Most years, the state bowfishing tournament helps put a bit of a dent into the local Illinois River population of Asian bighead and silver carp — rapidly-spreading species that federal and state fisheries experts would like to see controlled.
However, teams of four in 45 boats barely delivered a glancing wound to the nonnative, invasive fish population on Saturday during the first half of the Directors Shoot/Innerloc State Bowfishing Championships on the Illinois River. Still, the invasive and “rough fish” they did shoot were removed from the river and put in a refrigerated trailer to be turned into fertilizer.
Competitors in the daytime half of the tournament shot, reeled in and weighed in far more grass carp, buffalo and common carp than bighead carp Saturday.
“Water’s up. It’s kind of hard to see them,” said Justin Swietek, 16, a senior-to-be at La Salle-Peru Township High School said of the bighead carp.
Swietek won the junior competition with a three-fish total of 37 pounds, two ounces — mostly grass carp. His brother, Josh, 14, finished second in the junior competition, with almost 32½ pounds.
Prizes donated by sponsors ranged from a guided trip to hunt alligator gar in Texas to expensive bows with reels to arrows.
stick in Midwest
Most of the sharpshooters came from outside the area, pulling swamp boats, johnboats and other vessels customized to allow them to stand up, survey the river and shoot fish near the water’s surface. Most teams had tough-sounding names: Rough Fish Assassins, Toxic Bowfishing, Vicious Fishes, Stone Dead Inc.
Not all competed in the nighttime shoot that lasted all night Saturday past sunrise Sunday morning.
Some, like a Yorkville group and a team of fisheries and waterfowl experts from Havana didn’t compete in the night shoot because their boats weren’t set up with spotlights. A “pro” team from Decatur sponsored by AMS Bowfishing decided the fishing in the high water was pretty tough, and it wasn’t worth staying up all night again to shoot on Saturday.
The Decatur group had stayed up the night before to drive to the Saturday morning tournament. Many of the teams had just finished their fourth straight weekend of tournaments, in addition to hunting their home waters. For some, those waters were as nearby as the Chain of Lakes northwest of Chicago or the Des Plaines River in the southwest suburbs and for some, as far away as Kentucky Lake. A group from Wisconsin had the license plate, “CARPER.” They usually take aim at common carp on Petenwell Reservoir on the Wisconsin River system, which they said has not yet seen an Asian carp invasion.
One of the Decatur anglers said Kentucky Lake is becoming overrun by Asian carp. They recently shot 1,733 pounds of fish at a tournament, including many 35- to 40-pound bighead carp.
Science professionals among
invasive species hunters
High water in late June and early July was not great for bowfishing but, unfortunately, it might be quite good for Asian silver carp, said Jason DeBoer river fisheries ecologist from Illinois River Biological Station in Havana. High water in mid-summer may help the spawn of silver carp, which are a scourge of the river. That’s bad, since the silver carp population had been decreasing just slightly the past four to five years, he said.
DeBoer moved to Illinois a year ago from Nebraska. While there, he got into bow fishing on the Missouri River, which has Asian carp all the way up into South Dakota. On the Missouri, the filter-feeding Asian carp are pretty easy to find. The Missouri has “wing dikes” perpendicular to the bank that normally protrude into the river and up out of the water, he said.
“The fish will sit there and let the river bring food to them,” DeBoer said.
The anglers who stuck around for the Saturday night shoot likely caught on to the notion that they could win prizes for sheer numbers of fish. With that knowledge, they were much more likely to shoot many more silver carp. Plainfield shooter Cody Kowalczyk said they saw lots of silver carp near the surface.
“We couldn’t shoot fast enough, there’s so many of them,” said Kowalcyzk.