Outside the UK and Europe common carp have a bad reputation, a fish that in certain quarters is adored, a lifetimes passion and respected beyond any other fish for those who chase it.
Contrast that with its reputation in North America, where it can only be described as a ‘pest’ to most, here’s a few quotes I found:
The common carp is first a destroyer of game fish eggs, and second a bottom feeding trash fish
They are fun to catch, and even more fun to throw into the woods for the raccoons to eat
But a whole carp is a MASSIVE blast of perfectly balanced fertiliser
But why do people have these opinions? Why is there such a huge difference across the Atlantic? Why do fisherman in the UK spend a lifetime chasing huge carp when there US counterparts want them out of their lakes, killed and use them for bow fishing target practice?
I hope to shed some light on why us UK fisherman love carp so much and why people like myself can only try to understand what the situation must be like to hate a creature that brings only pleasure to our lives.
Disclaimer: though I have spent time in the US and Canada fishing for carp, I can only go on what I believe to be true and I would love to hear the opinions of US fisherman who both fish for (there are some!) and feel carp have no place there. Feel free to get in touch using the comments section below, I will also be happy to edit this post to include any critical views/opinion expressed. Also I am strictly talking about common carp and other members of the king carp variety, mirror, leather etc.
A quick delve in to the history of carp in the US
Carp were introduced in the US in the mid 1800’s, waves of immigrants from Europe and Asia could not believe that a fish they had cultivated as a food source, used as garden ornaments and a symbol of strength and courage in Asia was not native to the rivers and lakes of Northern America.
This led to vast importations and fish farms sprouted up over the mid-late 1800’s.
The US Commission of Fish and Fisheries bowed to intense pressure to make carp more widely available because of dwindling numbers of native fish species due to intense exploitation.
Problems started when public agencies and sportsmen began to regard the fish as a nuisance because of the apparent drop in water quality and native fish becoming harder to catch.
In the early 1990’s biologists tested carp’s ability to deal with different types of chemicals, they cited that the carp is a prodigious reproducer and is highly tolerant of pollution.
A book by Buffler and Dickson detailed how carp were mis-understood and how opinion of them has grown negatively since. Namely that carp are not the reason behind a lack of native species in US lakes and rivers but the industrial growth, over pollution and waste that is poured into the waters they exist. Carp have an ability to live and breed in low quality water, meaning they have simply survived the deluge where other species couldn’t.
Now, for the UK history
Carp were imported from Europe by monks in the early 1300’s, firstly as a food source and then for ornamental purposes.
Since then carp have flourished in 99% of the UK’s water, from small rivers to reservoirs and village ponds to the largest rivers and even tiny streams.
The UK fishing public were enlightened by Richard Walker in 1952 who landed the UK’s first 40lb carp, which beforehand had been deemed ‘impossible to catch’. Ever since anglers have sought more and more technical ways to out-wit and capture their targets, this soon led to fathers teaching sons and fish farms rearing carp specifically for angling.
Now, in 2012 there are thousands of commercial lakes and reservoirs in the UK that have built a business on that want to catch big and wild carp.
Why do us UK anglers love fishing for carp
Carp fishing in the UK is a cult, a lifetimes hobby and a way of life to many millions of dedicated anglers who spend there lives dreaming of landing a 30, 40, 50 or even a 60lb fish which are becoming more and more rare.
Carp are the biggest commonly available freshwater fish in the UK, though there are a handful of places that offer sturgeon and cat-fish that exceed the weight of specimen carp.
There in lies the allure, carp anglers dream of landing that big fish, but to do so has become difficult. Unlike in the US we do not have huge shoals of thousands of carp in lakes and rivers and in fact the most sought after lakes in the country have a very small amount of carp in them but this is where our love of carp comes from.
For the British, carp fishing is about competition, out-witting an opponent and escapism.
Carp are very intelligent fish, though hard to believe at first, spending months on end at a lake of 12 acres with only 6 fish in is going to be difficult but that prize of landing a fish of a lifetime is what drives us on.
Being at one with nature is a huge part of carp fishing, spending days on end camping out in woodland or by a river brings solitude, a break from daily worries and concentration.
Whats our view on why carp are hated in the US
The opinion in the UK is that we are quite happy about the American fisherman neglecting carp, it means we can come over on holiday and catch plenty of fish at ease, but that’s not what we are about, we like the competition and thinking past that there is a very real reason why I think that carp are disliked by US anglers.
Its simple, there are too many. It’s a case of supply and demand. It’s the same reason why many people accuse carp of being the problem behind a lack of native fish, if the Walleye had the capabilities of carp to reproduce and survive in all water situations, eat everything that swims and dwindled the carp stocks down to zero while over populating the lakes and rivers there would be a similar outcry.
The grass is always greener. Yes carp eat roots, cause dirty water and are taking over the countries rivers and lakes. But would you prefer to fish in a slightly cloudy lake or one that was full to the top with weed and didn’t allow you to cast at all.
In the UK anything that goes against the angler is added competition. If the water is cloudy, use a smelly bait.
In the UK there are many lakes and ponds that are stocked to the brim with carp of low quality and little size, these attract beginner anglers and pleasure fisherman. But the real winners are the beautiful lakes with smaller levels of fish for anglers to ‘buy in’ on exclusive syndicates.
If in the US carp were moved in commercial venues were those who wanted to fish for them paid to do so, it would become more popular. People would value carp for the intelligent, huge creature that they are.
Dude, seriously? Carp are pointless creatures
That is exactly the response I received in a recent forum post, well, I have removed the expletives.
Truth is, in the UK we think the fish that freshwater anglers in the US target are pointless too. I mean why would you target a fish that grows no more than 10lb when there is 50lb fishing swimming next to them? Though I suppose we go back to what I mentioned earlier, competition.
At the heart of every anglers goals is competition and I understand that carp are everywhere in the US and the fact that because the native species are becoming harder to find and catch (maybe or maybe not because of the carp) makes them more of an appeal. This is exactly the same as why we love carp, at least the big ones.
We have a species of freshwater fish called bream, we hate the little slimy round things, ‘snotties’ is their unofficial name. You know why we hate them? Because they are everywhere and they get in the way when targeting carp.
We are actually not that different
With stories about carp killing off native species, clouding up water systems and all the other reasons aside, we are actually not that different.
In my view, American anglers do not hate carp, they hate the situation of too much supply.
Carp are the scapegoat, simply because they have benefitted by over-pollution killing off other species and opening up more space, food and breeding opportunities for them to exploit.
I would wager that if any other native US species took over in the same way the carp has, grew fat on eating carp stocks and was unavoidable in all water systems there would be the same uproar about carp stocks dwindling.
I wonder how many people actually survive because of carp, how many native Americans use carp as a large part of their food source.
All said and done there is one reason we all go fishing, one reason we keep getting up at stupid o’clock in the morning in the winter to pit our wits against our adversaries…
Everyone across the world goes fishing, not to catch fish but to be fishing, be away from everything else, be void of the daily grind
So you have thousands of 40lb carp in your local river, go hook one and see if you get the same thrill trying to get it on the bank. Fishing is fishing.
OK, I realise my point is floored, but…
I started this post by trying to draw conclusions about carp, maybe to understand more about why carp are disliked in the US and to try to put my point across about how and why we in the UK love catching carp.
I soon realised that the problem runs a lot deeper than that, it’s not carp that are disliked, it’s the situation.
To finish I want to say one thing, give carp a go. Don’t be a sheep and follow everyone else saying ‘kill the carp’, give it a go and I promise that you will enjoy catching some whopping great fish. I know one thing, I wish I had thousands of huge river carp on my doorstep ready to battle against.
As I mentioned above, I would love to hear you views on this subject.