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Monday, August 29, 2016

There will be a bigger story about my recent gator hunt later, but there was one issue right off the bat that we did not anticipate…the big, high flying Asian Carp (or Silver Carp).  I did a ton of research on gator hunting in MS and nobody ever mentioned Asian Carp as an issue at all, let alone mentioned them as a danger.  What you need to know about Asian Carp is that they get big and when they hear a boat motor or other disturbance they leap from the water.  Asian Carp average around 30 to 40 lbs and can grow as large as 100 lbs. 


When we were about to get on the water Brian (my co-worker and fellow redneck) said his cousin had recently told him to be careful if we see any Asian Carp.  We figured it was not that big a deal because we didn’t plan on driving very fast at all.  It’s not like we’d be going 40 MPH and run into a fish.  Then he said his cousins advice was so sit down and hold on if we got into them so we wouldn’t be knocked out of the boat.  We pondered that last part for a minute.  His cousin is 6 foot 4 and maybe 250 lbs.  If a guy the size of an NFL linebacker is concerned about being knocked out of the boat by a fish, it would stand to reason that we who are not the size of an NFL linebacker may want to respect this issue a little bit.  We made a mental note, shoved off from the ramp and got underway. 


We hadn’t made it 100 yards before the first fish jumped.  It was a big fish, easily 15 pounds.  It came out of the water with a big splash, arched through the air for two seconds and came down with a massive belly flop that threw water everywhere and went kerSPLASH!  We looked at each other like “Did that just happen?”  Not two seconds later “splash” as one left the water, two seconds of air, and “kerSPLASH!” it slammed back down.  It was another really big fish.  The next one came out with a splash and was flying through the air directly at the boat when WHAM!!!!  It smacked into the gunwhale and was denied entry.  It hit so hard it shook the boat.  We were surrounded by huge, jumping, splashing fish. Every time one jumped from the water you braced for impact.  We started wondering if one of us would get hit.  What a na├»ve question that turned out to be.  It was a foolishly inexperienced question.  Asking “will one of us get hit?” on a river like this is like asking “I wonder if a ball will get hit?” at a major league baseball game.  We simply had no idea what was waiting for us.


Every time a fish jumped you could hear it leave the water with a huge splashing sound.  The seconds after you heard that sound became very tense because you had no idea where that fish would land.  Many times they jumped behind you so you had no visual.  Those that jumped in the front of the boat at least gave you a quick look and you might be able to dodge it a little.  It was like a mortar attack.  When a mortar fires it makes a deep “whooomp!” sound.  The mortar shell then flies through the air, giving everyone ample time to wonder “Am I going to get hit?”  The fish make a sound when leaving, then it’s quiet for a few seconds and then you hear it make a gigantic splash as it crashed back into the water…if it hits the water.  Many times you’ll hear a clang, bash, smack, or thump because they hit the trolling motor, the outboard, the side of the boat, or a person.


It wasn’t three minutes before a 20 pound fish landed in the boat.  “Splash” as it came out of the water, “holy mackerel it’s coming right at us!”.   Brian was up front and I was driving.  The fish landed right between us with a heavy “THUMP!” and then it sounded like a machine gun as it beat the floor with its tail trying to get away.  Whenever these fish jump in the boat they poop and bleed all over.  They also leave a heavy, heavy, heavy trail of slime.   After laughing in disbelief we tossed the fish overboard and got back to “gator hunting”. 


We were again talking about our odds of being hit by one of these things when 20 pounder launched in front of the boat.  He was flying diagonally and looked like he would clear the boat, until his tail hit the back of Brian’s head.  That changed his angle of attack and he crash landed between Brian’s leg and the side of the boat, flopping and flipping wildly.   Brian jumped up, we both looked incredulously at it, then we tossed it over.  I have never seen a fish jump INTO my boat.  It was incredible.  Just a few minutes later another landed in the back of the boat, flailing wildly around the cables that ran my steering, sonar, and ingnition.  This was not good.  I predicted that it was only a matter of time before one of these things landed directly on the throttle and caused us a nightmare. 


Over the next hour or two we were hit from every angle possible by slimy, pooping, bleeding fish.  Everything on the boat looked and smelled like it was from an episode of Dirty Jobs with Mike Roe.  Nothing that has ever lived or died on this planet smelled as bad as we did.  We looked and smelled horrendous and we hadn’t even really begun hunting alligators.


A boat coming down river slowed when it was passing us and we asked them how they were doing on gators.  As they were telling us about their trip a huge carp leapt from the water and crashed down upon two of them, flopping, sliming, and pooping on them as it went.   They recoiled, swatted it away, laughed and continued their conversation. 


This was turning into a surreal place.  It’s impossible to truly convey the richness of this experience, but I’ll try.  Imagine you are out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  As you wait for your meal you notice a person two tables away and initiate a conversation with them.  As the guy is talking a big fish jumps off the floor right next to him and slams into his chest.  He laughs a bit then resumes talking with fish slime and poop all over his shirt.  At that point a fish jumps from under the table behind you and drills you in the back.  You turn around, still talking to the dude at the other table, and kick the fish out the front door.  As soon as you return to your seat a fish passes your head and knocks all the plates off the table next to you.  Your conversation continues with the guy at the other table as fish come out of nowhere, passing between you, and breaking dishes all around you.   Would you go back to that restaurant ever again?  At first were would have answered “No WAY would I be going back there.”  But by the end of the second day I’d say you couldn’t keep me away from the place.  It’s the craziest, most hectic, funniest place on earth.  It’s almost like being in a cartoon.  We’d start to call where they’d land.  A fish might get 7 feet or more in the air and as he got closer someone would be saying “Is he gonna make it?!  Is he gonna make it?!”  Then the boat would erupt with “WHOAAAAAA” as everyone reacted to him getting bounced off the hull and back into the water.  One time we all erupted with a sympathetic “OOOHHHHH!!!!!” As a particularly large fish blew out of the water and was stopped cold by the metal edge of the trolling motor when his face hit it.  Another time a fish made a very acrobatic leap and looked like the gunwale might reject him, but he landed on the very top of it, rocketed into the boat, and hit Brian in the side like a torpedo.  I’m surprised a he didn’t get knocked overboard.


At one point it got so ridiculous that I told Brian “I’m starting to think that alligator hunting is some new joke they play on people.  Like there are no alligators here at all, they just want to trick people into coming out here and getting pummeled by carp.”  I think I took 15 or 20 direct hits to the body on day one alone.  While the fish seemed a little more calm after dark, the worst hit I took all day happened that night.  A fish launched maybe 2 feet from the side of the boat and slammed hard into my head just behind my temple.  It knocked the headlamp clean off my head and gave me such a headache that I still wonder if it gave me a concussion.  I’ve had a headache and developed a vision problem in my right eye since that hit.  Could be totally unrelated, but I’ll be tracking the issue.


On day two we had a new guy on the boat.  He joined us late the night before, long after the carp madness had been in full swing so he really didn’t fully appreciate the issue.  We wanted to show him what it was really like so I pushed the throttle down enough to generate a lot of noise but not get the boat on plane.  This way we’d be pushing the most amount of water and be making as much noise as possible.  Brian filmed from the front of the boat and over the next three minutes we were hit from all directions.  Everything, and everyone on the boat got hit with fish from 15 to 30 or 40 pounds.  I had just rinsed the boat before we came and was eager to minimize the amount of cleanup I’d have to do after the trip so I decided to see if I could keep a few out of the boat as they launched.  Within a minute or so one launched form behind me on my side of the boat.  He was going to make it onboard if I didn’t do something so I reached out and stiff-armed him.  He took a hand to the face and was totally rejected mid-flight.  Below are three screen shots from the video that show his ill-fated flight.  That boat was full of fish poop and laughter the rest of the day.  It was a long crazy boat ride. 


PS – the guy behind me has been accused of being everything from a masked bandito to a terrorist.  He is actually not only a highly experienced redneck, but an orthopedic surgeon as well.   

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