News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 5, 2013

Carp(e) Diem: Festival-goers use boats, nets, bows to seize the day of flying fish

Dianne Frances D. Powell
The Tribune-Star

Hutsonville, Ill. — A pile of big rocks can be seen just behind a white boat on the Wabash River carrying a family. The father and a boy stand at the ready, close to the edge of the motor boat, with their bows and arrows on hand ready to fire any minute.

“We got one,” shouted the woman from the white boat to another boat.

“Dad got it,” she added.

Families and friends got on their boats Sunday — some with bows and arrows, others with nets — to join forces against the Asian carp, a type of fish that many consider an unwelcome inhabitant of the Wabash River.

The Asian Carp Bash on the Wabash, an addition this year to events at Hutsonville Riverfest in Illinois, is an Asian carp fishing contest. Organizers said that participants — with 23 boat entries by an hour after the event started — are required to follow Indiana and Illinois boating and fishing laws at the event.

The objective?

“Get the most fish [Asian carp] you can out of the river,” said organizer Trapper John Tapley emphasizing that the contest is “strictly” for the “jumping, flying fish.”

 Prizes were given to the boat or group that could catch the most Asian carp. Another prize went to the person who caught the heaviest one.

‘Bad Fish’

“They’re [Asian carp] basically a really bad fish,” said Tapley, who conceived the idea of the contest.

A non-native of the Wabash River, the Asian carp eat the algae and plankton, the food source for native fish species. They come in varieties such as the silver carp, the bighead carp and the grass carp.

“And they tear up the breeding area [where the fish eggs are],” said Tapley, who lives along the banks of the river.

And as they jump and fly, they also pose a danger to the people on the river.

“When they hit you, it’s just not a good thing,” Tapley said, saying they are slimy and it hurts when one gets hit.

 As he steered his 20-foot Jon boat along the Wabash River, he tells the story of how he got hit in the neck by one Asian carp and “it crippled me for a week or two.”

The vibrations in the water from motor boats make the fish jump, Tapley said.

“I’m on the river every day. You can’t keep anything in your boat anymore,” he said adding that he used to take his grandchildren out  to ski, but “that’s impossible anymore.”

Asian carp fly, he said, “10 feet in the air, 12 to 15 of them at one time.”

“I’ve had as many as 30 of them in a boat,” he added.

No Easy Task But Fun

For the “flying fish” that just end up unexpectedly in boats, catching them proved no easy task as groups on the water came up empty about a couple of hours after the event began.

Contest participants and Robinson, Ill., residents Mary and Gary Stevens stopped their boat momentarily alongside Tapley’s boat.

“How is it going so far?” a reporter asked.

“Not good,” Mary Stevens responded as she held out a net with no Asian carp in sight.

“We have seen some jumping,” she said, adding that they had been on the river only for an hour.

“We’re more or less out just for the fun of it,” said Gary Stevens.

It’s fun and for a good cause.

The proceeds from the $20 per boat fee and the donation bucket at the registration table benefit the Hutsonville Fire Department.

“We’re trying to get a new fire house,” said Julie Lowe, Riverfest organizer.

For a first-year event, “the participation has been wonderful,” said another Riverfest organizer, Holly Haddix.

Participants came from neighboring areas such as Terre Haute, Paris, Ill., and Sumner, Ill. Next year’s event is already being planned for Aug. 3, 2014.

Another group seemed to be having fun, even though its boat was still carpless.

Karen Tapley and her grown twin daughters, Frankie Sue Williams and Francie Lou Shaffer, wore helmets as they navigated the Wabash waters.

Tapley held a spear (pitchfork), Williams, a net, and Shaffer a bow and arrow, as they told of how they are trying to catch the fish’s attention.

“We’ve been banging on the boat and hollering at them,” Shaffer said.

Doug Keller, DNR’s aquatics invasives coordinator told The Associated Press that the only way to catch Asian carp is with nets because they do not bite on worm or insect bait.

And finally, about three hours after the contest started, one group caught one Asian carp with a net.

“It jumped right into the net,” Ruth Beckes said as a member of her group held up the 7-pound Asian carp that her group caught.

“This has been a lot of fun. This place is loaded with them … jumping everywhere,” she said.

Tapley said he has seen an Asian carp as heavy as 60 pounds.

“Twenty years ago, if somebody would have said we’d have flying fish on the Wabash, they’d laugh,” he said during the 10-mile (roundtrip) boat ride along the Wabash River.

Tribune-Star reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or