Anderson: A nighttime bowfishing prowl for carp

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 29, 2013 - 10:50 PM

As darkness falls, some Minnesota bowhunters take up an increasing popular activity, piercing the night and laying waste to the lowly carp.

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Bowfishing for carp, Pete Luke, left, and Cole Anderson prowled a lake near Princeton, Minn., on Wednesday night. The sport has become increasingly popular since night bowfishing was legalized beginning in 2008.

Photo: Photos by Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com,

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Men of the night, bowfishermen often launch their watercraft while other boaters are leaving lakes, their water skiing or tubing or fishing completed for the day.

Such was the scene Wednesday evening, when Pete Luke and I, along with my son Cole, motored quietly from the public access on a lake not far from this town just north of the Twin Cities.

The warm air was summerlike, and a clearing sky suggested the evening would be dry.

A good night to hunt carp.

“It’s been a pretty good spring on this lake,’’ Pete said.

A lifelong bowfisherman, Pete enjoys few activities more than standing on the shooting deck of his big Alumacraft john boat, with its powerful lights illuminating the waters just ahead.

Now, with bow in hand and darkness approaching, he did just that, stepping up to the bow perch, and I along with him, and Cole, too.

From this vantage point, the evening appeared still more beautiful, and we glided through the water, a bow-mounted electric trolling motor pulling us ahead, with a half-circle of the lake bottom brightened off the bow.

Peering into the shallow water as if looking into an aquarium, we soon saw a largemouth bass hanging to the left, a sunfish to the right, both motionless.

Pretty, yes. But neither presented itself as regally — an odd word to use here — as the common carp we encountered next.

There.

This was a big fish, its oversized scales visible along its back, the entire carp appearing golden in the boat’s floodlights.

A bad actor by all measures, the carp causes many problems for many people, and also for other species of fish and wildlife.

It overproduces, for example, muddying lake bottoms, stunting plant growth and reducing fish diversity.

Also, unfortunately, carp move easily from one body of water to another, one watershed to another, thus explaining their quick dispersal after they were first brought to Minnesota from England in the late 1800s.

In retrospect, a monumental error.

But at the time, importing carp was considered a way to provide high protein food, and not a little sport.

Now, virtually anywhere in Minnesota where there’s water, carp swim. And millions of dollars are spent each year by the state in attempts — so far, in vain — to eradicate them.

This night, Pete was doing his part.

Targeting the now-fleeing carp, he drew back and aligned his arrow instinctively, meaning he didn’t use sights on his bow.

Instead he relied only on hand-eye coordination to match his bow’s movement to the carp’s, and to release the arrow just as the fish reached the boat lights’ nether reaches.

Curiously, the arrow entered the water at what appeared to be a point below where the fish swam. This was Pete accounting for refraction, meaning the fish wasn’t actually where Pete’s sighting eye told him it was.

Rather, the fish swam below that focal point.

So Pete compensated, aimed beneath the fish, released … and stuck it.

Rocketing into the muddy beyond, the carp immediately scurried into the darkness, drawing tight the string that connected the arrow to the bow.

Chaos ensued, and Pete handed his bow to Cole before retrieving the arrow line, hand over hand. As quickly, the carp raced beneath the boat, attempting its escape in the night’s gathering darkness.

Sometimes amid these violent tugs of war, an impaled fish slips the arrow, never to be found. But this carp was held fast by the arrow’s broadhead, and soon was pulled into the boat, where it was dumped into a large plastic barrel, destined to be a farmer’s fertilizer.

•••

Into the night we prowled the ever darker lake, hitting and missing fish, the biggest of which weighed 19 pounds, a chunky specimen Cole arrowed as it finned contentedly in the lake’s shallows.

Not atypically for bowfishermen, ours was the only boat on the lake, while on shore, on this warm night, yellowed lights shone through the windows of cabins and homes.

Humming purposefully from the stern of Pete’s boat, powering our fishing lights, a generator crooned the night song of bowfishermen everywhere.

Not yet 11 p.m., time, we figured, was on our side.

“Couldn’t be a better night,’’ I said.

Coincidentally, while we looked for carp, a “summit’’ of sorts was held in the Twin Cities on the same subject, led by bowfishing advocates. The intent was to explore ways that laws and ethics governing disposal of carp by bowfishermen can be better adhered to.

Or, lacking that, more aggressively enforced.

“We want to educate more people who bowfish about the need to dispose of fish appropriately,’’ said Brian Petschl, president of the Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association.

Since nighttime bowfishing was first allowed in Minnesota beginning in 2008, the sport has grown significantly, Petschl said. Previously, bowfishing was allowed only during daylight, a restriction unheard of in most other states.

But now some bowfishermen — perhaps primarily those new to the sport, or dabbling in it, shooting the odd carp or bullhead when given the opportunity — are challenging the public’s tolerances by dumping fish at boat landings, or in ditches on the way home, a practice that perturbs no one more than Petschl, or for that matter Pete.

“My carp go to a friend who freezes them, then cuts them up to use for bear bait,’’ Pete said. “Either that or they go for fertilizer in farmers’ fields.’’

“It’s important to do it right,’’ Petschel said.

Midnight approached, and Pete, Cole and I had a half-dozen carp to our credit.

Taking one more pass in a shallow area where we had bumped a few carp earlier in the evening, Pete angled his boat toward shore. Again a bluegill appeared in the lighted water, and another, and also a bass.

Then …

There.

This was a carp, its oversized scales visible along its back, the entire fish appearing hulk-like and golden in the boat’s light.

Drawing back, Cole let an arrow fly. Chaos ensued, and soon another big fish was added to the plastic barrel in Pete’s boat.

 

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com

 

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