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Carpe Carp

What’s great about weird sports: you can’t make this shit up, even though someone obviously did.

Case in point, the annual Redneck Fishing Tournament in Bath, Illinois, home of f’n Flying Carp. That’s right, bitches. Flying fishes.

As in all great adventures, I was joined with fun foto friends: The Hart Foundation, a newly reestablished tag team starring Rob Hart, right, and Mr. Brian Valentin. You’d have thunk it was Feb. 14 hanging with these heart breakers.

Of course, what’s fun in the above photo is that we’re all pretty much aiming cameras at each other, waiting for someone to get whacked in the face. We all got slimed, but no bruises. I can’t speak for the other cats, but I was a little disappointed to escape injury-free. I wanted a new fish story.

We were taken out on a boat by the organizers to witness the fish frenzy. The videos are epic. The scene in real life is equally pretty nuts, though in spurts. Some teams were better at others at seizing the carp, who panic when they hear the motor boats passing by and jump in the air. Some fish landed in our boat, scaring the carp out of us.

Four two-hour heats are spread out during the two-day tournament. Some teams go just once. Others more often. The goal is to collect as many carp as you can. Nets and bats are allowed. Fishing lines are not – nor are they necessary.

The two-day tournament has its roots in a real problem – Asian carp have invaded the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, where they’ve crowded out native species and smacked boaters with fish shrapnel. Now they’re poised to infiltrate the Great Lakes, where they could ravage the native ecosystem and disrupt a commercial and sports fishery worth billions of dollars. The situation is so serious that Washington may soon name a carp czar to battle this issue.

Yeah, there’s no love lost on these fishes.

While not as over-the-top as E. Dublin, I did enjoy several flashbacks to my time in Georgia. Rednecks always make photos more interesting. Always.

Several teams returned with monstrous bounties of fish. Unfortunately, these carp make for lousy eating – too much bone, too little flesh. Truckloads of fish were buried nearby, becoming fertilizer.

That afternoon, we heard tale of a team that was DQ’d for teaming up with another boat so as to increase their fish count. For some reason, cheating by rednecks didn’t shock me.

Before the second heat on Friday, I found a group of Spartans flirting with lasses in the beer garden. I promised the warriors fame and glory, and in exchange they offered me a spot on their boat. Hart + Valentin got rides with other boats.

This was a classic day of making photos that I really dig, but not making the photos I had imagined before the day had started. That’s actually a better scenario. I prefer surprises. And who wants to make photos you can visualize? That said, it still left me wanting more.

All three of us had boats that either had technical issues (flooding) or returned early on the second heat. Those issues made for photos, but again, not the ones I had anticipated.

Unfortunately, we had to split before the second day of action. That’s cool. These rednecks will return. So will the carp. And so will these photographers.

On the drive back to Chicago, we relived our fun(ny) day in rural Illinois. Hart said to me: “Pretty much anything you shoot is like Christmas morning for a photographer. There are presents everywhere.”

Merry Christmas, boys, and Happy Valentin’s Day!

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