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Asian Carp - An Anglers Perspective 
By Rick Byrnes

 

 April 1st, 2019

I have spent hours, if not days of time reading articles, studies and talking to experts on Asian Carp. This article is written from an anglers perspective and opinions based on observations combined with the information I have collected.

The area I live in "Southern Illinois" really started to be impacted by Asian Carp about a decade ago. When I say impacted, I am referring to the time at which Asian Carp became a problem and started affecting native fish populations. Asian Carp had been in these waters long before that timeframe but were simply considered a nuisance by most prior to then.

The Kaskaskia River was the first to reach those type of saturation levels in this area. This small river was once was a pretty good little fishery and popular events would draw fields of fifty boats or more.  I can recall winning weights near the twenty pound mark but generally a fourteen or fifteen pound bag would win the day. Today I would challenge the best of the best to visit this fishery and catch a limit. A limit can still happen on occasion but the fishery is all but gone, a shell of what it once was. The oxbow waters once cleared in the summer and fish could be caught at the ends of laydowns in 10-15 foot of water. The water in those oxbows never comes near to reaching that clarity these days. The density of Asian Carp in this fishery cannot be comprehended unless you see it for yourself. They keep the water churned up and have effectively forced out native species, including bass.

Smithland Pool was next, the fishery started it's sport fish decline about 2013 and has continued to worsen since. Smithland likely has a few "good days" left in her but the writing is on the wall. Often those good days happen simply because folks stop fishing the waters, it's the low fishing pressure that offers those "good days". Smithland Pool was once a fishery where you could take your kids to get them interested in the sport. Catches of fifty bass or more was not uncommon prior to the heat of the summer. It also hosted large fishing events, some popular open events reached fields of over a hundred boats and fields in the sixty boat range were common. Most fields are now twenty boats or less.

Horseshoe Lake is not a fishery that I have spent much time on, the last time I fished it was about eight years ago. The Asian Carp were in there at that time but it still took over twenty pounds to win that small club event. I am told it's a waste of time to visit those waters today. Anglers simply do not visit it any longer.

Three fisheries that have been devastated or in the process of being devastated. I made the choice to be vocal and warn those in the path of this plague. If they were heading this way I would hope others would be sounding the alarm for us. It would be much easier to be quiet about this issue and I thought this over long ago. To be quiet would add to the problem.

The displacement of native species does not happen quickly, it takes time, bass seem to get larger before things start getting ugly. When you try explaining the issue to those in the path, well it is met with skepticism. It's hard for anyone to wrap their mind around how a fish can ruin their lake.

In 2014 or 2015 I wrote our then DNR fisheries chief explaining what we were experiencing in hopes of getting assistance. I was told the twenty year electro fish surveys showed no decline in bass populations. This compounded the aggravation, did the DNR simply get it wrong or were decisions made to keep the problem toned down, as there was no real solution. I don't know the answer to that question but now we seem to be seeing similar things happening on the Tennessee River System. Biologist say they are optimistic about the future of Kentucky Lake and I certainly hope that is correct.

Biologist claim the skip jack levels have declined due to over harvest. The bass have declined due to bass tournaments and natural cycles. Crappie declines also being cyclic. That's not all, shad and catfish populations are also reported to be low. Applying what I have observed in Southern Illinois fisheries, the Carp seem to be winning at Kentucky Lake and all those upstream need to understand the urgency of the problem.

Kentucky Lake Biologist and the Federal Government have invested considerably in a commercial fishing campaign. I support these efforts simply because it is all we have right now and I have done my best to try to get a processor located on Smithland Pool. In those efforts I asked Kevin Irons, Aquatic Nuisance Species Program Manager for the IDNR if only removing Asian Carp over the size of seven pounds would be enough to recover our sport fish populations. His answer "good question, we don't know". That is one of the problems with commercial fishing. Nets are designed to let fish smaller than seven pounds pass through. This is to protect sport fish but in doing so it is equivalent to placing a size limit on Asian Carp and protecting future populations. Similar to size limits on sport fish.

A barrier is to be installed on the Cumberland River scheduled in early Summer. The biologist I have spoken to all agree it will not be effective. Some vary on just how ineffective it will be. Barges and tugs push Asian Carp in front of them into these lock chambers. They stack up in front of these barges to the point of creating wakes. The bubbles and sound barrier will need to be "scarier" than that barge and tug that has been chasing them or they will simply be pushed through.

I asked these questions to a biologist and although a retired biologist answered confirming my thoughts, I have yet to hear the answers from the existing KY biologist. Below are the questions and paraphrased answers.

1) Have the amount of fish entering the lake through the locks been calculated. If not could it be exceeding the mortality rate and commercial fishing combined? Retired Biologist: "They have not been calculated and it is possible".
2) Is it only a matter of time until we experience a major spawn? Retired Biologist: Yes but they have not since 2015.

My conclusion is we all need to push for a method to kill these things. Until you experience this problem you cannot understand it. When I call them a plague, that's truly an accurate description. We have never seen anything like this before in this country.

For those of you that see me out there sounding alarms, please understand what may be at stake. We must increase research funding for kill methods or it is possible we could lose every great fishery on the Tennessee River and more. That's why I choose to voice an opinion publically.