Skarping: The Midwest's Most Ridiculous Water Sport - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Skarping: The Midwest's Most Ridiculous Water Sport

Skarping: The Midwest's Most Ridiculous Water Sport

By Nick Fouriezos


Because what’s better than a sport that mixes water skis and football helmets?

By Nick Fouriezos

Every day in the summer, my dad woke up at the crack of dawn, started up the engine of what seemed like his sixth different “new” boat and set his rod out on the waters of Lake Nissipping in Canada. “I do it for the thrill of it,” he told me recently, describing the difficulty of picking the perfect bait, depth and location to land a big one. “That’s why they call it fishing, not catching.” But most of us in the entertain-me generation require something a bit more … stimulating. Now what if you could combine the rush of waterskiing with the satisfaction of the hunt? That’s skarping, a bizzaro form of fishing that promises more catching — and a whole lot less yawning.

First, head to the Illinois River. It’s infested with Asian carp, a species of fish known for its thick noggin and tendency to jump eight to 10 feet in the air when startled. The best way to get them hopping? “Two-stroke motors and aluminum boats,” says Peoria Carp Hunters’ Nathan Wallick, who invented skarping with friends from his bowfishing business in Peoria, Illinois. “Their heads are solid bone,” he adds, so you’ll need a football helmet and a padded life jacket for protection. From there, you just start skiing or waterboarding, pull out a fishing net and, preferably, toss your catches into a floating basketball hoop (which you drag alongside you in a tube, of course). And, yes, this patchwork chimera of sports looks as crazy as it sounds.

Adventurous solo-ers will have the best luck at making the fish jump between June and mid-October.

Skarping came to fruition after Wallick grew tired of dodging the flying carp and decided to “make them pay.” His early iterations were decidedly more medieval: He and his buddies first used pointed garden tools and spears. Wallick still takes people out on bowfishing trips, charging $140 per hour per group, but he doesn’t bring customers skarping anymore because he couldn’t get insurance for, well, pretty obvious reasons. Adventurous solo-ers will have the best luck at making the fish jump between June and mid-October, especially in warm, shallow water.

One drawback: Non-local fishermen will have to travel to get their skarping fix. In North America, Asian carp are almost solely found in the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. Abroad, they’re most common in Southeast Asia. Also, the intrinsically violent nature of the sport has some animal advocates crying foul. “Fish suffer anytime they’re yanked out of the water,” says Ashley Byrne, a PETA campaign specialist. If thrown into a bag and dragged by a boat, “they’re going to suffocate, which is miserable.” Wallick insists that he eats the fish he catches, or uses them for fertilizer. 

Wildlife officials could use “sonic and light deterrents,” Byrne says, as well as physical walls, to keep the population at a manageable level. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already erected an electric barrier to keep them from spreading even more, and local fishermen see carp fishing as their contribution. “Plus, it’s just good wholesome fun to watch people impale fish while waterskiing,” Wallick says.


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