Brian Petschl recalls when he loved to fish with a hook and line. Then one day while in central Minnesota, fishing for bass at his cabin, he saw something move in the water.
"What's that?" Petschl recalls asking himself.
Turns out it was a carp, a fish that to Petschl seemed perhaps more abundant in his lake than bass. Bigger, too.
Thus began Petschl's conversion from rod-and-reel fisherman to bowfisherman.
Today, Petschl, of Champlin, no longer carries a tackle box with him onto the water, but instead a bow. Nor will you find him bobbing atop a lake or river in a metal-flaked boat, but instead in a camouflage-colored johnboat specially rigged for bowfishing.
"Bowfishing is the best of both worlds," he said. "It allows you to bring your hunting skills onto the water while fishing."
Last week, Petschl was one of a handful of dedicated bowfishermen roaming the halls of the State Capitol, urging lawmakers to approve new rules that would expand their sport.
Under a pilot program a year old, bowfishing is allowed at night on only 73 Minnesota lakes. Petschl and other members of the Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association (LLBA) want night fishing for carp and other rough fish to be allowed statewide (with the exception of most metro waters, trout streams and certain other lakes and rivers).
Given such leeway, they promise in exchange to do all Minnesotans a favor: They will remove carp from lakes and rivers by the tons.
LLBA member Mark Morrison can attest to that.
"Last summer, during the pilot program, I bowfished at night 40 of the possible 90 nights," he said. "I shot more than 4,000 pounds of carp myself."
During those 40 outings, Morrison didn't see another bowfisherman.
Which is how he and his fellow club members want to keep it. They need more lakes open for night fishing, they say, to spread their numbers around, and to allow them to enjoy their sport on more and different Minnesota lakes and rivers.
If last week's meeting of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee is an indication, Petschl, Morrison and the approximately 10,000 other bowfishermen in Minnesota will have their way. The committee, it could be fairly said, was encouraging if not outright enthusiastic about approving this session a bill sponsored by Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, that would open up most Minnesota waters to nighttime bowfishing.
Legal now in daytime
Bowfishing for carp and other rough fish is legal now on most lakes and rivers statewide in Minnesota -- in daylight. Which is good. But it's nighttime fishing, aided by lights, that produces the most fish, and the most fun.
Start with the equipment.
Deer-hunting bows can be rigged for bowfishing. But novice bowfishermen would do better to find older bows, perhaps at garage sales, that can be retrofitted for bowfishing at a cost of between $100 and $200.
That way, less money will be invested, and the rough handling of a bow that can accompany a day on the water won't put the more expensive equipment at risk.
Another reason fancy compound bows aren't needed: Most bowfishermen don't so much draw back and aim. Instead, they shoot snap-style, or instinctively, as archers typically do with recurve bows.
"There's not a lot of time to aim," Petschl said. "Shots have to be made quickly."
A key advantage to night bowfishing is that carp typically move into shallow water then to feed. They are also more relaxed, making closer shots more likely.
Shots in the 5-10-foot range are typical at night, rather than at 5 or more yards, as in daytime.
Arrows that are loosed by bowfishermen are tethered to one of a handful of mechanisms available on the market, including specially designed fishing reels (Zebco and others make these). That way, arrows are always retrieved, reducing to the point of near elimination any chance of errant shots.
As Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said while hearing Chaudhary's bill last week, "What's not to love?" about bowfishing.
By far, the coolest equipment employed by serious bowfishermen are their boats. Usually they're some form of johnboat, 16 to 18 feet long. Typically, these craft are outfitted with large front decks, surrounded sometimes by railings, and flanked on three sides with banks of high-powered lights.
The lights are powered by a portable generator that is usually carried toward the boat's stern.
Though aimed toward the water, the lights sometimes can reflect off the lake or river surface. To prevent their intrusion onto property of lakeshore owners, Chaudhary's bill includes setback provisions requiring bowfishermen at night to stay at least 150 feet away from occupied docks or homes, and 300 feet from campgrounds.
Additionally, proposed noise restrictions virtually require bowfishermen to employ the newest portable generators that are, as advertisements for them (truthfully) proclaim, whisper quiet.
Except for Minnesota, virtually every state in the nation allows nighttime bowfishing. The farther south a state is, the more popular the sport. And in neighboring Wisconsin, some lake associations encourage bowfishing, and in some cases offer 50-cent-per-fish bounties for carp and other, similar finned critters.
"Last summer, a friend and I by ourselves took 2 tons of carp out of a Wisconsin lake," Mark Ellenberg of the Twin Cities told the Senate committee.
In some cases, the fish are disposed off for use as fertilizer. In other cases, they're kept and smoked.
"All carp 7 pounds or less that I catch in May and June I keep for smoking," Petschl said. "After that, as the water warms, they get a little soft. But in the colder water, they're pretty good smoked. I have a big Fourth of July party and feed them to my friends. Everyone knows what they're eating, and they like it."
Good impression at the Capitol
Legislators are accustomed to sizing up special interest groups that appear before them asking for fewer restrictions -- or more -- or some other consideration.
Some make good impressions, others don't.
Last week, one bowfisherman after another appeared before the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Each was knowledgeable, polite, sincere and reasonable in his request for a longer season -- May 1 to the end of February -- and one in which nighttime fishing would be allowed statewide.
Department of Natural Resources fisheries chief Ron Payer raised no dissent. Bowfishermen likely won't significantly dent the state's over-large carp population, he said. But their efforts might make a marginally positive difference in some lake systems.
Said Petschl, "We just want to go have fun, and we want to do it in a way that doesn't bother anyone."
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org