Bruised, battered, our record breaking performance at the Redneck Tournament was painful, but “Carp-tageous”
The Redneck Fishing Derby proved to be an experience beyond our wildest fishing nightmare. It was a relentless pursuit of kamikaze, mutant flying fish that were preying on fishermen. It was non-stop excitement with crashing wakes and crushing blows while trying to catch these finned torpedoes on the move with nets. There were mass silvery eruptions glistening in the Illinois sunshine, so intense, it was like being inside a popcorn machine. Only these popcorn kernels had rock-hard heads, could jump over ten feet in the air and weigh 20-plus pounds. Rumbling boat motors spook these lunatic fish, causing them to unexpectedly burst from the water in swarms of mass “carp-fusion.” It was like they were being shot from a cannon, aiming to blindside your unprotected sensitive body parts, and many times they were successful. I heard so many oh, oh, ohs on the river I swore it was Christmas as it was snowing carp all around us.
This is tiny Bath, Illinois, where the mosquitoes are so big they can be deep-fried as a side-dish while you are quickly becoming the main course. It’s a small, rural, southern town in the Mississippi flood plains that harbors three bars, two churches and one fishing event unlike any other in the world. For two days fishermen put away their rods, dig out their old football gear for protection and catch the invasive silver carp with hand-nets while cruising at speeds up to 15 mph. If you lose your focus for a split second you will catch more fish with your body than with your net. Make no mistake, this is ruthless contact fishing and it can be brutal. The result of this phenomenon creates a media frenzy of writers and film crews from around the world gunning to give some battered fisherman five seconds of fame. This is a redneck village where rocket silver glares are so common that I renamed it “Tiny Tinsel Town.” In “Tiny Tinsel Town,” where country music is popular, we discovered “Rock-and-Troll.”
This is a place where motorcycle riders don’t wear helmets, but boaters do, because exploding fish have turned water dwellers into crash-test-dummies. It’s where boat owners have torn out their fancy windshields and dash boards to replace the cockpit areas with chicken wire and protective fencing. Here, Mother Nature has played one of her cruelest tricks. She’s turned southern hospitality into a sucker punch from a fish. This is not the place to take a honeymoon pleasure cruise, but it might be a ride you will want to take with your soon-to-be ex.
Our team entered this event totally oblivious to the shelling and abuse we would be taking from the constant onslaught of swirling fish bombs. But we were appropriately named “The Great Lakes Guardians.” With that title, we knew we were going to have to carry a leathery, resilient mindset to defeat the slippery, gilled plague that has taken over the Illinois River before it reaches Michigan. We were a collection of misfits that would make the Land of Misfit Toys look like popular happy-meal handouts, from a walk-on 62-year-old who said this event was on his bucket list, to a scared to death 13-year-old. We were a sober crew of northern Yankees contrasted against a background of rebel flags, carp-hating rednecks and a mob of future hangovers. A charter captain who professionally guides for Great Lakes salmon was now feverishly navigating an unknown river pursuing flying alien fish with a team of seven that included two women. I only mentioned the two women because I know a lot of you guys still don’t think women can fish.
Like this oddball group ever had a prayer in your mind. But there is nothing normal about this event. The fish are not normal, the way they are caught is not normal, the way people dress is not normal and if you pretended to be normal, you’d be abnormal. In fact, there is a town called Normal just north of Bath. But as you are driving south, the highway sign showing distances to nearby towns is blank next to where the distance to Normal should be. Which means: Nobody knows how far away they are from Normal when headed into Bath.
The insult to injury in this tournament was taking a near knock-out punch by a scaly assailant, only to watch the attacker flip and slither back into the churning muddy water. Three massive beasts landed heavyweight punches to my mouth that left me temporarily stunned. By the time I regained my composure, the fish I named Mike Tyson and Muhammed Ali, cowardly recoiled and escaped, but I managed to keep Moby Dick Butkis in the boat. The ambushes occur so quickly you are nothing but a helpless whipping post for zooming fish, leaving you covered in a gel of glittery goo while spitting scales from your suddenly profane mouth. If you plan on entering this event you had better be tough because you are going to get the absolute carp kicked out of you.
Tiffany Curtis, one of the girls that you thought couldn’t fish, took a crushing thump to her foot from a dropping giant, which broke her big toe. Did she cry? No. She dug in and planted with her good foot and continued to snare soaring silvers from the sky. And for two of our two-hour heats she was snatching jumpers with one eye because her other eye was black and blue, “carp-liments” of a facial delivery from a fish named Rocky.
My son Devin, the scared-to-death 13-year-old, took a linebacker hit to his mid-section from a jet-propelled, demon fish that knocked the wind out of him and doubled him over on the bouncing deck. He could have put his net down, covered his head and quit. But instead, his fear turned to fearless, his pursuit got serious and the pain only made him mad. No “frettin’,” back to “nettin’,” proud daddy.
Kaye Werner, the other girl you thought couldn’t fish, used her head more than once to secure our lead in this tournament. On one occasion she was nearly “de-carp-itated,” as a “carp-apulting” assassin rebounded off her noggin and landed perfectly in our holding barrel. It only counted as one, but it was definitely a three-point shot. That’s what I call “e-fish-ent.”
Our dynamic duo in the rear, Mike Werner and Gordon Ringkvist, had the uneasy task of catching everything our front and side crews missed. This meant they had to see oncoming twinkling torpedoes through bouncing bodies and swinging nets. I know it was tough back there because they often sounded like a couple of cavemen shouting “uggg, uggg, umpf, ah, ew, oh, uggg,” as they were repeatedly being pelted by silver bullets.
Jonathon Schechter was my partner on the turbulent bow, the front line of defense, the place where the biggest impacts happen and the quickest of reflexes are required. He took it upon himself to single-handedly try to protect our skipper, Brian Curtis, owner of Luring Addictions Charter Service out of Alma, by taking blow after heavy blow. We were playing dodge-fish and Jonathon was bounced out more than once. Several times I noticed him stop, drop and roll after being “fish-slapped” with silver missile projectiles ricocheting off of his jaw, head and chest. The four “D’s” of dodge-ball are dodge, duck, dip, and dive. The four “D’s” of dodge-fish are, damn, damn, damn and damn-it.
Many of the rocketing fish, that Jonathon and I eventually learned to skillfully avoid, ended up crashing into Brian. But it did not deter our captain, as he aggressively kept us right in the midst of churning boat engines where the bulk of our catches were coming from.
The Illinois River was quickly becoming the river from hell. I ducked, swirled, swatted, spun, sidestepped and netted the attacking Ninja-fish with lightning fast martial-arts maneuvers. I am expecting several offers from China to appear in Kung-fu movies with the alias name “Lon St. Chow-mein.” Still, I was “carpooned” so often that I have a partially dislocated jaw, fractured ribs, a loose tooth and a list of bruises a page long, ranging from golf ball to basketball size. I also think I have developed “carp-ul-tunnel” from extended periods of tightly gripping a net and slinging fish. But in a weird sort of way, I am now addicted to this contact fly-fishing because I was actually catching something. And yes, I am not normal.
This was like being in our own science fiction movie, only it was real. It was like a combination of “Carp-Trek” and “Carp-Wars.” Here we were with Captain Curt, aboard the “Carp-ship Enter-silverside.” We, the mighty “Net-i” warriors, thrust ourselves into the frontlines of battle against the rapid-firing, extraterrestrial, silver locust-fish. Against all odds we were totally out-numbered, concurring at any cost to save our planet’s most beautiful watershed, the Great Lakes. Upon returning to our base, with our massive heaps of mucous monsters, we were cheered and high-fived by the local villagers whose waters have been overtaken with these malicious destructive invaders. We were given a hero’s welcome as we were freeing them from the siege of the evil silver fish. Beautiful young women fought with each other just to be the first to touch and hold our big ones for a photograph.
By the end of this zany weekend tournament we went from broken bone underdogs to breaking records. We went from castaways, to being cast on television shows for ESPN and The Animal Planet. By the event’s mid-way point every national film crew was begging for a chance to climb aboard with us. Those that were turned away hired locals to recklessly follow along side while filming the pounding we were not only taking from the fish, but also giving to the fish. We quickly became the battered and beaten team to beat as we ended up netting more flying spastics in a weekend than anyone ever has in this now internationally covered event. And I hate to break it to you, but women can fish. Our resilient ladies are battle tested and they contributed to our team netting 493 fish in eight vicious hours, that’s over a fish a minute. Yeah, they can fish.
In spite of the jaw-dropping and eye-popping gawks from the swarming media crowds, who were snapping photos and rolling cameras while noticing our enormous catches: we were only noticing each other. As the judges were counting our fish, we were counting our bruises. As the film crews and magazine writers were asking us how we were doing it, we were asking ourselves why we were doing it, as our wounds continued to mount.
For the burly, brawny outdoor bruin laughing and asking the stupid question, “How much can a fish hurt?” Our team would be more than happy to strap you in a golf cart, let you drive over rough terrain at 10 to 15 mph, while we fire bowling balls and bowling pins at you from point-blank range as we are jabbing you with net handles. Just let us know when you’ve had enough.
We netted and counted so many fish in two days that when I wrote the date 8-9-10 upon my return home, I subconsciously continued to write 11, 12, 13, 14… I still have not had a good night’s sleep as I continue waking up ducking fish-shaped-sparklers. My broken bones will heal. My bruises will eventually lose their black and blue appeal. And though the gash on my arm will leave a scar, 493 bigheads and silvers had a much worse day than I did. I can only hope my loose tooth stays intact so I when I smile for the cameras next year, they don’t ask me what hockey team I played for.
With all of the media attention we have received since the event has ended, it has not gone to our slightly brain-damaged heads. We knew the media didn’t care who won this event and certainly didn’t care about our single team record. The media was there for the “slap-fish comedy, the “Carpi-Gras” costumes and the impact shots that every viewer can’t seem to get enough of. Yes, The Great Lakes Guardians, we were one tough bunch of misfits. We took a “finnin” and kept on “winnin.”
Worst Fishing Day Ever
Send a short description of your “worst fishing day, or worst fishing related adventure to me. You don’t have to write the entire story, just a brief outline of what happened. I’ll be getting in touch with you and we’ll work on the completed story together. Fishing isn’t always fun you know.
Have a fun or interesting fishing related story? Woods-n-Water News columnist Ron St. Germain can be reached by calling (517) 626-2814, e-mailing DaPhotoDude@aol.com. Visit the authors online photo gallery at DaPhotoDude.com.