Illinois hunting and fishing

JOURNAL STAR FILE PHOTO
Jim Zikus poses in the basement of his Peoria home in this April 2003 file photo. Last Saturday Zikus caught and released a massive grass carp that may well have been a state and possibly a North American record.

Big Fish Fridays: Record grass carp?

October 02, 2009 at 05:31 AM

Jim Zikus has fought plenty of big fish in his 85 years.

He has an 8-pound, 7-ounce largemouth bass and a 44-inch muskie hanging in the basement of his Peoria home. Zikus has also dabbled in deep-sea fishing and has a 62-inch king mackerel to his credit.

But none of those trophies battled as hard as the grass carp Zikus hooked last Saturday at the New Windsor Sportsmen Club southwest of Victoria. In fact, the carp Zikus released back into one of the larger New Windsor lakes may well have been a state and North American record, though we’ll never know for certain.

As is true of so many big-fish stories, Zikus had no intention of catching a monster. Instead he was bankfishing in a shallow bay for panfish, using a light rod and spinning reel and 10-pound test line.

“I don’t fish as often as I used to,” Zikus said. “Most of my old fishing buddies have gone. I just go now and then do a little fishing for bluegill and crappie.” That includes his long-time fishing partner the late Chuck Friday, who is pictured below with Zikus in 1971 with a stringer of bass caught from strip mines west of Canton.

Illinois hunting and fishing

After catching several panfish, Zikus hooked into something big. At first he thought a catfish had bit on the piece of worm he baited on a No. 8 hump-shanked panfish hook that was fished 3½ feet deep under a slip bobber.

“As it headed for deep water and rolled over, its shape and size showed it was more than a big catfish,” Zikus said. “For the next 20 minutes it was give and take as my drag was set just right.”

Eventually Zikus managed to bring the carp to a seawall surrounding the lake. There fishing partners John Ambrosch and Bob Hill of Peoria were waiting with landing nets.

“The first net only fit over the head and half of the fish’s length. When the second net was placed over the tail section the fish rocketed through the first net and took off for deep water again,” Zikus said.

In the process, the big carp broke his rod tip and nearly straightened the light hook. That left Zikus to fight the fish with a damaged rod and with line running through a net.

Even so, he managed to bring the carp back to the seawall, which stands 2 feet above water level. Zikus and Hill reached through the gill covers and Ambrosch grabbed the tail and they wrestled the fish to shore

“It was a gut buster for the three of us to get it up over the seawall and onto the ground,” Zikus said. “The scales that were left on the ground off of that fish looked like half dollars.”

The grass carp was 48 inches long and had a girth of 38 inches. Hill and a neighbor took pictures with cell-phone cameras. Unfortunately, that’s where the photos remain.

“I’m hoping we can get one printed,” Zikus said.

Doubt also surrounds the exact weight of the fish, since Zikus and friends did not have a scale. Based on length and girth measurements, there’s a good
chance Zikus’ catch was heavier than the state record of 69 pounds, 8 ounces caught by Daniel McDougall out of Lake Petersburg in 2000.

McDougall’s grass carp — also caught on a nightcrawler — was 52 inches long but had a girth of only 32 inches. Based on various fish weight calculators available on the Internet, Zikus’ fish likely weighs from 77 to 86.6 pounds.

At that weight, the fish might even rival the North American record of 78 pounds, 12 ounces caught in 2003 out of Georgia’s Flint River.

Then again, those same calculators estimate McDougall’s fish at 72 to 84 pounds. That’s why a fish must be weighed on a certified scale to be declared a record.

No matter the weight, there’s no disputing the fish was huge. “It was two-thirds the size of my body,” Zikus said.

Grass carp, or white amur as they are also known, are a non-native species brought to the U.S. from eastern China and Siberia to control aquatic vegetation in lakes and ponds.

I’ve never met anyone who offered up a grass carp recipe. Nor has Zikus. That’s one reason he didn’t hesitate to release the fish. In hindsight, Zikus has some regret about that decision. But not much.

“I wasn’t even thinking about a record and I had no use for it. We weren’t going to eat a grass carp,” he said. “Besides, the only thing a guy can accomplish from that is bragging rights.

“But it was an experience. I’ll tell you that.”