As you slowly approach the cattails, you notice a shadow and what seems to be a dorsal fin sticking out of the water. You creep closer, ever so slowly. Trying to make out the shape in the water…
You tilt your head one way, then the other. You bend down, trying to take the glare from the sun’s reflection out of your line of sight. Finally, you’re able to make identification. It’s a carp. You quickly draw your bow (careful as not to move too much), and release your arrow. It’s a hit. You’ve connected with a big ol’ carp and the fight is on!
Sound like fun? You bet it is, and if you love hunting and fishing, you’re going to love hunting fish – aka bowfishing.
Bowfishing has become one of the fastest growing sports in the outdoors over the past few years and with good reasons; just about anyone can try it – men, women and youth and on a good day, when the action is fast and furious, you’ll get a lot of opportunities to shoot.
It’s a great way to introduce youth to the outdoors, because they don’t need to sit too still or be quiet and they get in lots of shooting. Even when the fish aren’t cooperating, you can pass the time by practicing aiming at lily pads or sticks—it’s a great way to improve aim.
The equipment needed is all based on personal preference. I usually recommend an older bow that you have lying around the house just for starters. You can use a compound, traditional or cross-bow (with the proper permit in Minnesota).
I’ve seen people shoot as low as 25lbs on upwards to 60lbs draw weights, with 35-50 being the most common. The AMS retriever is probably the most popular reel, because it’s simple to use and is great for beginners.
Others prefer a push button type spincast reel. For an arrow rest, Quick Draw makes an enclosed rest designed specifically for the bowfisher, another option is a handmade epoxy rest.
A simple fiberglass arrow works great with a point made specifically for bowfishing. Again, the sky is the limit with your choices for points like the Gene Davis 4 barb or Muzzy 2 barb. One final necessity, especially for daytime bowfishing, is polarized glasses. They allow you to see through the glare off the water and help you identify the fish you’re looking for.
Minnesota allows bowfishing for rough fish only; carp, suckers, drum/sheepshead, buffalo, gar or dogfish/bowfin. A simple fishing license is all that is required to bowfish and there is a limit on suckers and also a season that you can shoot.
The part of the state you’re bowfishing will determine what dates you can bowfish, as well as if you can shoot creeks or rivers or if you need to be in a boat. Minnesota also allows for night bowfishing, with certain guidelines. There are occupied structure setbacks as well as noise level restrictions. The rules are very specific, so I recommend checking current regulations before heading out.
Suckers can often be found in the earlier part of the season in creeks and rivers. Common carp will often lay in the shallows on warm days and sometimes you’ll find them hiding in cattails, lounging, what I like to call “sleeping”.
If you’re lucky enough to find carp in thick cattails, often times if they can’t see you, they think you can’t see them, so you may be able to sneak up on them before the take off. Be ready, because once they catch any glimpse of you, they will immediately swim for deep water, leaving nothing behind but a trail of dust.
After you’ve had a fun time on the water and you’ve connected with some fish, you might ask yourself, “Now what?” What do you do with the fish you’ve shot?
In Minnesota is it illegal to put fish back into the water after they’ve been shot—but you have a few options. Find a local farmer that would be willing to let you put them in their fields for compost.
Zoos or raptor centers are another place to call as sometimes they will need fish for food for the birds/animals. Trappers can also use fish as bait and you can also consume the fish—yes, that’s right. Carp, suckers and gar can be very good table fare.
Suckers taken in the early spring are quite tasty smoked. A gar has two strips of meat down their backside (similar to the backstraps of a deer) that are boneless, white meat. Rolled in fish batter and fried, or grilled in butter, they make a tasty meal.
This summer, when the water is calm and you see those carp lips surfacing, feeding at the surface, grab a bow and try “hunting” them. But be careful – it’s addictive!