Carp are thriving, unpopular in Wyoming waterways; can be composted

Aug 31, 2012

Wyoming fisheries no longer stock state waterways with carp, but the species is still alive and well throughout the state. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez filed this end-of-summer postcard about her first experience with the common carp… and with bow-fishing.

(Arrow shot into water)

REBECCA MARTINEZ: For the unskilled archer, shooting a carp – even a massive one – with a bow and arrow is no easy task. I learned that first-hand this summer during an afternoon of bow-fishing at Wheatland Reservoir Number Three.

(Arrow shot into water)


MARTINEZ: It’s no easier with a borrowed bow and its accoutrements made for a left-handed archer. Now, I’m not much of an archer, but I’m definitely not left handed. So why was I playing with ill-suited weapons in algae-filled water at a beach covered with cows and their patties? My friend Janet Chen – a fit and proper young lady, whom I know by her nickname, “Ogre” – invited me. I don’t often turn down a bizarre sounding adventure. Here’s Ogre.

JANET CHEN: I like to shoot things and hunt. And it’s nice that I get to do this in water, where it’s nice and cool. And nobody cares about carp, and so I don’t really have to feel that bad about killing them.

MARTINEZ: Ogre explained that unlike game trout, the carp just live in the reservoir. There are plenty of them. And her friends use the carcasses in their gardens and under new trees and shrubs.

I called the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to ask about this. Regional Fisheries Biologist Steve Gale says fisheries used to stock waterways with the hardy common carp.

STEVE GALE: What they though back in the day was that they were going to be a popular food fishery. That kinda never really panned out. So they’re in a lot of waterways. They can provide a lot of sport on your hook and line as well.  They can get to enormous sizes and can really put a tug on your line.

MARTINEZ: Unlike trout, the carp aren’t considered game fish. You need a fishing license to harvest them with a line, but not if you’re using a bow and arrow.

(Running on shore)

MARTINEZ: I wasn’t much good at hunting cat-sized bottom feeders, so I passed the bow-and-arrow to Ogre and took a break. Within two shots from the land, Ogre hit her target, so I sprinted over to her as she hauled an enormous 15-pound carp onto the shore.

Martinez: It’s huge!

It was almost the size of a cat, and flapping with all its muscle. Ogre raised her ax and aimed it.

CHEN: Way I kill them is, with the blunt side, I just take a golf… a golf swing to the head.

MARTINEZ: She braced the fish with her foot, and pulled the barbed arrow from the carp’s side, the way it went in.

CHEN: This is the hard part.

MARTINEZ: I had every intention of stringing the carp while Ogre went into the water to bag a second fish… But I completely chickened out. So Ogre strung up the fish and I hauled the 15-pound monster back to her truck. I brought the carp to my neighbor, Roger Goldfinger, to use in his compost pile.

Now, this might sound wrong to you. I’m no gardener, and even I’ve heard you’re not supposed to mix meat with compost... So I later called Craig McOmie of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. He oversees recycling for the state, and by proxy, composting. He reminded me of the story of the 17th Century Patuxet tribal member Tisquantum. Many Americans know him as Squanto, and have heard how he helped immigrants from Europe.

CRAIG MCOMIE: And what they did back in the day was, the soils, where the pilgrims mere not very good, they weren’t amenable to growing crops. And so, the Indians had showed them that if you throw a fish in the ground with your corn seeds, that the corn seeds would grow better.

MARTINEZ: He says fish are a pretty awesome source of nitrogen, but, as my neighbor Roger soon found out, it can still be difficult to use them in compost. 

ROGER GOLDFINGER: I didn’t know what a carp was. I though a carp was the size of maybe a trout or something, you know, under 10 inches, maybe a little bit fatter. So when I saw this thing in my yard, I freaked out.

MARTINEZ: He the huge fish scared his cat, too. In a rush to get rid of the enormous carp, he buried it in a shallow hole next to his compost pile. That wasn’t a good idea.

GOLDFINGER: Later in the afternoon, as I was coming home, I see these birds gathered off in the corner and, sure enough, there’s the carp, its head now missing, and the birds picking at it. And then the next day, I dug a much deeper hole for it and finally buried it, and put some rocks on top of it. And that seems to have kept it underground at least, kept it from rising from the dead.

MARTINEZ: Had I asked him about it earlier, the DEQ’s Craig McOmie would have warned me about scavengers, which are way more attracted to fish meat than decomposing potato peels. He advised us to dig a deeper hole under the compost, cover it with mulch to disguise the fish smell, and maybe even build a fence around it next time. Roger assures me he’s not interested in a next time.

But, if the stars align, Ogre plans to be out on the reservoir again next summer bagging carp and bringing them back for her own friends, who are more than happy to take them off her hands.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Rebecca Martinez