Fisherman are known liars, but this is a true story.
A friend and I were fishing on a lake near Marion, Arkansas, several weeks ago. It's an old ox-bow lake, a former channel of the Mississippi that's been isolated by the vagaries of time and mud and current. It floods every spring, replenishing the fish supply, and we've caught many a nice bass there. But it was August -- a deathly hot and still evening -- and we weren't having any luck. The only thing biting were the mosquitos.
But there were herons and ducks and geese to watch and a nearly full moon on the rise -- and we had cold beer to drink and lies to tell.
Then we heard a motor. Headed our way was a jonboat containing three shirtless teenagers, all standing. The one in the middle was holding a bow and arrow. As they approached, fish lept from the water, right and left -- big fish. And as we watched in utter amazement, the kid with the bow shot a fish in mid-air and hauled it into the boat with a line attached to his arrow.
"A country boy can survive," as the song goes. In this case, a country boy can astound.
We waved them over and they pulled up to our boat, flashing grins. The bottom of their boat was ankle deep in big fish.
"What the hell ... ?" we said, or words to that effect.
"Mr. Sample [the lake owner] told us to shoot as many of these dang silver carp as we could," one of the boys said. "They're killing off all the game fish and he's tryin' to get rid of 'em."
It was my first encounter with the phenomenon of silver carp. I did some research and learned that the fish, an Asian import, was originally stocked in Southern fish-farm ponds to control algae. As was no doubt predictable, they escaped into the Mississippi River system and now threaten to take it over completely. They screw up the food chain; catfish and bass and other game fish are usually eliminated in waters where silver carp live. They grow to almost four feet long and cannot be caught by rod and reel. Their defining characteristic is the fact that they jump out of the water when a motorboat approaches.
These waterborne kudzu have spread to the point where they are now threatening the Great Lakes. The lesson is an old one: Don't fool with Mother Nature. A corollary: Don't water ski without a helmet.
Bruce VanWyngarden, Editor