Carpe Diem if you've forgotten or were never exposed to a year of high school Latin, means seize the moment. And every spring that's what the carp try to do at a lakeshore creek near our home. The little stream is known as Blind Creek on the topo map, and aptly so, since it is rarely open to the lake. Instead a narrow strip of gravel usually blocks access to its warm clear tannin stained waters that seep through the bar into the lake. Occasionally a heavy rain may raise its level enough for the creek to break open, but access to and from the lake is generally brief.
Each spring as the creek warms up it sends an inviting message of mild chemically distinct water out into the icy depths of the lake And the carp respond. (Other fish like suckers, alewives and bullheads do too, but are less conspicuous to the casual daytime fish watcher). Like moths to a candle flame, the big brown carp are drawn to the blocked creek entrance where the seep is strongest. They gather in a close packed mass as near to the creek as they can possibly get.
On calm days they flounder about at the very edge of the lake in two or three inches of water almost but not quite stranding themselves. On days with a bit of surf they blunder and thrash in the waves. Sometimes a little wave rolling in onshore contains a large carp within its greenish translucent grip just before it breaks and falls. The carp are busting with gametes and reproductive desire. They are desperate to get inside the creek whose weed beds and warm shallows are their preferred spawning ground.
On a quiet afternoon this past spring a pack of them hung around the creek hopefully like teenagers dawdling at a favored table at McDonalds. Maybe, just maybe the creek would miraculously open its waters to them. Then a hundred big brown fish would go stampeding joyfully into its shallows to seize the moment as only a lusty carp full of passion eggs or milt can do. But most years the creek remains cut off and the carp inside and outside are barred from any gene exchange or commingling. The carp were so densely packed onshore I could actually smell fish slime.
Carp weren't the only cold blooded creatures whose blood was warming with passion this mild late May day. A sizeable snapper was half swimming and half crawling along the water's edge trying to figure out where that creek was. And a small brown snake hauled out of the lake and slipped up the beach berm toward the creek. One year we encountered a snake orgy at the creek. At least a dozen water snakes were having a beach party on a hot summer day. I suspect this hopeful little fellow as a bit early for the annual bash. He'll be back.
Carpe diem. For a few days when conditions are correct, fish, serpents, turtles, meet, mate and move on. Now's the time. When days grow long the lake warms up, the fresh new foliage and plant growth of the marsh reaches up from the dark mud and water for the sun. It's all enough to give the post menopausal observer reproductive regrets!
Though the creek often remains closed, still the carp gather, hopeful. They press together, flank to flank in the shallows, backs and tail fins out of the water, wanting the creek. When they can't have it, eventually they disperse to find other places to procreate. But they don't give up. Each spring they come back and try again, thrusting themselves ashore to where a couple of feet more is all they need to make it into the creek. After all, a chance rainstorm may come along as it did this spring and the creek may open for a few hours or a few days. Then the carp carpe diem.
Being in position to take advantage of a lucky break makes sense for carp, aspiring artists, business people, or hitch hikers. Well, there will be other moments to seize, though maybe not reproductive ones for those of us who waited too late for fertilization. So persist and be ready like Lake Ontario's carp when opportunity strikes. And quit carping about bad luck!
The preferred method for fish watching but not for staying upright in a canoe