As William Barr and Cory Craig cruised the waters of the Ohio River, bowfishing for carp and other rough fish, a world record was the last thing on their minds.
What a difference a couple of arrows can make.
Barr and Craig are now waiting eagerly to see if the 104-pound bighead carp they killed will be recognized as a new Bowhunting Association of America world record. As they wait, West Virginia fisheries officials worry the archers’ kill represents a larger-than-anticipated spread of an invasive species.
Bighead carp aren’t native to the Ohio. In fact, they aren’t even native to North America. They were imported from East Asia to the Mississippi River basin to help keep aquaculture ponds clean, but they escaped and have become a dominant species in the lower stretches of the Ohio.
Because bighead carp feed by filtering plankton from the waters they inhabit, they are rarely caught with hook and line. As an unwanted invasive species, however, they’re perfectly legal for bowfishing anglers to target.
Barr, a veteran Ohio River angler who lives in Pennsboro, said he had never shot a bighead carp before. But he knew what they look like, and that knowledge stood him in good stead during the early morning hours of July 12.
He and Craig were navigating their boat through a stretch of shallow water near the Willow Island Locks and Dam when they spotted a truly enormous fish, far larger than any of the common carp or grass carp they’d ever killed.
“Cory drew his bow to shoot, but I had him hold off because I thought it might be a flathead [catfish], which is off-limits for bowfishing.” Barr said. “As the fish moved closer, I could see it was a bighead carp. I told him we were both going to have to shoot it.”
The two men drew their bows and fired simultaneously. Both arrows hit the fish in the back near its dorsal fin. The fish didn’t fight hard at first, and Barr thought retrieving it might be easy.
He was wrong.
“We pulled it right over to the boat,” he said. “But when I reached down to get hold of the arrows, it took off and almost pulled me in.”
One of the barbed arrows pulled out, so Barr and Craig were forced to fight the fish on one line instead of two.
“We got the fish to the surface again, and I hit it with a billy club we carry in the boat,” Barr said. “That only made it mad. It took off again. The next time we got it close, I reached down into its mouth, all the way through its gills, and pulled it into the boat.”
The deep-bellied fish measured 55 inches in length and had a girth of 39.55 inches.
The size of the fish got the two men wondering if they might have a state record on their hands. They contacted Nate Taylor, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources’ district fisheries biologist, to certify their catch.
Taylor told them that West Virginia considers bighead carp to be unwanted invasive fish and, therefore, don’t recognize state records for them. He did, however, offer to find out what the bowfishing world record for the species might be.
The record, as it turned out, belonged to a 98.4-pound fish from the Tennessee River in Alabama. Barr and Craig’s fish tipped the scales at 104.15 pounds, nearly 6 pounds more than the existing record.
The Bowfishing Association of America only allows one archer to be recognized for a world-record kill, and Barr’s name went on the application.
Barr said he expects to get an official confirmation on the record within one to two weeks. He also plans to have the fish mounted — if, that is, his taxidermist can find a large enough form on which to mount it.
While happy to help Barr get his kill enshrined in bowfishing’s record book, DNR biologists weren’t at all pleased to learn that a bighead carp of that size had made it that far up the Ohio River.
Katie Zipfel, who is engaged in ongoing research into invasive Asian carp, said the kill “is evidence these fish are moving upstream.”
“Up to now, when we’ve surveyed for Asian carp, we’ve found most of them in the Greenup and Robert C. Byrd pools of the Ohio,” Zipfel added. “We’re really concerned that people are seeing them farther and farther upstream.”
She said the sheer size of Barr and Craig’s fish also is cause for alarm.
“When we’ve gill-netted for bighead carp, the largest one we’ve turned up was about 70 pounds,” she said. “The lockmaster at the Robert C. Byrd Locks said he’s seen a really big one swimming around in the lock chamber there. He calls it ‘Moby Dick.’ ”
She said anglers who see, catch or kill Asian carp should let DNR officials know about it as soon as possible.
“We’re trying to control their spread upriver as best we can,” she said. “The more we know about where people are seeing them, the better.”