Just before I left for a weekend of turkey hunting and trout fishing, my friend, Chris, who is originally from England, called to plan a summer fishing trip.
“Sure,” he said, “we could fish the Ausable River for trout. But do you know any places where we can get into some carp?”
“Carp?!” I spat.
“Oh yeah, carp are brilliant gamefish.”
“No,” I said flatly. “Carp suck … literally. And in this country, just about any fish that sucks literally also sucks figuratively.”
“Did you know you can catch them on a fly rod with nymphs?”
“I can catch creek chubs on dry flies, but that doesn’t mean I want to.”
“Maybe,” he said. “But a carp is no creek chub.”
“They’re both minnows,” I pointed out. “A carp is nothing but an ugly, overgrown minnow. And you’re going to have a hard time convincing me to fish for them.”
And so went our debate — one, in fact, that’s been going on for decades between Old World and New World anglers. Over there, the carp is a popular and celebrated gamefish. Over here, it’s a trash fish.
When I got off the phone, I drove up to the Ausable to try to catch an evening spinner fall. But it was a bust. Thousands of Hendrickson spinners were hovering over the water, but they never fell and not a single fish rose.
So I drove the rest of the way to my folks’ house and hit the sack. At 4:30 a.m. my friend Jo and I met for a morning turkey hunt. But it was a lost cause, too. The birds refused to gobble. Worse, we forgot the bug dope and were dogged by a cloud of mutant mosquitoes that followed our every move.
At one point, while I was still trying to get a bird to shock-gobble to a crow call, I caught Jo’s eye, which I could barely make out through the swarm of bloodsuckers trying to penetrate his headnet. He was clearly hoping that we wouldn’t hear a gobble.
“If we do hear one,” he said, “we’ll have to set up and sit still. And if we do that, we’ll be carried away and sucked dry.” With that, we ran back to the truck.
Next, we stopped at a local trout stream, but it was a complete washout due to the overnight rains. We moved to a bigger river, where we hoped to find some spawning pike. The only tackle I had to catch them with was a 4-weight fly rod and a few small streamer flies. That didn’t prove to be a problem, however, as there were no pike to be found.
Finally, I knew I was beat. I was ready to accept that the weekend would be an unmitigated bust.
“Well,” I said to Jo, “I guess there’s something to be said for knowing when to quit.”
“Yup. Wait a second — look at that.”
Upstream, he’d spotted a splashy commotion all across a wide, shallow riffle. We walked up to investigate. And there, rolling and writhing in plain sight, with their backs poking above the surface, were hundreds of carp.
“Unbelievable,” I said. “Of course, it would come to this.”
“What are you talking about?” Jo asked.
“Nothing,” I answered. “I guess we should tie on some nymphs.”
“You think they’ll take ’em?”
“That’s what I hear.”
So I tied on a stonefly nymph and pinched on a split shot. Then I cast to a pod of fish, felt a bump, set the hook, and stood helpless while an ugly, overgrown minnow peeled line off my 4-weight reel. It took a while, but after a hard fight, I landed a 10-pound carp.
Then Jo hooked up, and I cast — a bit more eagerly — back into the pod and stuck another. We spent the rest of the day happily battling 8- to 10-pound “trash fish.”
When I got home, I called Chris.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about it,” I said. “And if you really want to go carp fishing, I guess I could find it in my heart to take you.”