Their carp runneth over

Back River population keeps family's fishing hobby thriving

June 03, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

On a hazy spring morning, George Malone steers his johnboat toward the head of the Back River in Essex, passing the twin golden domes of the sewage treatment plant and gliding under the Eastern Avenue bridge.

In the shallow area he calls the flats, where the water is the color of beef broth, a ripple catches his eye.

He draws an arrow. Fires. And reels in what looks to be a grotesquely overgrown goldfish.

Each year this time, the waters of the Back River "boil" with spawning carp, says Malone, a retired Eastern Technical High School teacher.

"Stand still long enough and they'll come to you," he says of the fish. "They're so busy with all this lovey-dovey that they don't think of anything else. Sometimes they run right into the boat."

When the carp are splashing, Malone, 67, his 45-year-old son, Dave, and a few other friends and relatives take to the water. It's an unusual pastime, stalking these so-called "trash" fish with bow and arrow in one of Baltimore County's most polluted waterways. But George Malone, a master plumber who writes poetry and keeps a display of Native American artifacts in his home, is not afraid to be unconventional.

"I've hunted wild boar in the Smoky Mountains, bear in Canada and caribou in the tundra," he says. " But I'd just as soon do this as anything."

Bow fishing carp is, for Malone, a pursuit that allows him to pay homage to the Native American traditions that fascinated him since childhood.

"When we'd see the Lone Ranger and Tonto," he says, "I'd always want to be Tonto."

He retired last year from Eastern Technical High, where he had taught plumbing and construction for nearly three decades. He volunteers at his church, teaches at a community college, helps with the Boy Scouts and travels to senior centers and schools with objects from his collection of Native American artifacts.

For Dundalk's Fourth of July parade, he is creating a Native American-themed float.

In his home in the North Point area of Dundalk, where he and his wife, Betty, have lived for more than 40 years, he built an addition to house his collection. He has authentic items, purchased at powwows or given by friends. Others, such as the spear adorned by feathers and painted symbols, he has crafted himself.

Guided by Native American craft books, he has fashioned knives from hacksaw blades and deer antlers, and a javelin from a clothes closet pole. On the water, he and his son wear matching necklaces that the older man crafted from deer antlers and wooden beads.

Sometimes, he wakes up in the middle of the night and scribbles down poetry that was inspired in a dream. When he talks about his passions, his dark-brown eyes flash under his thick gray eyebrows.

When spring comes, he is on the water in search of carp a couple of times a week.

Large targets

He chooses to bow fish carp because they are plentiful in Back River, and they provide a relatively large target. The fish are said to have no natural predators.

When he first started hunting them back in the early 1980s, he gave the fish to needy people or soup kitchens. But the carp contain hazardous levels of chemicals and should not be eaten, according to Maryland Department of the Environment guidelines.

These days, Malone tucks the carp between rows of tomato plants in his garden as fertilizer - another Native American practice that he has adopted.

Carp, which are closely related to goldfish, originated in the Adriatic Sea, says Peter Sorensen, a University of Minnesota scientist who has studied the species extensively. Roman soldiers and Christian monks carried living fish across Europe and set them free in rivers and streams so that they could be caught and eaten. In parts of Asia, where carp have been cultivated for millennia, the fish are considered a delicacy and a symbol of prosperity.

In the late 1800s, congressmen fought over the opportunity to bring carp to their districts as part of a national program to introduce the fish to the United States, Sorensen says. The lake at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore was among the first places were the fish was introduced in America, according to the Web site of the American Carp Society.

Although the fish have flourished here, they are not frequently eaten - and are often referred to as "trash" fish. In Europe, carp fishing is a much more popular sport, Sorensen says.

Phil Stockwell runs a carp fishing Web site from his home in another Essex - the county in eastern England.

"The carp is our biggest freshwater fish to aim for and has a huge following who target this fish every weekend or all week," he writes in an e-mail. Sport fishers lure carp with cooked bait balls known as "boilies." After they catch the carp with a rod and line, they let them go, according to Stockwell.

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