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Illinois hunting and fishing

Anglers recall monster Asian carp

March 31, 2009 at 01:46 AM

Belleville News-Democrat

CHESTER (AP)—Dragging their trammel nets through the muddy waters of the Mississippi River, Chad Isaak’s commercial fishing crew are rarely surprised at what they’ll find.

Tree stumps. Logs. Garbage. It all gets caught in their nets, along with plenty of fish. Occasionally, though, they’ll land something that takes their breath away.

One such instance happened recently.

Fishing on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River below Chester on Feb. 8, Isaak’s crew pulled in an Asian carp with estimated weight of nearly 90 pounds. The behemoth exceeded the weight limit on their hand-held scale, which topped out at 80 pounds.

Isaak, a veteran commercial fisherman from Carlyle who’s been plying this trade for 25 years, estimated the weight between 85 and 90 pounds.

“When it was laying next to all of those other fish, it was like two or three of them laying there,” said Isaak, 36. “It was the biggest one I had ever seen.”

Isaak and his crew, Travis Jondro and Scott Kleber, both of Carlyle, were working on their second set of the morning when they discovered the giant bighead carp.

“It took me and Chad to pull it in without breaking the net,” Jondro said. “You feed that net in by hand and when you get fish, you stop and pull the fish in. We didn’t have a whole lot of fish on that set and when it came to the top, I knew exactly what it was.”

Jondro, who has been part of Isaak’s crew for four years, couldn’t believe the size of the fish.

“I looked at that and said ‘Oh (crap),’” Jondro said. “Chad was like ‘What? What?’ And I was like ‘I might need some help.’ The thing is, if you bust that net, they’ll get out and swim away. He helped me wrestle it in.”

Jondro and Isaak leaned over the boat and bearhugged the fish, with Jondro at the back and Isaak at the head. They gave the net plenty of slack in case the Asian carp put up a fight, which it didn’t.

Once they got it in the boat, the trio took a few minutes to marvel at its size. Then Jondro took some pictures on his cell phone of Isaak holding the fish.

“People are pretty surprised when they see it,” Jondro said. “They see that fish with Chad behind it, and Chad’s not a little guy. It kind of makes him looks small.”

After the impromptu photo op, it was back to work for the crew. They didn’t save the fish for posterity; they just threw it back in the boat among the 3,000 pounds of Asian carp netted that morning.

“We didn’t even think about keeping it,” Jondro said. “It was worth 10 cents a pound, so that was a $9 fish.”

Isaak’s crew, which fished the spillway below the dam at Carlyle Lake last year, take the Asian carp to a processor in Pearl, which pays 10 cents a pound.

Isaak said bighead carp normally weigh between seven and 30 pounds, with an average of 15 pounds. Giants are not uncommon, however, in the Mississippi.

Last year, Darin Opel, of Worden, shot a 92-pound, 8-ounce bighead carp with a compound bow and arrow while fishing for gar on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River near Alton. The fish was the third-largest bighead carp captured in the world and largest in the Western Hemisphere by a recreational angler.

“I saw another picture of one, a crew on the Ohio River caught it and it weighed over 90 pounds,” Jondro said. “They get big. They clean up the food supply of the other fish. They’re like filters. They’ll clean a pond. I can imagine what they do in a river.”

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