Sep 10, 2014

The Power of Fish!

By: Steve Jordan

Most of us have heard about the resourceful Native Americans burying fish or fish scraps under their corn or other crops for fertilizer.  They didn't have a co-op or outlet store to buy or barter for fertilizer like we do.  Some things never change.  Fish have always been a good fertilizer; it's just a little more work than applying commercial fertilizer these days.

I was fortunate to be able to pick up white bass scraps from Wolf River Outfitters in Fremont for a few years.  The resort would have a trailer load of up to 60 five gallon pails every other day during the white bass run.  Today most of my fish come from the carp hunters.  These serious bow fishermen and women have elaborate boats with a quiet generator to run multiple bright lights that shine through the water at night.  Bow fishing is a great sport.  While riding one of these boats at night, you get to observe many species of fish that are out feeding after dark.

The bow fishermen have to get rid of their carp somewhere.  I try to make it easy for them.  They simply pull into a designated area on my property any time day or night.  They simple dump them or throw them off the boat.  I pitchfork them into the bucket of my tractor and take them to my next food plot project.  I have learned to leave one or two fish out in the open for the turkey vultures.  They seem to show up every time I am burying carp.

A shallow grave is all you need for fish.  It is best not to disturb the lower soil.  By going too deep, you are not only messing up the soil structure, but you are also putting the fish's nutrients out of reach for most shallow rooted food plot plants.  There are two ways that I like to bury my fish.  One is to dig a shallow trench about four feet wide and as long as you need for the number of carp delivered.  I use the bucket on the tractor to pull the soil away all to one side.  Then lay the big carp in the trench two wide or three wide for the small ones.  Then I cover them up.  Keep these strips weed free until planting time.

The second way I like to bury fish is to simply pile up the carp in a nice compact grouping, and then cover them with topsoil.  With this method I will leave that pile sit and settle for a year. In the meantime, your food plots can be planted right around these piles because there are no combines to worry about like regular farm fields. After a year I will take the bucket on the tractor and spread the piles out before disking. 

This may seem like a lot of messing around to some, but think about utilizing a renewable resource.  Where would these fish be going if you or I didn't take them?  I have seen piles of carp discarded in ditches of secluded roads.  I have smelled them as I drove by other places.  When you can smell fish or other carrion, what you are smelling is the nutrients or nitrogen getting away into the air while they are decomposing.  It's much better to keep these nutrients in the soil.  If you tour my property, you will not sense or smell dead fish.  Most years I bury over 1,000 carp or other rough fish.

If you have piles of carp that are covered with topsoil, keep them sprayed for weeds.  In mid-summer, hand spread some of your turnip mix on the piles for some of the best looking turnips in the state. 

If you have not had the great opportunity to fish from one of these unique carp boats, ask around.  It is not hard to hitch a ride with one of these guys.  Russ Diem lives in the Hortonville area.  He is a licensed fishing guide and will take singles or groups out by appointment.  Russ has bow fished in many water sheds throughout the state and supplies the equipment needed for a night of fishing.  If you are looking to purchase good quality bow fishing equipment, check with Old 45 Archery in Hortonville or The Reel Shot in Appleton or Oshkosh.  These are two places that I have found to be great sources.

Here are the most frequently asked questions about using carp for fertilizer.

  1. After piling carp for one full year, how stinky is the pile when you go to spread it out? Answer:  Not bad at all; usually it is just nice black soil with a little bit of bone.
  1. Do you have to feed the carp once they are in the ground? Answer:  No, and no further comment.
  1. How long can you let the carp sit out before covering them? Answer:  The sooner the better, especially on hot summer days.  The task is not pleasant, but can get a lot worse with time.
  1. If you shoot a deer on one of these plots, can you use a carp scale to weigh the deer? Answer:  No, and no further comment.
  1. Do you have to use a carp arrow to hunt deer over these food plots? Answer:  No, your standard broadhead is recommended.
  1. Do deer or other wildlife seem hesitant to come into a food plot fertilized with carp? Answer:  No, they don't seem to sense that something is "fishy" if that is what you are getting at.

That's all for questions.  Have a great day.