Sunday, September 12, 2010

Carpe Carpum

Put on your helmet.  Now, look closer . . .  closer . . .
Docked at Tall Timbers Marina in Havana on Friday, we heard an odd clicking sound near the stern of our boat. We checked, and the water was dotted with little dimples.

It was hundreds of silver carp--small ones--coming to the surface to gulp air.

The next morning I woke to vigorous and sustained splashing. A foot-long silver carp had leaped into our dinghy.

The narrow little boat was half full of water from rain overnight, so the fish was still very much alive and thrashing vigorously.  The Cap'n grabbed our small fish net and managed to flip the carp out of the boat and back into the water.

Later that morning, out on the river, we came up behind a tow moving (if you can believe it) slower than us.  The towboat captain radioed permission to pass.  He was doing about 5 mph, we were flying along at 6 mph, so it took a long time to actually overtake him.  In the mean time we'd edged over to the side of the channel, in shallow water, and the carp were going wild.  Roughly every 10 seconds, four or five silver missiles would splat--bam! bam! bam!--against the boat's steel wall, and flop back in the water.  Then a fish landed in the dinghy, flopping crazily.  Then another.  And then one flew right onto the deck beneath the Captain's feet.
Typical carpoid trajectory: A high parabola peaking about 6 feet above the water.  Now picture one carp/second.

We'd read the reports that carp jump into boats, of course.  We'd watched the U-tube videos. It's a whole 'nother ball 'o wax when it actually happens to you.  These were BIG fish.  Think lake trout--that's about the size.  Handsome, silver-sided, and VERY active, flopping all around.  Here's the thing about silver carp--as they flop around, they ooze slime, AND (the biggest ick factor) they bleed rather actively from their gills.  Almost before you could say "Jumping Carp, Batman!" the deck was awash in pink ooze and the dinghy was an icky bowl of fish soup.

So after that experience we've added a few things to our daily routine. We have a checklist before we set out each morning: Check the bilges, check the batteries, fire up the GPS, get binoculars and life jackets out, check the fenders to make sure they're securely tied, cast off and coil the lines, note our departure time in the log. To that we now add, muster the "carp kit": heavy-duty rubber gloves, hand-held fishing net, boat hook, and (most importantly) bucket and mop.

All along the Illinois River, we've spotted turkey vultures in large numbers.  This morning, as we started out, turkey vultures were launching, one at a time, from the riverbank, red heads thrust forward eagerly, flapping purposefully, crossing in front of us in a steady stream, one after another after another . . .  like commuters merging on the freeway, off to work.

Ten years ago, the USFWS Breeding Bird Survey reported that turkey vulture populations were on the rise.  Scientists attributed the significant bump in numbers to increased car traffic . . .  and the accompanying increase in roadkill--which is food for vultures.

Is the current "carp-splosion" responsible for a further increase in turkey vulture populations?  I can't help but think there's a nice Ph.D. thesis out there, waiting, here on the river, for someone who wants to--ahem--carpe dieum.

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