The first silver carp I bagged at the 13th annual Redneck Fishing Tournament literally jumped in the boat…and whacked me in the shoulder. The slimy marauder sucker punched me while my back was turned.

A similar experience inspired Betty DeFord to start the Redneck Fishing Tournament in 2005. A silver carp had smacked one of her grandchildren while they were frolicking with their family on the river near Bath, Illinois. DeFord decided to take back the river, redneck-style.

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There would be no elegantly tied lures, no radar fish finders or even rods and reels. DeFord’s vengeance on the carp would be wrought with revving motors, nets and occasional free hand grabs. The tournament occurs the first weekend of August every year.

Silver carp invaded U.S. waterways after escaping from ponds in the 1970s. The fish spread into waterways from North Dakota to Louisiana, as far east as Ohio. The voracious fish devour plankton, which form the base of river food webs. Silver carp dominate river ecosystems and ruin the fishing for anglers.

When spooked by loud noises, the fish leap into the air. Twenty pound silver carp sailing through the air can break noses, blacken eyes and cause concussions. I was luck to only end up with a slimy shoulder.

However, the silver carps’ leaping defense also make them fun to snag in mid-air. At the Redneck Fishing Tournament, the best strategy involved smaller boats trailing pontoon boats. As the motors of lumbering pontoon boats churned the waters, skiffs surfed their wakes and avid aerial anglers netted the silver carp that leapt from the waters.

The boat that landed the most silver carp won prize money. This year, Schafer Fisheries collected the thousands of silver carp caught in the tournament. Schafer processed the fish into a nitrogen rich fertilizer.

However, fertilizer isn’t the only use for the carp. Schafer Fisheries also processes silver carp from commercial fishermen into fish steaks and even salami, franks and gefilte fish.

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Schafer’s salami could make a low-fat replacement for cold cuts. I tried the salami and found it had only a hint of fish flavor. The fried silver carp I tried at Beasley’s Fish, a restaurant in Grafton, Ill., had a mild taste. Five silver carp that I gutted and took home from the Redneck Fishing Tournament wait in my freezer to be filleted.

Eating silver carp makes productive use of an invasive species that would otherwise just be an environmental menace. Like salmon, silver carp contains high levels of healthy fatty acids. However, since the carp feeds lower on the food chain, it doesn’t accumulate as many heavy metals as salmon.

IMAGES: © Mark Olson