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This 42-pound grass carp was spotted and caught in a flooded cow pasture outside Congerville last weekend. Posing with their odd catch are, from left, Eric Miller of Congerville, son Jake Miller of Congerville and son-in-law Dan Dunham of Morton. Photos courtesy of the Miller family.

“Massive” grass carp caught in cow pasture

June 07, 2013 at 04:39 PM

The State Journal-Register

A fledgling fisherman, Dan Dunham learned two key lessons last weekend about how to reel in a big catch.

Sometimes, you need special equipment. Like, a pitchfork.

And you always want to find an out-of-the-way fishing hole. Like, a cow pasture.

That’s how Dunham and his in-laws found a 42-pound Asian carp. They spotted and speared the ungainly beastie in a wet field outside Congerville.

“It was the biggest catch of the day,” Dunham, 33, says with a chuckle.

Before you get spooked about this scenario, don’t worry: the slimey, disgusting Asian carp haven’t learned to walk on land. Yet. But that development certainly would make for an awesome B-grade flick: “The March of the Killer Carp!”

Meantime, Dunham has been learning all about carp and other fish. The Morton resident, who works as the production coordinator at Harvest Bible Chapel in East Peoria, hasn’t fished more than a handful of times in his life.

“I’m more of a city boy,” he says, almost apologetically. “But I’m learning.”

The tutelage is coming at the hands of his in-laws, who live outside Congerville, about 25 miles east of Peoria. Last Saturday, Dunham drove there to meet up with father-in-law Eric Miller,49, and brother-in-law Jake Miller, 15. The trio went to try their luck on Lake Evergreen in Bloomington, but managed to snag just a couple of tiny nibblers.

“We threw ‘em back,” Dunham says.

To get back to Congerville, they took Danvers Road. Just outside town they drove past a cow pasture owned by Miller kin. Cows were grazing on a hill, far from water covering a low-lying stretch near the road. It looked to be about 2 feet deep, thanks to recent rains, plus the spring flooding by the nearby Mackinaw River and tributaries.

Glancing at the temporary lake, the trio notice some rippling in the water.

“We saw fins, or whatever they’re called, poking out of the water,” Dunham says.

They pulled over to take a look-see. They thought it might be a catfish, which would make for a tasty finale to their fishing expedition. To get a closer glimpse, they put on waders and trudged into the water.

Dang. They realized it was not a delicious catfish but a massive Asian carp, which they didn’t care to eat. Still, they decided to catch it and make the world a better place with one fewer watery menace.

Rather than mess around with a pole and bait, they decided to go with the Captain Ahab method and harpoon the beast. They happened to have a pitchfork in the trunk, along with nets.
They decided to let the teen take a shot.

“Jake took a first stab, and the carp wrestled and thrashed a bit,” Dunham says, as if narrating his own fishing show. “Took another stab and it swam away. Third stab, he got the carp and held it under.”

Jake Miller, 15, of Congerville hoists the carp, which measured 4 1/2 feet. Grass carp are a type of Asian carp, the invasive species that threatens the livelihood of the Illinois River.

The teen’s father tied a line into the fish’s mouth to subdue it; it quickly died. They took a few pictures, drawing the attention of neighbors and passersby, who also stopped for photos of the beaming trio and their peculiar prey. At one point, about 10 cars were parked along the roadside as curiosity-seekers gawked at the wayward carp that had wandered into a cow field.

How did that happen? Perhaps the fish got hungry, says Kevin Irons, Aquaculture and Aquatic Nuisance Species Program Manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
He said the Congerville carp was a grass carp, a type of Asian carp. But they’re fewer in number in the Illinois River than silver and bighead carp — the kind you often see jumping out of the waterway.

Asian carp of all sorts have pushed into the Mackinaw River and its tributaries, he says. Or, sometimes, grass carp are stocked in private ponds to control vegetation. Either way, flooding created new waterways. And when hungry — they eat three times their body weight daily — Asian carp will travel (often alone) just about anywhere, even a cow pasture.

“It was a lake when it got there,” Irons says with a laugh.

Often, he says, the voracious carp will keep chomping away even when flooded areas begin to recede: food takes precedence over safety. Sometimes, when a flooded area drains, Asian carp will be left behind in a mass (though well fed) kill-off.

Irons says he has seen grass carp as large as 70 pounds. Looking at a photo, he was impressed by the size of the Congerville carp.

“By any stretch, this is a big fish,” he said.

Later Saturday, Dunham and the Millers later weighed and measured their surprise catch: 42 pounds and 4 1/2 feet long. They cut it up so a neighbor could use it for coon bait. But it lives on in their collective memory.

“How often do you find a carp in the middle of a field?” Dunham says.

Plus, his in-laws — even after years of conventional fish stories — continue to marvel over the weird adventure.

“They said it was one the best days of fishing they ever had,” Dunham says.

PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address),, 686-3155 or (800) 225- 5757, Ext. 3155. Follow him on Twitter @LucianoPhil.

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