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Brad Laabs: Asian carp are a big problem in Illinois, headed to MN

As I had mentioned last week, I would follow-up with the Asian carp experience I had when I was fishing the Illinois River. Seven years ago when I was there the last time, they had no Asian carp situation, and no indication or awareness that it was going to become a problem. Now, the Asian carp are everywhere in the system.

Pitching jigs to warmer shallow water you could catch or snag as many as you wanted to catch. Most carp were 5-10lbs, but reports of fish upwards of 20-30lbs are reported.

There are two types of invasive Asian carp in the system. I will say they fight hard and are fun to have on the line. I was surprised they would bite the jigs as I thought they were plankton eaters. 

I talked to several locals about the issue and a couple of the Illinois River guides. One guide stated he had as many as three jump in his boat at one time and they get blood and slime all over the boat. They are a danger to him and his customers, so he will no longer run fast in shallow water. He runs the deep water cannel between the channel markers and idles his boat to shallow water to try and avoid stirring the carp up and making them jump.

Many locals have had to modify boats to protect themselves, and some will were snowmobile helmets for protection. When the water is cold like it was when I was there, you don’t have the problem with them jumping like they do after the water warms. Locals reported injuries including cuts to the face.

One of the other local guides is friends with a couple of the commercial fisherman. He reported they never have a problem filling their quotas stating, “It is easy to fill the boat.” The quotas are dependent on the need. Many of the harvested fish are used to make fertilizer, and some are being harvested for human consumption. Most of the fish are shipped to the east coast. He stated, “They are a tasty white meat, but slimy and a challenge to clean.”

The Illinois DNR is encouraging anglers to keep them for consumption, and in their regulations book they have cleaning and cooking suggestions.

These fish migrate and reproduce at an alarming rate and can overtake a system. They are already as far north on the Mississippi River at Winona.

The recent meeting held by the governor, DNR representatives, and legislators have decided the best course of action for slowing the spread and invasion of the Asian carp is to install an electric barrier at lock and dam #1 (that is the dam in St. Paul that creates pool two). It is at least some kind of plan.

Besides the Illinois River being a major tributary for the Mississippi, so are the Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and St. Croix Rivers (all located below the barrier). I would expect all these rivers to become invaded as well as their tributaries. There are also many minor tributaries like the Cannon, Vermillion, and Root (just to name a few) that can expect these fish to be in their systems in the coming years.

Most of the aquatic invasive species start in the Great Lakes as ships dump bilge water after overseas trips. Rather than being reactive with plans after the introduction of the invasives, why are we not dealing with them at the source and having ships treat, filter, or kill the invasive species in the bilge before discharging?

I believe we can expect other invasives to arrive in our waters that we can’t even anticipate now until the issues are dealt with at the source. With the invasives here now we have no choice but to be reactive. It can help if we are proactive in our reaction when we know the spread is inevitable. These invasive species are costing us a lot of money and energy, both of which our country and our state seem short on at this time.

An up-date on Lake Mille Lacs. This year will see the slot at 18-20” walleyes for harvest with a two fish per person harvest. The fish must touch 18” and can’t touch 20”. One fish over 28” can be harvested. All fish under 18” and over 20” up to 28” must be released immediately. Like I had mentioned before, Mille Lacs has experience this two inch slot limit three other times. With the reduced harvest, the netting pounds cut in half, and the slot limit, Mille Lacs will rebound quickly in my opinion.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)