The threat of an Asian Carp invasion into the Great Lakes has been well-documented and discussed. Scientists worry that if the fish manages to break the barrier from waterways in Illinois into the world's largest supply of fresh water, the very hungry, very big and annoying Carp could do untold damage to the Great Lakes' already fragile ecosystem.
Politicians from various states are pleading for help from the government in ensuring that doesn't happen. Everything from man-made barriers to electronic deterrents have been discussed.
What they might want to consider, should the doomsday scenario ever happen, is simply unleashing hordes of rednecks in boats. OK, maybe not, but that is exactly how some are enjoying the prevalence of Asian Carp near Bath, Illinois.
In early August, "fishermen" line up in boats for the Redneck Fishing Tournament. They use nets, not poles, because of a useful peculiarity in the Carp's response to the sound of motors in the water: they jump out of the water and through the air.
Hundreds upon hundreds of the invasive specimens come shooting out, and hundreds upon hundreds of recreational sportsmen drive through the water with nets in hand, waiting to grab the fish from mid-air.
As we roar with a flotilla of other boats down the Bath Chute—an 8 mile-long channel next to the Illinois River—the carp begin popping out of the water, sometimes in high, lazy pop flies, sometimes with the trajectory and velocity of a hard line drive. Nayden's crew lean out of the boat with nets and grab the shimmering fish as they somersault in the air. This is serious work—Nayden is here for the annual Redneck Fishing Tournament (yes, that's the name), where the boat that nets the most carp can take home hundreds of dollars. And if that's not enough to get your heart pumping, there's a frisson of danger—a flying adult Asian carp is a sea-to-air missile, and out here, the fish fight back. “One of these nails you, it's like getting hit with a brick,” Nayden says as he steers the boat with one hand, a net in the other. As if on cue, one of his crew takes a carp to the kisser. “Right in the face!” Nayden exults. “That was awesome!”
If you wonder if this is all legal, it is. Officials freely allow the drinking and cavorting and Confederate bikinis and the whack-a-mole hunting. But don't hang your feet out of the boat; that's illegal.
I have to admit, though, as I'm tooling around the river at the Redneck Fishing Tournament, having Asian carp in your lake seems less ecological disaster than totally awesome. It's all like a real-life version of Whacking Day from The Simpsons, only instead of snakes, we're whacking flying fish, and instead of Barry White singing, there's redneck karaoke. Somehow this is all legal—or at least most of it. I learn while I'm there that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will allow you to drive a boat around at high speed with crew hanging out the side trying to catch flying Asian carp with a net; they'll let you do this without a lifejacket; they'll let you do this while drinking beer and wearing a Viking costume—but if you hang your feet off the end of the boat, it's a $75 fine. These are the mysteries of the Original Redneck Fishing Tournament.
Check out the video below for jumping fish in action.