The rules of the tournament are simple: You can’t use a fishing pole; you have to use a net instead. Whichever boat catches the most fish, wins. Using nets instead of poles isn’t just a fun twist to make things more interesting, though. You could argue that it’s a necessity.
The competition takes place on a seven-mile branch off of the Illinois River. It used to be a prime location for catching bass and catfish, but now it’s infested with Asian carp. As boats make their way along the river, the engines startle the carp. This causes them to leap out of the water, sometimes reaching as high as ten feet in the air.
Not only are the flying Asian carp dangerous to boaters, they’re killing the river’s bass and catfish populations as well.
Betty DeFord founded the tournament a decade ago in an attempt to rid the area of the rapidly populating carp. She said the tournament began in 2005 and was basically an afterthought.
“We had a little tournament after a regular carp tournament, and we had five boats in it. We used dip nets and we caught 100 fish in an hour and threw them up on the banks for the ‘coons to eat them so we could get our river back,” DeFord said.
What started as a small tournament with only five boats has turned into a weekend-long event drawing upwards of 5,000 people to the town that’s normally home to only 320.
Participants like Albert Johnson come from all around the area to compete. He said the tournament has even become somewhat of a family tradition.
“We look forward to doing it every year. The whole family…wife, grand kids, daughters, all of that’s here,” Johnson added.
While the Redneck Fishing Tournament normally takes place during the first weekend in August, unusually high water levels forced it to be postponed almost a month. Despite being held later than usual, coordinator Betty DeFord says the turnout was great.
Last year’s contest removed nearly 10,000 Asian carp from the river, and DeFord said she thinks this year’s tournament came close to matching that.