Redneck Fishing Tournament Founder Inducted Into Illinois Conservation Foundation HOF

by TK Sanders
(Photo credit should read MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/GettyImages)

Redneck Fishing Tournament Founder Betty DeFord recently gained entry into the Illinois Conservation Hall of Fame for raising awareness about the dangers of invasive species. DeFord began the original, often eccentric event in 2005 on a channel of the Illinois River in Bath, Illinois. Earlier this week, the Illinois Conservation Foundation recognized her for her contributions to the outdoor culture and for her work eliminating non-native Asian carp species.

“It’s a tremendous honor to get this recognition,” DeFord told the Journal Courier, as reported by Field and Stream. “From the beginning, this tournament has always been a community event. I’m thrilled and thankful that people keep coming together to keep it going.”

Because of medical issues, DeFord will step away from the day-to-day operations of the tournament, but others will pick up the slack and carry on, she said.

The Redneck Fishing Tournament does not allow poles or hooks according to its founder; just nets and motorboats. The noice of the engines scares the invasive silver carp (Asian) out of the water and into the air, where participants must try to catch the flying fish while they’re airborne.

A special celebrity inducted the Redneck Fishing Tournament founder into the HOF

Here’s where the “redneck” begins: because the carp can grow up to 55 inches long and weigh up to 100 pounds, trying to catch them becomes more spectacle than sport. Bruises, broken noses, jammed fingers, and small cuts are commonplace. Hence the ridiculous redneck attire like overalls for mobility paired with a hockey mask for safety. Don’t be surprised to see a few football helmets, or even a Halloween costume or two; as long as it protects the head. One participant showed up in a Darth Vader costume one year.

The first Redneck Fishing Tournament attracted 200 participants. Now, close to 20 years later, rednecks come from far and wide — as far as Europe and Asia, according to organizers. COVID-19 caused a pause in participation, but in 2018, participants removed a staggering 5,300 Asian carp from the river. Before that, they nabbed thousands more each and every year. Sometimes the no-hook anglers try to fry up their prize afterwards; though Asian carp come with a lot of bones, so eating them can be a chore.

Actor and woodworker Nick Offerman from Parks & Recreation fame helped induct DeFord into the Conservation HOF as the keynote speaker via a free online event. The event, called the ICF Outdoor Hall of Fame Gala, is Illinois’ premier fundraising event, according to the org’s website. They recognize contributions to outdoor education, recreation, and wildlife conservation at the event. Proceeds benefit the many programs of the Illinois Conservation Foundation; which since 1995 has donated more than $41 million in collaboration with the IDNR, among other public and private partners.