Catch your net. Refuel your boat. Leave your rod and reel at home. It’s the annual Redneck Fishing Tournament on the banks of the Illinois River. Helmets are recommended. This year’s tournament, held Aug. 4-6, attracted hundreds of spectators, saved the Illinois River from over 3,300 invasive “cops” and raised nearly $7,000 for homeless veterans and breast cancer victims.
Tournament founder Betty DeFord conceived the unusual event 17 years ago. She started the tour in 2005 by combining an unusual fishing technique and a local desire to protect native fish from an invasive stocking species. Copi, a fish recently renamed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), otherwise known as the Asian silver carp, has almost taken over the river. “They’re just an annoying fish,” DeFord says. “They’re driving out all our other fish. They are bottom feeders. They eat everything there is and spawn four times a year.”
The new name was given to the invasive Asian carp by the IDNR to encourage more people to eat the fish. It derives from the word “abundant,” and when you’re down on the banks of the Illinois River, it’s easy to see why. When a motorboat crosses the river, carp are thrown into the air by the hundreds. Instead of catching fish with rods and reels, tournament participants must catch flying fish in nets. Former tournament winner Willie Schrader says, “Don’t fall out of the boat and don’t get hit and you’ll be fine.” It’s sage advice, as participants have been known to break their noses, and one wrong push or hit can land a net in the drink with all those carp.
This year’s tournament removed over 20,000 pounds of carp from the river – but that’s just a drop in the bucket. In some parts of the Mississippi River system, Asian carp represent 70 percent of all fish in the water. In the Illinois River, IDNR estimates, 20 to 50 million specimens can be harvested annually if a market demand is established.
Read more: 12 to 15 million invasive carp removed from Barkley and Kentucky lakes
The renaming and a planned U.S. Army Corps of Engineers barrier dam are considered the best hopes to stop carp from reaching and eventually crossing the Great Lakes. But for now, we’ll have to put on our hockey masks and head to the Redneck Fishing Tournament.