Skarping: The Sport That Could Save a Nation's Rivers

By Indefinitely Wild on at

Combining cross-disciplinary skills from a diverse array of sports — water skiing, basketball and butterfly catching — skarping doesn’t just look like a lot of fun, it helps the environment too: the aim is catching asian carp, an invasive species of fish racking American rivers.

Asian carp were originally imported to America from China by fish farmers in the 1970s, who hoped the species would help keep their fish ponds clean. Escapes into Mississippi River basin trickled out over the subsequent decades, but it was the heavy flooding of the river in the 1990s that is largely credited for the spread of the species.

They expanded rapidly and are now rampant in the river and its tributaries as far north as Illinois, where this video was filmed. Massive efforts are underway to keep the carp out of the great lakes — they threaten native species — but the fish defy most efforts at control. They feed by filtering plankton from the water as they swim, so can’t be caught on rod and reel.

In addition to putting the entire food chain at risk by removing the food source for many native species, asian carp also represent a significant risk to boaters. The 18-kilo fish are agitated by the vibration of boat motors and the reverberation of hulls as they slap the water, causing them to jump up to metres into the air. Catching a near 20-kilo fish to the face at speed isn’t just gross — they’re slimy — but a real and significant navigation hazard.

It’s open season on the species as a result. The only good asian carp is a dead asian carp. They make great dog food.

Industrious local businessmen have responded to the threat with good ol’ fashioned capitalism, devising fun new methods to catch the fish and charging people for the privilege of killing them. This video was created by Peoria Carp Hunters, which takes clients bow fishing on the Illinois River using a custom pontoon boat specially modified to get the carp jumping, and protect the occupants from the result.

“Asian carp jump because of vibration and water turbulance,” Capt. Nathan Wallick, the mad genius behind Peoria Carp Hunters. “This is why aluminium boats with two stroke motors work the best. With that said, my mainline boat is an all aluminium pontoon boat that has been overhauled and customised specifically for this sport.

"This boat gets the asian carp popping like popcorn. I also use an all aluminium deck boat as a back up as well as my traditional bowfishing boat. I modified my boat to allow five people to shoot at the same time. The rest may comfortably hang out on padded bench seats, enjoying refreshments, blasting their choice of music over the sound system and watching their buddies slay carp. It truly does not get any better than that!”