We walk along the water’s edge at a lake near Boulder, Colorado. With each laborious step, my boot presses into a slick sheen of monochrome muck. As I lift my foot for the next stride, a glistening glob of gray goop clings to the sole. It smells of sewage.
Just ahead, my companion has spotted a pod of fish. Trout can’t survive in the murky, heated water of this urban reservoir, but it’s ideal habitat for carp. In fact, they’re at least partially responsible for its muddy character. Carp feed by rooting around on the bottom. The action of their snouts and the wallowing of their bodies stir up dirt and debris, clouding the water and covering rocks and plants. Silt stirred by carp can smother the eggs of other fish and contaminate habitat for a host of aquatic insects.
Transported to the United States in the mid 19th century, carp are native to Asia. They grow quickly and tolerate high water temperatures. Female carp in their prime may produce as many as two million eggs. It’s little wonder they often crowd out native minnows and other species of fish. Considered a delicacy in parts of Europe, carp were released in American waters in hopes they would become a commercially valuable resource. But few people like to eat them.
My guide has hooked a carp with his fly. The brute runs toward the middle of the lake, its stout, strong body bending his rod in a severe arc. He smiles widely. Though a master hunter of trout, he’s a carp dude, one of a small cadre of anglers who, despite their academic disdain for this interloping transplant, relish the challenge of fooling a crafty carp with a fly and bringing its bulk to hand.
Like many non-native species with a deleterious impact on native life, carp are here to stay. The decision to scatter them, willy-nilly across North America waters, can’t be undone. They can be managed, but not eradicated, cussed but not conquered. Carp all you want, but we’re stuck with carp.