By ALEX PEREZ and KINGA JANIK
Eric Young cruised the Illinois River hunting the high-jumping Asian carp, while armed with a pitchfork and wearing a protective football helmet.
These greedy, hungry, flying-fish torpedoes are threatening to invade the Great Lakes, slapping fisherman along the way as the leap out of the water at the sound of boat motors.
“It’s like a 30-pound bean bag smashing into you at 30 miles an hour, so it doesn’t hurt, but you’re well aware you just got hit with a fish,” Young said.
Viewers might recognize him as “Showtime” Eric Young when he anchored down in the ring as a pro-wrestler, but now he has set sail for a whole new challenge. From Florida to California, Young is adrift in the world of extreme fishing, learning all of the bizarre ways to snag the big one — such as using paddleboards to reel in sharks or to freedive spear-fishing for striped bass — on Animal Planet’s TV series, “Off the Hook: Extreme Catches.”
Young called fishing “American ingenuity at its finest” and said the show is about “meeting these people that are tenacious and hardworking” with an “interesting or ingenious way of catching fish.”
“Nightline” went with Young in the Illinois River near Bath, Ill., about 200 miles south of Lake Michigan, to hunt a species of the insidious Asian carp. Once imported by catfish farmers in the 1970s to clean their ponds, the invasion has turned into an environmental disaster because the carp can’t seem to be stopped.
Nate Wallick and Zach Hoffman, known on YouTube as the Peoria Carp Hunters, came along for the ride to navigate the river. The duo’s super-hero YouTube videos showing them using water skis, tubes and homemade armor to kill the invasive carp have catapulted them to fish-fighting fame.
While it may seem like fun and games, the carp hunters mean serious business.
“[The carp] spawn three times a year,” Wallick said. “They eat 40 percent of their body weight a day in plankton. They’re known to grow up to be 100 pounds. So they put out millions of eggs and just how fast they are reproducing, if they were to get into the Great Lakes, it would be devastating.”
Watch what happens when ABC’s Alex Perez goes out on the boat to hunt for carp with the extreme fishing team: