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The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Want a big game fishing experience? Try Bay Creek

  • Most of us think of the oceans when we hear about big game fishing. Daniel Nugent of Harrisburg is happy to catch some whoppers here at home, though they may not be of the type many wives would appreciate mounted on the wall.
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  • Most of us think of the oceans when we hear about big game fishing. Daniel Nugent of Harrisburg is happy to catch some whoppers here at home, though they may not be of the type many wives would appreciate mounted on the wall.
    It was nearly 20 years ago — Sept. 14, 1992 — Nugent caught the monster fish that put his name in the record books of the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. He caught a 16-pound, 6-ounce bowfin on 6-pound test line, the largest recorded in the world for that size fishing line and caught it in Bay Creek in Pope County.
    "I was fishing for crappie back there using a 6-pound test. It put up quite a fight," Nugent said.
    Few fishermen would welcome the hour-long fight that ensued and if they did they would not be using line more appropriate for panfish.
    "I knew I had something besides a crappie on there," Nugent said.
    A bowfin lives in the rivers and backwater tributaries in Illinois. The fish is one of the most ancient species in North America with the earliest fossils dating back 100,000,000 years ago. To put that in perspective our sunfish — one of the more popular freshwater families of fish — dates back only 13 to 16 million years ago. That date stems from a red-ear sunfish fossil, found in Iowa.
    Many novice fishermen used to bass, bluegill and catfish would be aghast if they reeled in a bowfin, also called dogfish, grinnel and swamp muskie. Its dorsal fin spans nearly the length of its back. It has two little barbels poking up from its snout. The lower fins can be a bright green in color and it has a row of sharp, spiny teeth.
    The fish also has a swim bladder that it can fill by sucking oxygen through its mouth. The swim bladder aids fish in maintaining buoyancy in the water, but the bowfin's body can also absorb the oxygen in the swim bladder. That features gives the bowfin an advantage over other species living in poorly oxygenated water. In bad water, the bowfin can survive by gulping air.
    The bowfin eats fish, crawdads and about anything else living it can fit in its mouth — including the fingers of fisherman who pull it ashore. It is known for destroying lures with its aggressive bite and sharp teeth.
    After the Bay Creek fight was over and Nugent saw his fish, he believed it had the makings of a state record.
    Nugent consulted then-Daily Register Sports Editor Curt Felton who helped him determine the bowfin's record status.
    Nugent weighed it on the Mad Pricer grocery's meat scales. Before it could be confirmed as a record-holder he had to have the species confirmed by a biologist for Illinois Department of Natural Resources in Benton.
    Page 2 of 2 - Finally, Nugent had his record confirmed and it was time be rid of his bowfin.
    "I ended up cleaning it," Nugent said.
    Nugent smokes his fish in a barbecue grill — no salt — and the bowfin did not taste that flavorful.
    But Nugent is not picky about his fish and fishing the backwaters leads to some exciting catches.
    "I like using a kayak and fishing out of it. You don't know what your going to catch," Nugent said.
    Bowfin, gar, eel — all are beefy fish that are fun to catch, especially from a little boat in a quiet slough.
    One day Nugent convinced his mother to go out fishing in the river with him and reeled in an alligator gar he said appeared at least 7 feet long. He told her to look over the boat's edge to see what he had brought her.
    "She said, 'Uh, uh, you're not bringing that in the boat,'" he said.
    Nugent used to teach a fishing class for Southeastern Illinois College hoping to show others how enjoyable sport fishing could be.
    He might also consider teaching a cooking class because he says has found a diet that is perfect for him.
    "I've dropped 150 pounds from a diet of smoked fish and steamed vegetables," he said.

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