Michigan Carp Fishing on Boardman River in Downtown Traverse City

I’ve fished some lonely places over the years: lost lakes, beaver ponds that didn’t appear on any map, nameless creeks, and more than a few forgotten stretches of backwoods stream. Stripers off the ragged coast of Maine. Bass in the swamps of Mississippi. In the quest for trout, I’ve hiked in, biked in, flown in, backpacked, bushwhacked, slipped, slid, and crawled my way over cliffs and into deep river gorges so jagged and steep that in one instance—a magazine assignment—I found myself dangling by a rope 3,000 feet above an emerald river in Colorado.

But remoteness does not necessarily equate to loneliness, and truth is, I never felt more by myself in an angling endeavor—more without a friend and totally out there on the lunatic fringe—than the years I fished for carp right smack dab in the middle of my adopted hometown.

In downtown Traverse City it’s no secret that the Boardman River gets a healthy springtime run of Lake Michigan’s mostglamorous fishes. Steelhead, mostly. There’s also pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, and occasionally brown trout of the size and sort that can raise a man’s standing among his angling friends.

Even though nobody comes thinking there’s a trophy lurking behind every rock—or the occasional submerged traffic cone—the lure of possibilities along with the easy accessibility of the place means you never really have the dam all to yourself.

Carp move up into the river, too, some real monsters. But if you took a poll of the fishermen who gather here and made note of all the pained looks and furrowed brows at the word carp, you’d probably come away thinking that to put any serious effort into catching the fish was just about as pointless as trying to hock a used toothbrush on eBay.

“I’d rather catch a lawn chair.”

A guy actually said this to me once. Fishing at the dam one afternoon just above the Union Street Bridge, I was off by myself down at the end of the wooden pier, minding my own business and having a heck of a fine time hooking up with what seemed like one 15-pounder after the other. Whenever one of my two rods doubled over, I’d scrabble to set the hook, then discreetly play the fish into the shallow water out of sight around the end of the pier where I released every one.

Upstream behind the metal rail on the walkway over the dam, a line of fishermen watched. Some were casting. Others were just standing around with their rods in their hands. Nobody else was catching a thing. Finally one of them had seen enough and, itching to see what I was doing that he wasn’t, he came swaggering down the pier while I was baiting another hook.

“Looks like you’re having some luck, eh?”

“Oh, a couple small ones.”

“What are you using for bait?”

“Corn,” I said, eagerly holding up the can of yellow Niblets to show him.

“Corn! For what—steelhead!?”

When I told him I was fishing for carp, he snorted and made the usual face. That’s when he dissed the carp, which of course made me want to question if, in fact, he had ever actually caught one. But instead, trying to deflect the criticism with a joke, I remarked that—from what I’d seen him and his buddies catch that morning—hooking up with a lawn chairwould at least be a start. Touché.

While he chewed on that, I recast out toward the middle, letting the line sink along the edge of a sudsy trail of yellowbrownriver foam. And that’s when he asked if I was friends with “that other guy—The British Guy. He’s pretty weird about those carp, too.”

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