Tag Archives: sport

Carp-o-Rama

April 11, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

 

“Are you ready to see some flying fish?” asks Rich Porter, tournament director for the Bowfishers of Nebraska. Porter steers toward the river’s confluence, and we nock arrows on bowstrings. We are ready. Or so we think.

Cruising the banks of the Missouri River, we are hunting for Asian carp—the invasive fish wreaking havoc across Midwestern waterways.

As we glide into the mouth of the Little Sioux River, Porter revs the boat’s outboard motor. It’s as if he flipped a switch, sending an electrical current through the water. The noise startles hundreds of silver carp, suddenly airborne in an explosion of shimmering scales and bulging eyes.

“Shoot them, shoot them!” Porter yells, laughing as he shields his face from floppy carp-missiles leaping in every direction. Carp launch themselves into the boat, crashing into our bodies, flip-flopping across our gear, bouncing over the steering wheel.

Omaha Magazine creative director, Bill Sitzmann, lets a barb-tipped arrow fly from a specialized “lever” bow (rigged with fishing reel and 200-pound test line). But the wriggling wall of flying fish proves to be a more difficult target than isolated underwater carp, which we have been stealthily approaching all day along the riverbanks.

Silver carp, grass carp, and bighead carp are three varieties of Asian carp that infiltrated the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and their tributaries. All three species are firmly established in Nebraska waters. They are different species than common carp, but they are all bad news.

Rich Porter displays a grass carp caught by bow.

Why are they bad? Silver carp, in particular, are notorious for jumping when scared. Most weigh between 10 and 25 pounds (and grow upwards of 50 pounds) and have been known to jump eight feet. Boats traveling at moderate speeds can suffer broken windows from collisions with the fish. Passengers on boats have reported cuts from fins, black eyes, broken bones, back injuries, and concussions.

Bigheads don’t jump, and grass carp seldom jump, Porter says. Both grow much larger than silver carp (Nebraska’s state bowfishing records for bighead and grass carp each weighed about 80 pounds). But all carp varieties have proven themselves disastrous for the North American ecosystem.

They are prolific breeders; a single carp is capable of laying millions of eggs each year, and they disrupt food chains by crowding out native fish. “The biggest problem with silver and bighead carp is that they are filter-feeders. They eat the plankton and zooplankton that all other fish fry [i.e., baby fish] rely on,” Porter says. Grass carp, on the other hand, feed on aquatic plants.

Common carp—also known as German carp—were introduced to North America in the 1800s. They are also considered a pest (and a target for bowfishers nationwide). Their bottom-sucking omnivorous feeding disrupts aquatic habitat, increases water siltation, and contributes to algal blooms.

Silver and bighead carp arrived in the United States around the 1960s. Aquaculture farmers in Arkansas introduced them into catfish ponds. After floodwaters breached the fish farms, Asian carp escaped and proliferated in the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers.

“The first bighead and silver carp that I remember being shot was at Gavins Point Dam in 1993,” Porter says, adding that fisheries management officials worldwide have introduced grass carp in lakes to control aquatic vegetation. But he says grass carp have become a nuisance in rivers, too.

Major Mississippi River floods during the 1990s helped Asian carp migrate upstream to Nebraska. When they arrived, Porter was ready. “I’ve been shooting carp for 30 years. Invasive carp are a national problem, really,” he says, noting that he got started with common carp.

Porter makes a weighty contribution with his bow and arrow. “Last year I probably shot 20,000 pounds of fish, and my very best year was pushing close to 30,000 pounds,” Porter says. “Bowfishing is a great method for selective harvest of non-game fish. We removed close to 15 tons of invasive species fish during Nebraska tournaments in 2016, and that was just five tournaments.”

On May 13, the Bowfishers of Nebraska will host the 30th annual Carp-o-Rama. The tournament is open to the entire Missouri River Valley system (which includes the Missouri River itself and nearby lakes). Weigh-in takes place at Cottonwood Cove Marina in Blair at 5 p.m.

“Last year we had more than 60 teams, and this year we’re expecting 75-100 teams,” he says.

The months of May and June, Porter says, are the best time of the year for bowfishing carp, when warming water temperatures drive carp to spawn and feed. But we set out late in the season, on an overcast day in mid-August.

We meet Porter at a gas station in Tekamah, Nebraska (roughly an hour north of Omaha). Following him to the nearest Missouri River access ramp, we board his flat-bottom boat and embark on our mission to save the environment (and slaughter as many Asian carp as we can manage).

Porter’s camouflage-painted boat is the perfect seek-and-destroy attack vehicle in the war against invasive carp. It’s a 20-footer outfitted with an elevated platform for bowfishing anglers to scan the water for invasive prey.

The Missouri River’s water looks like chocolate milk. Recent rains have disrupted visibility, making it difficult to identify carp hovering underwater. Polarized sunglasses help cut glare from the sky’s reflection. Luckily, the river’s surface remains relatively calm. Porter says conditions are not optimal, but he is confident we will have plenty of action.

We start with some instructional target practice. The first carp we come across is a silver. Scared by the approaching boat, it jumps onboard with us. We don’t have a chance to shoot.

Porter offers a quick tutorial. “Look for shadows or backs sticking out of the water, or fish jumping,” he says. Upon identifying a shadowy form, Porter shows how it’s done. He draws fast and releases. He pulls in a large silver carp. Then, he effortlessly snipes a few more.

I miss over and over again. But, soon enough, we are all landing fish.

Turning off of the Missouri River, Porter steers his boat into an intersecting canal lined with homes and docks.

A local resident waves from her canal-facing porch. From her deck chair, she yells a greeting: “Shooting Asian carp?” Porter responds in a friendly drawl, “Yup.” She shouts back, “Great! Shoot ’em all!” as we float down the canal.

Ripples have begun forming about six feet ahead of the boat, like the wake of a hidden submarine. “Can you tell where the carp are?” Porter asks. We are herding them like a fish stampede. At the end of the canal, the carp scatter in all directions. We retrace our route, hunting back to the canal’s entrance.

Over the course of the day, the three of us fill the boat’s cooler with silver carp, grass carp, and gar. Gar are another species of rough fish popular with bowfishing anglers. Although native to Nebraska (not invasive), they are fun to catch with bow and arrow. But their armor-plated exterior makes their meat difficult to access.

In Nebraska, there is no particular season for bowfishing carp or other unprotected “rough fish” (any fish that is not game fish, such as carp or gar), though there are some practical limitations. First and foremost, a valid fishing license is required to bowfish in Nebraska waters.

In shallow bays during the spring, spawning common carp boil to the surface in massive piles that bowfishers target from shore or boat (this can be found statewide in waters). The most popular destination for shooting Asian carp, however, is Gavins Point Dam on Nebraska’s border with South Dakota (about three hours north of Omaha, where the Missouri River curves west).

Nebraska regulations prohibit bowfishing of game fish (e.g., trout, panfish, bass, pike, etc.) until after July 1, when bowfishing gear can be used to target both rough and sport fish. Using a bow and arrow makes catch-and-release impossible, so bowfishermen are responsible for being able to identify the fish species they target.

An often-discussed threat of environmental and economic catastrophe involves Asian carp reaching the Great Lakes via Chicago canals that connect Lake Michigan to the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been sunk already into research, electrical gates, and various safeguards protecting the Great Lakes’ $7 billion commercial and sport fisheries.

It has been said: “If you can’t beat it, eat it.” Asian carp demonstrate the axiom with mouth-watering results. Unfortunately, carp have a bad reputation with many American diners due to the large quantity of bones in their flesh.

Porter has a secret recipe (and, no, it doesn’t involve baking carp on a wood shingle for 10 hours, then discarding the fish, and eating the shingle, as the jocular folk recipe suggests). He uses a dishwashing machine to poach fillets:

“Take a fillet of Asian carp, wrap it in aluminum foil with your favorite seasonings and butter, place it on the top rack of an empty dishwasher—believe it or not, I’ve told people this recipe, and they’ve tried it while doing dishes—run a full cycle, and when you remove it, the meat flakes off the bone and can be used in fish tacos, fried for fish sandwiches, or used in crab cakes. Once you poach it, you can use the meat for any recipe that calls for fish. Blackened fish tacos are my favorite.”

On a successful early summer day of bowfishing on the Missouri, Porter says he might take home 500-1,000 pounds of carp. Since he usually has more than enough at home, he donates the meat to the community.

Whenever he finds himself with a literal boatload of carp, he makes a call to a friend in the North Omaha neighborhood where he grew up. He pulls up to the house, and a crowd gathers around his boat trailer. Porter climbs up and hauls carp from the cooler until everyone is satisfied or the cooler is empty—whichever comes first.

“The guys I’m giving fish to know, but the general population does not realize how good these Asian carp taste,” Porter says. “It’s the association with the common carp. People don’t realize they are two different species.”

One of the best known Omaha establishments to serve carp is Joe Tess Place (5424 S. 24th St.), famous for its deep-fried carp, where the fish is cooked at such a high temperature that the bones dissolve. The carp is harvested fresh from lakes in Iowa.

“In Illinois, the government has started up a fish processing center for Asian carp, and on a national level, there is already one state that is trying to utilize a surplus of edible fish,” Porter says. “My understanding is that fishermen will bring them in, and they are selling them back to Asia or to the Asian markets.”

Aside from winning taste buds, Porter says hooking youths on the sport of bowfishing is the next best means of controlling the invasive species.

Carp-o-Rama’s family festival atmosphere offers one method of attracting future carp-hunters. The Nebraska Bow Fishing Mentor Program, established by volunteer organizer Nick Tramp, is another lure.

The mentorship program is entering its fourth year. In 2017, Tramp (based out of Allen, Nebraska) will take students of all ages to Ponca State Park and Gavins Point in July. Meanwhile, Zac Hickle of Elkhorn will focus on Omaha youths with trips to DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in May and June.

“We’re just doing it to get kids off the couch and away from video games and teach them some life skills,” Tramp says, adding the program starts with a bow tutorial. All the gear will be provided, and Bowfishers of Nebraska volunteer as instructors. Youths under the age of 16 do not need a fishing license in Nebraska.

Carp is not considered a “sport” fish, but the fight is comparable to many larger game fish in faraway locations expensive to reach from Omaha.

“If you stick an arrow in a 20-pound-plus river carp, you better sit down and hold on, because it’s going to strip your reel; you’re going to have a strong fish that has grown up fighting the current,” Tramp says. “They are going to pull you right around the river.”

Porter demonstrates the fight when he lands the biggest catch of Omaha Magazine’s bowfishing trip. He sinks an arrow into a massive carp. The fish runs. Ten minutes later, Porter lands the 25-pound grass carp.

By the end of the day, my arms are sore from shooting fish and hauling carp into the boat. I head back to Omaha content, with a pile of Asian carp fillets ready to deep-fry at home (or poach in my dishwasher, if I’m brave enough to follow Porter’s advice).

Visit carp-o-rama.com for more information about Carp-o-Rama. More information about the Nebraska Bow Fishing Mentor Program is available on the group’s Facebook page.


Dishwasher-Poached Fish

Rich Porter’s Favorite Recipe for Asian Carp

  1. Take a fillet of Asian carp.
  2. Wrap it in aluminum foil with preferred seasonings and butter.
  3. Place it on the top rack of an empty dishwashing machine.
  4. Run a full cycle (without any dirty dishes).
  5. When the dishwasher turns off, the fish is poached in the aluminum foil packet.
  6. The poached meat flakes off the bone and can be used any recipe that calls for fish.
  7. Rich Porter’s favorite: blackened Asian carp tacos.

This article appeared in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

A Thriving Community

March 3, 2017 by

This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.

Omaha’s connection to horses has a long local history that stretches back even before the city was founded in the mid-1800s; the city’s namesake Native American tribe was reportedly the first documented equestrian culture in the Northern Plains.

So it seems fitting that in and around Omaha today, a thriving equestrian culture provides plentiful resources for casual or serious horse enthusiasts and riders. A broad spectrum of lessons, trails, leasing, boarding, shows, and competitions are readily available. A handful of state parks within an hour’s driving distance provide extensive equestrian trails and some even offer camping facilities for horse owners or guided trail riding. The equestrian community is also supported by a host of goods and services providers, from tack and apparel shops, to farriers and large-animal veterinarians.

Lessons, Activities, and Services

The Omaha area offers a wide array of lessons for beginners and advanced students alike, in English and Western riding, jumping, dressage, and more. Many of these facilities also offer boarding, grooming, and other related services, offer open access trails, or provide corrals and practice rings where riders can independently develop their horsemanship skills. Some even offer party space for special events. A sampling of these local equestrian facilities, which present various services through membership or per visit, includes:    

  • American Legacy Complex (Omaha)
  • Elkhorn Equestrian Center (Elkhorn)
  • The Farm at Butterflat Creek (Bennington)
  • Hampton Ridge Equestrian Center (Elkhorn)
  • Infinity Farm (Springfield)
  • Ponca Hills Farm (Omaha)
  • Phoenix Equestrian Center (Bellevue)
  • Prairie Gem Stables (Omaha)
  • Quail Run Horse Centre (Elkhorn)
  • The Riding Center (Omaha)
  • Seefus Riding Stable (Council Bluffs, Iowa)
  • Winnail Stable (Waterloo)

Horse Shows

Dozens of horse shows in multiple classes are held in the area year-round, a tradition that goes back decades. For example, a resource for the Nebraska hunter/jumper schooling show circuit—NebraskaHorseShows.com—had already posted 10 unrated events for 2017 at the beginning of the year. By February, Urban Equine Events (UrbanEquineEvents.com), a local equestrian production company, had already listed four major events taking place in 2017 alone. National sources HorseShowCentral.com and USEF.org already list more than 20 shows scheduled for the area throughout 2017, with more to come.

“Every single weekend there’s a show if you want one,” Omaha Equestrian Foundation board member and volunteer Karen Ensminger says. Her two daughters have ridden competitively, and although she jokes about competing in the “rusty stirrup” circuit for middle-aged riders, Ensminger emphasizes that local riders have abundant options for A- and B-rated shows along with non-rated shows “for everyone.” In fact, local shows “attract riders from the entire region,” she says. 

Horse-themed Activities

Along with a significant presence at the FEI World CupTM Finals, local organizations are also embracing the festivities by offering external horse-themed community events such as:

  • Equus Film Festival (March 30 – April 1)

Two matinees each day will be featured at Marcus Midtown Cinema in conjunction with the FEI World CupTM Finals. The festival empowers storytellers to show the rich history and diverse tapestry of horses in human culture through a selection of feature films, documentaries, shorts, music videos, commercials, training educational materials, art and literature.   

  • Ak-Sar-Ben: A Good Place to Race (now through May 28)

This exhibit, hosted by the Durham Museum, presents a glimpse of one of the nation’s premiere racing tracks of yesteryear through both photographs and objects from the museum’s collection.

Equestrian Service Organizations

In addition to offering a multitude of activities for recreational and competitive riders, the equestrian community also includes groups with working horses that serve the community, like:

  • The Omaha Police Mounted Patrol Unit

The horse patrol started in 1989 as a part-time unit on a trial basis and was so successful in law enforcement, special events, and public relations that it was quickly elevated to a full-time unit. Today, a dedicated team of officers and horses comprise the unit, which is housed in a state-of-the-art equine facility in downtown Omaha.

  • Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy (HETRA)

HETRA is a nonprofit organization offering therapeutic riding programs for adults and children with disabilities. The organization has 19 specially trained therapy horses and is currently the only PATH Premier Accredited Therapeutic Riding Center in the state.

  • Take Flight Farms

Take Flight is a nonprofit organization which incorporates horses into therapeutic and learning programs. Take Flight is a member of Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), an association that is dedicated to improving the mental health of individuals, families, and groups by setting the standard of excellence in equine-assisted psychotherapy.

With the wealth of equine industries, groups, events and shows in the area, it may take some research along with a little trial-and-error for budding equestrians to find their particular fit, Ensminger says. She adds that her contemporaries are generally happy to answer questions and provide information, and that the diverse local “horse people” community is, above all, welcoming.

“There’s a wide gamut,” she says. “But they love to talk about their sport, their passion and their obsession.”

On Target

December 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nothing seems quite as stereotypically manly as going out to the shooting range with your 12-gauge shotgun. But, if a local group of newly forged female skeet shooters have their way, the sport will increasingly be going co-ed.

First, a quick tutorial in the oft-misunderstood sport of skeet: The sport requires a shooter to move around a half-moon shaped course, shooting clay disks as they go. While the disks are always shot from the same location, the angles become different as the shooter moves around the course.

“I think this is kind of a big deal [for women to be doing this] because the recoil is really strong so most men don’t believe we can handle it, says Lindsey Rai Ehlers, a member of the all-women’s Omaha skeet team known as The Thundercats.

The group formed by accident—everyone met through their connections with the Ronald McDonald House—then began to toss around ideas about activities they could have fun doing together. Five of the six women are not Omaha natives. The sixth, while she grew up in Omaha, just returned after spending six years in San Francisco.   In addition to Ehlers, the group includes Ashonte Thomas, Lenli Corbett, Lindsay Colwell, Whitney Hayes, and Suzie Heffernan.

Ehlers attributes their similar interest to a desire to absorb Omaha culture being that it is so very different from where many of them originate. “It seemed fitting to try something totally out of our comfort zone, and skeet appears to be pretty common in the Midwest,” she shares.

“No one on our team has ever been a shooter in the past,” Ehlers says. “As a matter of fact, most of us have never touched a gun before this experience.”

The sport is not traditionally a women’s sport, as the group of five quickly discovered. However,
that hasn’t stopped them from practicing with the brawny 12-gauge shotgun, one type of gun
used in registered shoots. As a matter of fact, the team competed in a Ronald McDonald House
shoot in mid-September, a great bonus considering their roots.

Ehlers admits that each time they practice at the gun club, 55-and-over white men who are curious but polite about what the women are up to usually surround them. “Being different and new never stopped any of us from moving across the country, it’s certainly not going to stop us now,” she says.

Ehlers shares that she and the other four women on the team gain a lot from skeet shooting. First of all, it only costs about $6 for a round. She says shooting skeet leaves the women feeling empowered. By trying such a male-centric sport, she says, it helps to give women the courage to take on something they might have put off due to fear. Additionally, she states that there is no shortage of kindness and advice from the wonderful regulars, mainly men, that are there shooting. Feeling intimidated is a non-issue.

Ehlers says that even when the team doesn’t hit much, they always enjoy themselves. “There
is so much more gained than just a new skill. I feel exceptionally fortunate to be surrounded
by so many comedians all at once who are driven to master something new and out of the norm,” she says.

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The International Omaha

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by The International Omaha

Beautiful, elegant horses competing in The International Omaha horse jumping competition will thrill audiences at the CenturyLink Center Omaha downtown on April 12 and 13.

“It’s not only a beautiful sport but a highly athletic sport,” says Susan Runnels, executive director for The International. The show is administered by the not-for-profit Omaha Equestrian Foundation. “It takes eight years for the rider to develop a relationship with the horse.”

As for the competition itself, “Riders have to jump 13 jumps in 80 seconds,” she adds. “They use English saddles and don’t have horns to hold onto. Sometimes, they are thrown off.”

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What is equitation? A quadrille? What does dressage mean? Before heading for the competition, visit InternationalOmaha.com. A glossary of terms unique to the horse world is listed under Show Jumping 101. Also on the website is a map of the course’s design. No two courses are ever the same. Jumps are numbered and have flags to indicate directions: A red flag is right, a white flag is left.

There are different types of jumps. For example, the Oxer has two verticals that are close together, making the jump wider. A Combination denotes two or three jumps in a row, with no more than two strides between each.

But there is more to The International than watching horses jump. It’s a family and fun event. During the daytime Equine Expo when admission is free, visitors can experience what it’s like to be around the 1,200-pound animals. They can also learn about eight different breeds of horses.

“Kids love to get close to the horses,” Runnels says. “They can jump over the mini-jump course just like a horse. Families will enjoy visiting all the interactive displays.”

Face painting, equine toys, clothes, jewelry, and a living historical display of cavalry days will be part of the fun. Daytime competition with riders and horses begins each day at 9 a.m.

The International’s goal is to “foster and develop international-caliber athletes with the equestrian sport,” according to Runnels. Competitors come from many countries for the almost two-hour shows. Last year’s winner out of 97 competitors was from Germany.

Who will enjoy The International? “Everybody. From 3 years old to 80 years old,” Runnels says. “It’s such a phenomenal sport.”

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Getting the most out of The International:

  • Stop at the Greeter’s Table. Look for a volunteer and ask questions. “There will be a lot of volunteers to answer questions,” Runnels says. “They will wearing the same colored tops and khakis.”
  • Pick up a program. Everything you want to know about where to go and what to do—and terms that are used in the horse world—are in the program.
  • See horses warm up in the warm-up area.
  • Be on time for the opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. Special entertainment on both nights will feature the Strategic Command’s joint color guard and the Omaha Police Department’s mounted patrol. Singer Marcello Guzzo and the comic act of Tommie Turvey will also perform. “It’s amazing what Turvey does with his horse,” Runnels says. The Omaha Symphony will play on Saturday night.

Stay for the Victory Gallop at the end. “It’s really cool,” Runnels says.