Where the Ducks Walk on the Fish
You can't beat hurling a chunk of food and watching animals fight for it. Primitive Man did it with dogs around the campfire. People in Linesville, Pennsylvania, do it today. Their food is white bread, the animals are carp, and the venue is the Spillway on the Pymatuning Reservoir. It's known to the world as, "Where the Ducks Walk on the Fish."
This attraction does not advertise, yet it draws over 300,000 hurlers a year, according to park manager Pete Houghton. By the town's reckoning, the Spillway is the second most popular tourist destination in all of Pennsylvania, trailing only the Liberty Bell.
"A spillway is a natural food attraction for fish," Houghton told us, and people have been coming here -- it's right on the road -- since it opened in the 1930s. Hurling bread followed naturally, according to Houghton; it was cheap, and it pulled in more fish. Things stayed pretty much unchanged until 2007, when the park built a snazzy new promenade, with a parking lot and restrooms and benches. The result: people now have a lot more room to hurl a lot more bread.
The ducks' role is not so clear. On a recent visit we saw geese, some ducks, and lots of fish, and lots of bread being hurled at the fish, but no ducks walking on fish. We drove up the road and met Dana at Uncle Al's Produce Stand. "I've lived here since 1992," she told us, "and I've never seen ducks walk on fish." Manager Houghton, who's been here since 1955, was more circumspect. "Are the fish so thick that the ducks walk on them?" he asked, rhetorically. "I don't know about that. But the ducks are in there fighting for that bread, and they're getting on top of them."
Note: We have tips and photos from others who have witnessed the miracle; perhaps its a matter of patience and more carp...
Walking-on-the-fish may be a rarity, but it does visualize the mass of carp that congregate here. One can easily imagine a small animal staying dry, hopping from fish to fish, although they might not last long before the carp carpet pulled them under as another meal. Carp are ugly creepy. And when there are thousands of them thrashing and gaping up at you, you're glad that Linesville built steel guardrails between the patio and the water. Pete Houghton could only recall a few instances of people falling into the old spillway, with no casualties. Dana's assessment was less rosy. "If you threw a child in there," she said, "they'd eat it."
Is it self-preservation that makes people hurl so much bread? We saw people arrive with trunk-loads of bakery products, prepared to enjoy the afternoon; plastic grocery bags filled with bagels, doughnuts, Italian rolls, hamburger rolls, hot dog rolls, muffins, and loaves of white bread. One little girl carried waxed-paper tubes of saltines in each fist.
The concession stand sells a loaf of bread for a buck, but down the road at "The Bread House" you can buy five loaves for three dollars. Does that sound like too much? A biology professor at a local college staked out the Spillway, and calculated that each visitor hurls 2.4 pounds of bread into it.
We think it's purely a matter of reward for performance; not quite as dramatic as gators leapin' for food, but those carp are smarter. We watched one -- determined to share in flurry of white bread slices -- throw itself up onto its writhing brethren, balance on its head and tail, and roll methodically toward the prize ("Where the Carp Walk on the Other Carp"?).
To test the carps' cooperative strategies (for example, when there's enough food for all), we hurled a giant bun from a 15-pound hamburger into the heart of the spillway. Known as "the bowl," the concrete lagoon with cracked and crumbling walls concentrates carp who've slid down from the higher reservoir water level. The bun fell 15 feet and landed hard, the concussion causing the carp to magically vanish. Within seconds their carp brains agreed: "Not depth charge. Food!" and the bun was torn to pieces, mustard, ketchup, pickle juice and all...
We later learned that our bun was nothing for the Linesville carp. Visitors sometimes hurl several loaves at a time into the water, and the fish simply whip themselves into an even greater eating orgy.
The surplus of baked goods in the Pymatuning Reservoir is troubling to some, including Pete Houghton, who said that a few years back the park stopped selling bread at the Spillway. "But the people just brought it in anyway," he told us, and sales resumed. Some people (such as the professor) suggest that bread should be banned altogether, and that visitors should be content to hurl handfuls of crumbly food pellets at the fish. You can imagine how popular that would be. The Bible, after all, does not speak of fishes and PELLETS.
We think that the answer is not less bread, but more. Examine the carp, not the humans, professor! We bet that decades of emulsifiers and monoglycerides have transformed them into a race of superfish, perfect for biofuel. Imagine the happy day when we can drive our cars to Linesville powered by carp flesh!