Killing the gentle beast...
Was this sport or murder?

I recently received an email from a member in a "professional club" that I had joined to gain access to a small lake which features big bluegills and some bass as its inhabitants.

A few years ago, the lake management committee decided to add some white amur or grass carp to feed on and help manage the overgrowth of vegetation in the lake. Fertilizing the lake and spraying the waters wasn't giving the desired result.

So the grass carp were purchased and slipped into the pond. There they have lived for several years without being a problem, eating up grasses and algaes and helping to control the growth.

I have caught such carp in small ponds and lakes on tiny flies. Once I caught a 19 pound white amur at a friend's pond in Gray, Georgia. I was fishing a 1 weight Orvis Superfine rod with a size 14 black beadhead nymph trying to catch bluegills in sunken wood, when to my amazement I raised my rod on what was obviously NOT a big bluegill or bass.

My rod sharply bent to the water and it felt as though I had hooked a riding lawn mower headed across the pond. I told my friend "this thing feels like a big catfish" but I knew there weren't any catfish in this pond. I climbed from the rear of the small jon boat to the bow, and took over pursuit with the trolling motor. Across the pond we went, then toward the dam, then back across it lead us. With a 1 weight fly rod and 4 pound tippet, I had little chance of doing more than using a steady, smooth sweeping motion to exert pressure on this beast.

One time toward the dam, I put more pressure on it and a huge gray form burst out of the water, then crashed back. To my friend I said "that doesn't look like a bass, and it doesn't look like a catfish -- could it be a carp?" and I mused "but carp don't jump like that!"

Thirty or so minutes later we had our answer. I gently coaxed that 3 foot plus carp alongside the boat. It was so big and slimy that we had no hope of raising it from the water for a photo op, so I elected to gently let it bask in the water by the boat until it recovered. If we had possessed a cradle, we could have controlled it. I just took some hemostats, flicked the little hook from its dorsal fin, and when it showed recovery, gently released it. That was some experience for man and beast!

I have had many such experiences with big carp over the years. I regard them as gentle beasts, and appreciate the service they render to us all. Under the right conditions they can grow huge, and render weed control service to a lake's owner. At the age of nine to 11 years they normally die. Then if their services are still desired, more are stocked into the body of water for weed control.

Back to the email alerting me that a member of the club had "caught" a 44 pound grass carp in the club pond. Naturally that caught my attention. That is a huge fish of any species. I was really impressed until I understood how that big carp was "caught".

First I received the following email that announced:Folks, I thought you'd like to see a photo of the biggest fish ever taken out of the club's lake in xxxxx. Here are some attached photos of the 44-pound grass carp that xxxxx xxxxxxx caught in the xxxxx group's lake in xxxxxx. It's not a gamefish, and the great biomass takes up space in the lake that should be utilized by bass and bream. Young carp eat a variety of weeds, helping in the lake management, but the big, old fish eat few weeds and have outlived their usefulness in the lake, I learned.

According to the member who "caught" the big old carp image right : Subject: Grass Carp. Caught Tuesday 03/19/2013 Mr. xxxxxx, Please see the attached photos. The fish was heavily laden with roe, and was having a difficult time staying down. I first snagged it near the dam, and I was reminded that after the 1st lure snagged the fish, we followed/or were towed in the boat for about 45 min until it dove and snapped the line. (lost rattle trap) Attached new double treble hook lure (broken back herring) and re-hooked when it came up again. This time it drug us around for about 30-40 min. until it dove and again the line broke. Left the lake to find a net. Finally found one at home and on the third try to snag the fish, with 20lb test, it got the tail and the line held for about 40 more minutes until we were able to net it. The fish was very powerful and along side of the boat it was huge. The next day, it was weighed on a bathroom scale at my shop and came up right at 44 lbs.

The first thing that I read was snagged. This fish wasn't caught, it was purposely and repeatedly snagged. BIG RED FLAG. Instead of a sportsman like pursuit of this fish or any other, the member had hounded this fish through the night with one purpose -- to catch it anyway he could. This action just made me furious. As a sportsman, I would NOT want to be included in the same breath with this clown. I was brought up to think of this kind of action as being acted out by a slob fishermen.

If the fish in question were a hallowed female bass spawning at the dam, would this behavior be tolerated or even held up as an accomplishment? What kind of people do we have in the world today. This member is well old enough to have been "raised" and I would expect him to live by some moral code. Apparently his action towards this old fish suggests that he has NO honorable code of behavior.

When I responded with outrage about this abysmal behavior to the person who broadcast emailed out his message applauding this "catch" of a huge fish, I received the following:

I am puzzled over your strong, negative reaction to the man's removal of a very big nongame fish that wasn't doing anything good for the lake anymore. For a few months, I have suspected that you would not renew your membership in the club. You had lost interest in the lake, I concluded. I'll tell XXXX about your decision. Goodbye.

I did not renew my membership that year. I'm never going renew my membership in this club. Knowing that this behavior is tolerated and even applauded makes me ill. I won't help to fund it.

Interestingly enough, as I understand it, unprotected or unregulated species like the carp legally can be hunted and shot with bows and arrows, and I suppose shot with firearms. Then I guess you could gig them, net them. Hey they are just trash fish, right? Some people consider killing things just for the "fun" of killing "sport." How about those kids growing up with bb guns and pellet rifles shooting birds for target practice? More great sport, right?

This is an area in which parents and peers make so huge a difference. They help to define boundaries, create notions of right and wrong, and teach their children the differences. That is SO absent in many children and adults today. I believe that the examples in this article glorify the wrong notions, and that is why I have brought it to your attention.

I wasn't so offended that this fish was removed, but by how it was removed. Then the whole action was applauded, celebrated as an accomplishment. The carp could have just been left to naturally die of old age, and would have probably died soon. I commented -- "Isn't it nice that old farts aren't treated in the same way as that poor old carp."

My point is that this behavior should not be tolerated regardless of what kind of fish or its age. This pond is on land classified as an animal preserve. When I spoke with one of my now ex "friends" about this incident, he told me "if I'd had a gun I'd have shot it." Now you can guess why I used the term ex "friends."

What turns grown businessmen into vigilanties against an aging, peaceful, beneficial fish after it has served them for years? How can this behavior be tolerated when applied to any species of fish? Sounds like what happens in the work force when one gets too old.

My final exchange with the club member follows: My belief is that anyone who applauds this person' s (the fish snagger's) behavior needs to reflect on his own values. People like him used to be called "slob" fishermen. I'm sure this will make an interesting web article. Respect the resource.

Now, with apparently only accolades for this "fisher's" efforts, I'm sure he'll continue in pursuit of conquering the next of 4 beasts left in the lake. What an accomplishment! Maybe my ex friend will take a .357 magnum out to the pond and shoot one. Maybe one of them will use dynamite or a frog gig this time. They might as well.

This is about who we are, and how we conduct ourselves when nobody else is watching. Most times, that is the true measure of who we are. As I heard some one say once "we all know the difference in what's right and what's wrong...sometimes we just have trouble doing what we know is right."

Shooting deer collected behind a fence, hunting over bait, snagging spawning bass on their beds, shooting 'til the last deer in sight falls, fishing trophy streams with live bait -- all of these kinds of acts should stir our ire.

If I saw someone mugging a peaceful, defenseless old fart on the street, I would intervene. I would speak out. Hopefully when it happens to a similar creature, we would intervene. If we don't speak out -- we've given our approval. If we have given these acts our approval, we have all lost a lot. This is part of the reason fishing and hunting license sales have been dropping so much the past 20 years. What example are today's "sportsmen" setting?

If you want to be respected for your pursuits, be respectful in your pursuits.

"I am puzzled over your strong, negative reaction......." (the club member said to me) If I didn't have a strong negative reaction to this incident, I would be seriously worried about myself. That my ex "friends" were so offended by my remarks speaks volumes about them. Hence they are my EX friends.

Please consider the information in this story, and choose NOT to be like one of the "good" club members depicted in my article. Respect the fish, respect the game, respect our animal and wild resources. Be proud of being a good sportsman. Without our wonderful national heritage of resources, part of the heart of our nation would be gone.

Bill Byrd