I have witnessed flying carp — firsthand. Believe me, it’s a scary thing to see.
A few years ago, I got an assignment to write about teens bowfishing for Xtreme JAKES’ magazine, which meant we made a trip to Illinois. We took the kids, Grandpa Jake and Aunt Anna Belle. Thank God we only took the kids out on the water while the others stayed at the lodge. Ed DeVries, an avid Illinois bowfisherman, set us up. He told us that earlier in the week, a woman had been knocked off a jet ski by a flying carp.
DeVries found two perfect teenage specimens – both accomplished bowfishermen – named Mike Brown and Jon Person. He showed up with his boat, the bowfishing kids and Person’s dad, Evan, who also brought a boat.
We spent a couple of hours before sundown – DeVries, my husband, Brown and me in one boat and our kids with the Persons in the other boat.
Brown used a compound bow, with a bowfishing reel attachment on the bow handle. A special fiberglass arrow, with line attached, completed the setup. Person shot a crossbow.
Before sundown, we moseyed along the banks of the river while the youngsters took turns at the helm on decks, standing in the ready position with bows in hand, waiting to let an arrow fly at a grass carp. We also had to watch for barges. The section of the river that we were on was narrow, so we saw some barges up close and personal.
The Illinois River is packed with Asian carp, aka silver carp, bighead carp and grass carp. Therefore, there is no limit on how many carp you can kill, and there also is an open season. Evan Person said that he started fishing for bass a few years ago, but decided that it was too much trouble to find the correct-sized bass to keep while fishing among so many carp. He switched to bow hunting for carp.
After sunset things started to get exciting. We weren’t searching for carp any more. They came looking for us.
DeVries says there is something about the lights on the boat and the vibration of the motor that makes the carp fly.
DeVries also knows the river real well, and took the boat to a section near a bridge. “OK, prepare to enter the flying silver fish zone,” he declared, as he turned on the lights and slowed the boat. Up ahead, our kids started screaming, as fish began swimming in from seemingly nowhere and then, jumping into the boat. The Persons called them suicide fish.
We watched and saw fish continually arcing over their boat. Some made it all the way across, while others kamikaze-dove into my daughter’s knee and my son’s head. In our boat, a flying fish whizzed by my husband’s camera and slimed the lens. I finally pulled my jacket up around my ears, as the third fish shot between DeVries and me. I wished I had worn my bicycle helmet.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Brown stood on deck, ever ready. The fish did not fly around the front of the boat, which was a good thing. He stood, legs apart, bow in hand, ever searching the waters for signs of a live one. He took a few shots and missed, and then, he spied another one and hit it. DeVries helped him haul it aboard.
At about 10 P.M., we decided to call it a night. Our daughter climbed out of the boat and exclaimed, “I’ve been slimed!” And we drove back to Missouri the next day in a fishy smelling SUV.
I’d go back again in a heartbeat, but like I wrote earlier, I might decide to wear a football helmet this time!
This Retro WON first appeared August 25, 2009.