Back in 2006, I wrote the following in our print edition: “Casting a fly for carp is like dragging a piece of fried chicken through the local senior center. If it looks good and moves slowly enough, something will eventually try to gum it to death.”
Some people (including me) thought that was very funny. Others–notably some who fly fish for carp–were offended. As writers invariably try to elicit some reaction, my carp comment was pretty successful. But even now, as back then, I am still the anti-carp.
So imagine my surprise–or was it disgust–to see in yesterday’s New York Times a column by Chris Santella about how carp are a worthy and popular fly-fishing target. Our own and otherwise illustrious Fly Talk blogger Kirk Deeter was quoted extensively in support of the carp fly-fishing philosophy. Deeter and I have argued this in person over dinner (and with good humor) and probably will again. Meanwhile, let’s take another look at the whole carp thing.
First, I admit to a deep personal bias. When I was first learning to fish in the 1950s, carp were widely regarded as a trash fish–meaning garbage with fins. So I adopted the attitude of my mentors and to a large degree still feel that way.
On the other hand, carp are extremely intelligent fish, much more so than trout or bass, for example. They are wily, skittish, and very challenging to catch on a fly or by any other means. They are also big and pull hard when hooked, albeit more like a Mack truck than a Ferrari. And yes, I have fly fished for them, writing an article about that in our print edition, which you can read here.
Carp fishing in Europe is a huge deal. Fishing trade shows there are dominated by carp tackle, baits, and accessories. That is not so in this country. In North America there are so many valued gamefish species publicly accessible to so many people that carp fishing–fly or otherwise–is never going to attain the popularity it has in Europe where angling options are more limited.
If my local fishing options consisted solely of carp, I would indeed by an ardent carp angler. But I can fish for three trout species, largemouths, smallies, walleyes, pickerel, pike, and even a few muskies within a 50-mile radius, so I don’t ever bother with carp.
If you enjoy carp fishing–either for the fun of it or by geographic limitation–great. Go for it. I’m not condemning that. Just don’t tell me that angling for carp is the next big thing in North American angling. We have far too many other opportunities on and in the water. And because of that, the carp-fishing renaissance here that some are predicting just ain’t gonna happen.