Once again the huge fish bulled for deeper water. And once again I pumped and reeled to regain line.
If frogs croaked or birds sang on this cool evening in early fall, I didn’t hear them. The only sounds that I remember are the “Whap! Whap! Whap!” of the monster’s broad tail as it slapped the surface of the still, shallow water, and the “Zsst! Zsst! Zsst!” of the drag on my spinning reel as it protected my 12-pound line from breaking.
The fight lasted 15 minutes at least, probably more. I knew that I had to weaken the grass carp to have any chance of wrestling it ashore, but I also realized how perilous our connection, with light line and small hook. That’s why I eased off on the drag each time I brought it close to my dock. At close range, one hard headshake from a fish that size, even a tired one, would part the line.
Finally, I judged it ready to be landed, knelt on one knee, held the rod with my right hand and scooped with my left. Only my net was far too small to get much more than its head in it. And as I belatedly realized that, a barb on the little treble snagged in the mesh. Now, a foot or so below the side of the dock, I had the huge carp half in and half out of the net, and there was no way I could lift the fish with one hand, even if it all did fit.
Suddenly, the once tired fish became manic, thrashing wildly, and I all but acknowledged that I had lost the fight. I was certain that the line would break as the carp jerked against the resistance of the hook embedded in the net.
But I pushed the net as deep as I could, and the fish bolted farther into it instead of away from it. Nearly simultaneously, I dropped the rod, grabbed the handle with both hands and heaved.
And finally there it was, a 40-pound-plus grass carp half in and half out of the net on my dock. Somehow, someway, I had managed to land the beast with a net that likely was better suited for butterflies than fish of this size.
I know that it was 40 plus because it was far heavier than my previous best, which had bottomed out a 30-pound scale.
During the nine years that I’ve lived on this 10-acre semi-private lake, I’ve caught about 20 of the illegally stocked grass carp, which have suppressed the bass, bluegill, and catfish populations and degraded the water quality.
Aquatic vegetation never has been a problem in this normally clear, spring-fed lake, but ignorant property owners stocked the carp, thinking that they were filter feeders that would improve the water quality. One of them actually told me that. In truth, grass carp are the equivalent of aquatic cows, adding to the nutrient load as they grow to massive size, and contributing to algae blooms as they stir up the bottom.
But they are fun to catch, fighting a lot like big redfish, and I’ve perfected the technique --- at least for my little lake. I fish only for the carp that I can see. Once I’ve spotted one, I toss a bread ball under a bobber in front of it. Sometimes, I have to increase the depth of the bait to get the fish to take. Last night, I had to do that three times.
When I go back out there this evening to look for the three others that saw with the one that I caught, I should have it at the proper depth on the first try.
And I will have a larger net.
To read about the 30-pound carp that I caught and learn more about why grass carp generally are bad news for sport fisheries, go here. I'm not suggesting that grass carp can't be used to manage aquatic vegetation in certain circumstances, but they're tools that only fisheries biologists should consider.