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Illinois hunting and fishing

Participants in last summer’s Redneck Fishing Tournament try to net jumping Asian carp. Photo by Chris Young.

Don’t believe the rumors: the Redneck Fishing Tournament is still on

July 29, 2012 at 12:09 PM

The State Journal-Register

Of all of the hardships we are enduring because of this summer’s drought, toasted crops, higher food prices and water restrictions among them, the drought casualty I heard about a few days ago was the real shocker. It went like this:

“Did you hear? They’re thinking of canceling the Redneck Fishing Tournament in Bath because there is not enough water for the boats.”

So imagine my relief when I found out that it is only a rumor. Central Illinois’ craziest, most famous fishing tournament is not being canceled. It will go on next weekend as planned.

Highlights from last year’s Redneck Fishing Tournament.

“This is totally ridiculous,” says tournament organizer Betty DeFord, she of the Boat Tavern in Bath. “I don’t know how these things get started, but it’s going around. I’ve heard it from Virden. I had people call me from Virden a week ago.”

I heard the rumor in Elkhart. But in capital letters on the fishing tournament’s website ( it says:


I’m passing it on and shutting the rumors down. The Redneck tournament is on for Friday and Saturday.

“The water’s low,” says Betty, “but we still have barge traffic going through.”

Actually, the Illinois River at Havana, just north of Bath, rose about six inches this week, due to recent heavy rain in the Chicago area. That water made its way down the river.

In case you have been on Mars for the past five or six years, Redneck Fishing Tournament competitors do not use fishing poles, lines or hooks. They circle in their boats until they get Asian carp to start flying out of the water. It doesn’t take much.

Then they either catch them in a dip net or just have the fish land in their boats. The boat with the most Asian carp wins. Afterward, the fish are buried. That is the whole idea — to get these invasive carp out of the Illinois River. They don’t belong there.

People dress for the Redneck in crazy costumes, or not much at all. Besides the people-watching, which is prime, there is live music.

I believe the Redneck started in 2004. I went to the 2005 tournament and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. These carp can come three or four feet out of the water. I have seen them jump over the rail of a pontoon boat and land on the deck.

Asian carp are bloody, slimy, ugly and full of bones. Other than that, they’re a fine species.

Since its early days, when it was mostly a local phenomenon, the Redneck tournament has gone worldwide. Media from Time magazine to the Mason County Democrat couldn’t resist covering this bizarre ritual. There is video of the tournament on YouTube. (Also on YouTube, a must-see is “The Attack of the Jumping Asian Carp - Reel Shot TV.”)

“This thing has just grown and grown,” says Betty. “The BBC is coming this year, Global News out of Canada, a film crew from Japan based in New York. The Travel Channel is coming. I can’t even remember them all. I’d have to look at a list.”

Betty expects spectators from as far away as New Zealand and British Columbia. People from Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana have registered for the Redneck. The registration fee is $50 per boat per heat entered. Yes, there are heats.

Before the Redneck, the town’s biggest event was either the annual fish fry or the night before opening day of duck season. Now it’s this wacky fishing tournament.

So don’t believe the rumors. The Redneck is on.

Want to watch?

Redneck Fishing Tournament heats take place from noon to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4, starting at the Boat Tavern in Bath.

Admission is $5 each day or $8 for the weekend; lawn chairs are recommended.

Contact Dave Bakke at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or at (217)788-1541.

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