The Redneck Fishing Tournament in Bath, Illinois has become something of a global phenomenon in recent years. Betty DeFord created the competition roughly a decade ago in an attempt to rid the town's river of an invasive species that's rapidly taking over.
“We started this as a little fishing event to rid these rivers of the Asian carp so we could take our grandkids fishing. We had 1,000 people show up that first event that we had, and it’s just grown every year since,” DeFord said.
The small town of Bath runs along a seven-mile branch of the Illinois River. DeFord said it used to be a prime fishing location, but that is no longer the case because the Asian carp have killed off large numbers of native fish that are more desirable to sportsmen.
The carp aren’t just harming the river’s natural ecosystem, either. They also pose a significant threat to the boaters themselves.
Asian carp leap out of the water when startled by loud noises such as boat engines. This can be dangerous for boaters because Asian carp average around 40 lbs, sometimes even reaching upwards of 100 lbs.
Because the fish jump out of the water, participants in the Redneck Fishing Tournament are required to use nets rather than fishing poles.
According to competitor Albert Johnson, protective gear is also fairly common.
“You do take a beating. They will come flying through the air, catch you off guard, and smack you,” Johnson quipped.
Despite the potential dangers that the Asian carp pose, Johnson and his family have made the 150-mile trek from Clinton County, IL for five straight years.
“We look forward to doing it every year. The whole family: wife, grandkids, daughters, all of that’s here. The sites, the excitement, the fish flying in the air, it’s just lots of fun,” Johnson said.
What began as a simple idea to rid a local river of an invasive species has turned into a global phenomenon. According to creator Betty DeFord, the event has drawn in more than 5,000 attendees in the past, some coming from as far away as Europe and Asia.
DeFord added that last year’s tournament cleared nearly 10,000 Asian carp out of the Illinois River. She thinks this year came close to matching that.