Species: Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) Location: Phoenix, Arizona Date: November 16, 2017
This story is part of a larger story involving me, a bold cockroach, disappointment, and elusive Grass Carp.
Since I’m going to retell much of this story in the subsequent post about Species #111 — Grass Carp, I’ll just focus on the tilapia here.
After meeting Chris Moore (@arizona_anglers on Instagram), and getting a ton of great fishing spots from him, I’d vowed to be sure to chase Grass Carp, called White Amur locally, since they’re in virtually every waterway in the Phoenix area.
My quest led me to a pond in the heart of the city known to contain Grass Carp upwards of 30 pounds. Knowing this, I brought only gear for large Grassies. I had the usual Owner No. 6 Mosquito hooks I like for carp when fishing corn. I also had some smaller doughbait trebles on-hand for floating bread balls on the surface.
What I didn’t have was any hook smaller than a No. 6. So as I sat in the low light cast by a nearby lamppost and watched tiny fish I knew to be tilapia stripping my floating bread off of the surface, and then, to my horror, off my hook, I was frustrated.
It wasn’t long before I lost hope in the Grass Carp and decided to try catching one of these bastages. So I waited, and fished the little bread ball like a dry fly, waiting until I watched it dip and then lifting up on my rod. I lifted up too slowly and missed.
This series of events repeated half a dozen times before I finally lifted up hard and fast. A fish had been hooked, however briefly, and I watched as it lifted out of the water. My line tightened, and the barely-hooked fish came free of my line, the hook pulled out by inertia.
That little fish rocketed five or ten feet into the air, arcing right down into the space between my legs.
You can call it a fish story, but you’re just in de-Nile if you do.
Species: Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) Location: Malheur River, Princeton, OR Date: August 22, 2015
Imagine seeing a fish fish with some frequency for years when traveling but never having the appropriate gear to target it successfully. That’s the story of me fishing for Common Carp.
There are no carp populations in Klamath County where I live, which, in a county larger than Delaware, says something.
Nearby counties have carp populations, but having neither fished for carp nor known anyone who did for years, it meant carp was basically just a pipe dream.
That is, until my friend Ben Fry told me of this amazing fishery in the middle of the desert where he and his brother, Chuck, slayed carp the weekend before.
I’d just been offered a teaching job at Henley Middle School, and I accepted the position while sitting in my office at Klamath Community College, not having even applied. I was excited, but I was nowhere near ready.
When I told my boss at KCC, I agreed to stay and work the swing shift until they found a replacement. This made my schedule crazy, and I knew if I didn’t go fishing this weekend, I might not have another shot.
So I loaded up my car and headed into the desert.
When we arrived at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the short carp season (August 1 – September 15) was half over. I assumed this meant skittish, heavily pressured fish, but that wasn’t the case.
Within 10 minutes of throwing my corn in the water, I had my first carp on. Ben and his kids, Gabe and Rose, caught theirs shortly thereafter.
Once we figured out how to fish for them and accepted that in 90-to-100-degree heat and thick smoke, it was going to remain unpleasant, we hit our rhythm and started smashing fish left and right.
This season opens as a damage control measure to help curb the invasive carp population which has expanded exponentially since the 1950s introduction until it took over and wiped out native species. It’s now so bad that most aquatic vegetation is gone, and ducks don’t stop here anymore, despite its historic presence as a major Pacific Flyway stopover.
So we killed every carp we caught. For someone who does almost exclusively catch-and-release fishing, this was tough.
At first, the Refuge staff came and picked up them in trucks and carted them away for fertilizer, but then they gave up, leaving us sitting and fishing by a pile of dead carp in 90-plus-degree heat. It wasn’t great.
Fishing two rods at once, we were constantly fighting fish. The kids got tired, so we had to keep them entertained.
We continued to catch fish, and quickly realized they were stunted in the seven- to ten-pound range. Only one fish was under six pounds, and none topped 13. Still, an eight-pound carp is a better stunted fish than an eight-inch bass.
We continued fishing.
It didn’t let up, and neither did we. We scarfed down sandwiches and drinks, but eventually the kids had to call it quits. Ben and I remained in hopes of either a monster carp or a Mirror Carp — neither of which came.
Once the sun started going down, the bite slowed. It didn’t stop, but it slowed. We’d been at it for more than 12 straight hours, and we’d each probably lost two or three pounds of fluid in sweat. It was a long, hot day, and I finished with 44 carp. Ben had something like that many, too.
Read about this from a different, more punny angle here and then read more about what happened to all of the carp we killed here.