they came from Germany they had to be good? Ha. Brown trout when first introduced to this continent were also called “German” browns.
Anyway, common carp were released in waters across Nebraska and the rest of the country because they were going to be the fish to feed the masses. The state of fisheries science in the past very much was one of “throw ’em in and see what they do”. At one time or another everything from Atlantic salmon to tench have been stocked in Nebraska waters. Many of those stockings were doomed to failure as obviously Nebraska does not have any Atlantic salmon habitat, but unfortunately, common carp took hold over 125 years ago and we have had them ever since. As you can see, they have been too much of a “good” thing.
Common carp can cause declines in water quality and destroy aquatic habitat. In addition an abundance of common carp in a water body will compete with other more desirable fish. For over 100 years now we have been trying to get rid of common carp and those efforts will continue. Simply put, if practical, we can produce better fishing for more desirable species of fish by eliminating common carp. Fisheries managers across Nebraska will continue to do that, and many of us will always have a hatred of carp because we know what our fisheries could be without them.
Nevertheless, common carp are here to stay and they can be a worthy catch for any angler! As a matter of fact, there is not one of our fish that has a brain much bigger than the end of your little finger, even the big fish, but surprisingly, common carp probably would rate as the “smartest” fish that swim in our waters. In most cases common carp are exposed to relatively little fishing pressure in Nebraska waters and can be caught with relatively simple presentations (K.I.S.S.–Keep It Simple, Stupid). However, where carp are actively pursued, they wise up and fishing tactics must become very technical and very sophisticated. Common carp are a species that can be a challenge for any angler, from the beginner to the best stick.
Carp may never be accepted as being as good on the table as many other fish, but the fact remains that they can be very good if prepared properly. There is no bad fish or game on the table, only bad cooks.
I understand the scoffing and derision directed at carp, and I suppose also directed at “carp week”. It is deserved. But, set that all aside for a bit, give them a try sometime, you might even find a little appreciation for them. You might as well, they ain’t going away.