Labor Day weekend serves as a final chance for many to get outdoors and enjoy activities. No one enjoyed the weekend more than the participants of the first annual Wabash Carp Fest held in New Haven Friday, Aug. 30 and Saturday, Aug. 31. In addition to the fun, the event raised several thousand dollars for hometown girl Brittany Richardson, who continues her battle with cancer.
With the abundance of Asian Carp in the regional waterways, New Haven proved to be an excellent spot to add the fishing tournament, which was modeled after one held in Bath, Ill. over the past few years. A group of area fishing enthusiasts ventured to the tournament and got the idea to create a similar event in southern Illinois.
"After going to Bath, which is the original Carp Fest, we just got the idea from there," said Adam Carney, who served as one of the main coordinators of the event with D.R. Mobley. "With Brittany getting sick, it just all tied together and was a great way for us to raise money to help support her as she goes through treatment."
The Wabash Carp Fest, tagged as "Carpin' for Brittany," began Friday evening with a nighttime bowfishing tournament. Of the multiple teams that participated, more than 100 fish were speared, some weighing in between 40 and 50 pounds.
"We had a few 40-50 pound big headed carp brought in Friday during the bowfishing tournament," said Carney. "There are not as many carp in this area, but they are much bigger."
This past summer at the Bath Carp Fest, more than 114,000 carp were secured by teams over the two-day period. It was estimated that several hundred carp would be collected during the two days of competition for the Wabash Carp Fest.
There was no real strategy for the 20-plus teams that competed during the morning session of the Wabash Carp Fest Saturday morning. Rules were put in place and fish could only be collected in the Wabash River, eliminating the Ohio River as an optional waterway. Also, only dip nets were allowed and each boat could contain as many team members as the boat would allow. Carney, who works in the oilfields, turned his boat into a family affair, including his son, Aden, and his wife, Leslie, who were both armed and ready with nets. The Carney family of New Haven was also joined by friend Mike Nelson of Omaha to complete their team.
Other teams traveled a little further to the competition. Two teams from Breese were included in the morning session, filled with carp-catching enthusiasts of all ages.
"We met Adam (Carney) in Bath and we told him we would come down and participate in this event if he would let us know," said Albert Johnson, who was sporting a "Si Robertson" beard. "We have competed in Bath several years. This year was the fourth year for it. There is no real strategy, just be prepared and duck."
Page 2 of 3 - The Bath event also includes a complete festival with prizes for the best dressed team, and various giveaways and raffles along with food and entertainment. The Wabash Carp Fest included several giveaways and a prize for the team with the best costumes. Prizes were awarded following the afternoon session and evening entertainment was provided along with food and fun. All proceeds were earmarked for Robertson, who is currently in Indianapolis for treatment.
"We've put a lot of time into this event, and I hope it will be even bigger and better next year," said Carney. "We could not have done it without the help of the girls that are friends with Brittany (Richardson) that call themselves 'Just us, too.' Those girls have been a huge help."
The morning session got on the water just after 9 a.m. with half the boats putting in the water at New Haven while the other half dropped in at Old Shawneetown, meeting in the middle. A few fish were flying around but they came alive once the crews got into the Wabash River. Within a few seconds of entering into a pod of Asian Carp, they were flying overhead and four landed inside Carney's boat without the need of nets. The carp continued to be stirred up as boats began snagging the white invaders, and a team from Dahlgren hit the jackpot, scoring more than 10 in one pass of the discovered school.
The "flying fish," which can sometimes be dangerous due to their size, get nervous when a motor comes through. They begin jumping out of the water. Once one gets in the air, the others seem to follow suit. Many reach heights of more than six feet from the water and travel sideways, which causes them to land inside a vessel. Also, some of them will record notable hang time while drifting through the air, sometimes right over the top of one's head as they travel down the river.
The fish are also very thin skinned, and their eyes sit down alongside their mouth, making them a very unattractive catch in more ways than one. They are not considered good for eating, and their presence is becoming increasingly bad for the environment.
Although the ultimate goal was to score the most fish and be declared the winner of the event, none of the Wabash Carp Fest teams were too concerned about the title. They were more focused on having fun and raising money for a great cause, a perfect way to spend the long weekend in New Haven. The biggest payoff seemed to be when they were surrounded by flying fish and catching one in the air was complemented by "hoops and hollers" from teammates as the fish were added to barrels aboard the boats.
Page 3 of 3 - The Pezzoni-Clifford team of New Haven and Shawneetown were fully ready to support the cause for Brittany, noting, "Our kids go to school with Brittany and we wanted to do what we could to help. And, it's gonna be fun."
Even the Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles seemed to be enjoying the tournament. The regal feathered birds were stirred up and kept a watchful eye on the fish that were jumping out of the water during the contest. Their presence added a nice touch to a great day and a great cause in New Haven.