The Carp Business

By Harold Fuller

During the cold weather months of the late nineteen twenty’s and early thirty’s, E.B. Stinson and his son, Bradford started their annual fishing season. They were in the business of catching carp to supply the heavy demand for the markets in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

During this particular time, November 1928, they had moved their fishing gear and equipment down to the south end of the lake, closer to Hawthorne. The north end is usually a little better but they wanted to move around some so as not to deplete the area.

Some days only one haul was necessary as it was not uncommon to catch anywhere from two to four tons of fish in the first catch. The net used is about 700 feet in length with a 10 foot to 15 foot spread between sides.

Local crowds sometimes gathered to watch the Stinson’s seine for carp and for many it was a real show. They would watch very carefully from the time the net was lowered until the catch was brought up and loaded on the truck. It was cold, wet and backbreaking work.

Manpower was used to draw the seine to shore and the fish wee then sorted and those ready for shipment were thrown into a boat that carried them to a point near a truck. Game fish was not taken as they did not generally live in the same waters with the carp but occasionally some were caught and had to be released. After the truck was loaded they are hauled to Thorne where they were iced down and shipped out on the evening train. There were certain days for shipments to the different markets and the size of these depended on the particular order. Carp holding pens, built along the shore line, were used when too many are caught at one time. If the water was cold enough they could be held for a fairly long period.

The Stinson’s also supplied the State Fish Hatchery at Verdi with carp. There they were ground into fish food and sent to the hatcheries throughout the state to be used as food for the other species of fish. Carp will get very large, weighing up to 40 pounds and though they were caught in government waters and permits were required, their work was considered beneficial since carp have been known to destroy other, more valuable, fish.

Frank Grastell was another long time fisherman who operated carp boats on the lake for several years. He once stated “That with the advent of cold weather the carp will begin to assemble in large shoals and seek the shallow waters, where larger takings will become possible.”

When the question was asked of a rather famous San Francisco Chef about the proper preparation of Carp he replied, “See that the carp is well cleaned and rinsed in very cold water. Dry and salt rather well, inside and out. Boil from three quarters to one hour. Drop a small whole onion into the water at the same time the fish is placed in the water. After boiling, rinse again in clean water, salt as for a steak, place in a hot well buttered pan and brown well.”

As far as the old fishing boat on the other side of the lake, left high and dry these many years, no one seems to know who it actually belonged to. The fish pens were still in evidence on the site up until just a few years ago (And still are if you look carefully). Maybe it was one of the gentlemen mentioned or it may have belonged to the Sapp family who lived on the north end of the lake during the late thirties. The Sapp family were engaged in the carp business as well but it during their tenure that the demand for the fish began to recede.

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