A record-setting log
At first Darin Opel thought the huge shadow he saw underwater was a log.
But when the log kept coming closer, Opel decided it was a fish. Oh, what a fish.
The “shadow” he shot last Sunday while bowfishing in a Mississippi River backwater was a bighead carp weighing a record 92.5 pounds. And the 62-inch Asian carp with a 30-inch girth gave Opel (6-foot-4 and 300 pounds) all he could handle.
“He was so far out when I shot him that I only got about three inches of arrow into him. Usually the arrow goes right through the fish, which will help you keep him on,” said Opel, who lives in the southwest Illinois town of Worden. “I was worried he was going to get off so I jumped in after him, got one hand in his gill and wrapped my other arm completely around him.
“Then it was inch by inch getting him up on the bank.”
From the backwater near Alton where he was fishing, Opel headed to a certified scale and into the record books. His fish shattered the Illinois bowfishing record of 35 pounds, 5 ounces and is the largest bighead ever taken by a recreational angler.
That’s according to Duane Chapman of Columbia, Mo., one of the country’s top Asian carp researchers who helped put on a carp symposium in Peoria two years ago. Chapman knows of only two bigheads larger: a 93-pounder netted in Texas and a 100-pounder caught by a commercial angler in Pakistan.
So among anglers, Opel is No. 1. Maybe not for long, though.
Since they invaded Illinois waters in the 1990s, numbers and sizes of non-native Asian carp have steadily increased. Silver carp grab most headlines because the so-called flying fish leap out of the water when boats approach.
Bighead carp are not so acrobatic. But that a bighead could earn headlines for its size is not unexpected, since they grow larger than their silver cousins.
More unlikely is a lone bowfisherman shooting from shore and finding a way to land a fish this large.
“There were two guys fishing near where I shot this and I bet they said ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! about 100 times,” Opel said. “I was hoping one of them would say, ‘Do you need some help?’ But I never heard that.”
Opel uses a compound bow that is custom-made for fishing and fiberglass arrows that are tied to 200-pound test fishing line. Even with proper equipment, Opel said he was fortunate to hit his big bighead in the skull above the eye.
“I think hitting him in the head knocked half the fight out of him,” Opel said. “That was lucky, because even at 50 percent he was hard to get in.”
Now the question becomes, will a bighead in Illinois waters surpass 100 pounds? Opel thinks that’s likely.
“I can’t believe this one fish is the biggest. I think it’s a matter of time before somebody shoots a 100-pounder,” said Opel, who is allergic to fish but uses carp meat to bait raccoon traps. “There’s so many bigheads out there. Some nights we shoot 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of fish. And they’re getting bigger.”
SAD REMINDER: For years Vern Blumenshine and I talked about fishing together. But something always got in the way and besides, there was always going to be another chance.
In a blink that chance is gone. Blumenshine, 68, died unexpectedly Tuesday during what had been one of his best springs of bass fishing.
A Bartonville resident known for his fishing prowess, his pony tail and his chihuahua, Matty, Vern defined the phrase “diehard angler.” He had an uncanny wealth of knowledge about local strip mine lakes and won one of the last tournaments he fished last Saturday at Banner Marsh.
Vern’s passing is another sobering reminder to make time for people now, rather than to have regrets later.
BIRD BLITZ: Just in time for Saturday’s celebration of International Migratory Bird Day, songbirds of all sorts are passing through the area.
In recent days central Illinois has seen and heard grosbeaks, indigo buntings, orioles, wrens, hummingbirds and a wide variety of warblers.
The timing is good. Levees at the bird-filled Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge near Havana will be opened to auto traffic Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Area spring bird counts are also being held Saturday.