Bill Norris, a co-founder of Control Data Corp., had a favorite saying: “When everyone is going in one direction, I like to go in another.”
Such was the situation Wednesday evening on Coon Lake, just north of the Twin Cities. As the sun set and shadows gathered at the lake’s edges, signaling the coming night, anglers in multiple boats milled about on the lake not far from a public landing, waiting to load their craft and go home.
Some had fished for bass, others crappies. But now, insects circled their boats’ stern lights, and the anglers’ exits from the lake couldn’t happen soon enough.
Which is when Todd Meyer, 52, of Elk River; Rob Meyman, 41, of White Bear Lake; and I headed onto the lake, our outing just beginning.
“Some people say, ‘Why don’t you go out in daytime?’ ” Todd said. “Well, I’ve got things to do during the day.”
Todd then flipped a switch and threw power to the bank of LED flood lights mounted beneath the forward gunnels of his 20-foot bowfishing boat. The lights are powered by batteries, with an on-board generator used only for backup.
This was a big, stable platform specially built for shallow water carp cruising, with a 115-horse outboard swinging from its transom, and an oversized electric trolling motor on its bow.
“I don’t know what we’ll see tonight,” Rob said. “I know this lake gets hit pretty hard.”
Longtime friends and pool-shooting buddies — they have won their league championship — Todd and Rob (whose daughter, Kennedy, 11, also is a pool champ) are lifelong anglers and archery hunters whose introduction to serious bowfishing occurred fairly recently.
Both now have “the bug,” as Rob describes their passion for the sport — so much so that they’re more likely to be in Todd’s big boat on spring, summer and fall nights targeting fast-departing carp than they are jigging for walleyes or casting for bass.
“I started bowfishing when I was in my 20s,” said Todd. “Nothing serious. I was just shooting from shore. Then I got away from it, before, a few years ago, taking my son, Chase, and Rob on a guided bowfishing trip.
“We all liked it, and I bought a small boat to get started. Then, a year ago, I bought this bigger boat.”
Bowfishermen can be evangelistic about their sport, citing not only the challenges inherent in finding and arrowing carp, but the solitude and quiet that often prevail while afloat at night.
Critters that live in and around lakes also are regularly encountered, another bonus of the sport. Wednesday night, for example, mallards silhouetted themselves while darting about against a black sky. And loons called incessantly, chortling to themselves and to one another.
“Since I started bowfishing last year, the boat I use for [hook-and-line] fishing hasn’t been out of storage,” Rob said.
Patrolling atop water 2 to 3 feet deep, Todd, Rob and I saw countless sunfish, a smattering of bass, a handful of snapping turtles and an occasional northern pike. Bullheads, along with a few other “rough” fish are legal fare for bowfishermen, and we encountered some of these also.
“There,” Rob said, spotting a pint-size bullhead finning along the sandy lake bottom. As quickly, he drew back his bow and loosed an arrow into the water — missing.
“A pretty small target,” I said.
Shooting bows specifically made to stick fish differs from firing traditional bows. The latter are usually more powerful and are “aimed” using sights. Bows made for fish, by contrast, are fired “instinctively,” meaning the shooter essentially moves the bow into position while simultaneously drawing back the bowstring and, nearly as simultaneously, sending its arrow flying — selecting its flight path more or less by “feel.”
Refraction, which is a phenomenon that distorts to the human eye the position of an object — in this case a fish — in water, also must be considered.
Which is why a bowfisherman doesn’t shoot directly at a fish, but beneath it, because that’s where it actually is.
“It can be tricky because the water depth is constantly changing,” Todd said. “If you go from shooting into 3 feet of water, for example, to deeper water, you’ll have to adjust and shoot farther below the fish to hit it.
“A rule of thumb is that if a fish is 10 feet away and 1 foot below the surface, you shoot 4 inches low.”
Todd stuck the evening’s first carp. The fish, about a 15-pounder, would be a bruiser by game fish standards, but was only a middling carp specimen.
Disposing fish on shore or at a boat-launch site is illegal, as is patrolling too close to homes or cabins or using an overly loud generator.
The Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association, a Minnesota group that advocates at the Capitol on behalf of the sport, stresses the importance of legal, and ethical, behavior on the water and afterward.
Todd and Rob are both members.
“It’s important to have a place to take the carp you shoot,” Todd said. “We have a pig farmer who takes ours.”
By 11 or so, the explosion of insects that had hovered around Todd’s boat, attracted by its lights, dissipated. This also was about the time Rob drew back on a carp that, when boated, would tip a scale at more than 20 pounds.
“It’s a fun sport,” Todd said. “Tournaments are particularly fun. A lot of times everyone will get together the evening before [at the tournament headquarters] to barbecue and hang out. Then at 8 o’clock everyone heads out, and we’ll fish until 6 or 8 in the morning.”
“The older you get,” Rob said, “tournaments are almost like Ironman events.”
By midnight or shortly thereafter, most home and cabin lights dotting the lake’s shoreline had been extinguished.
The night then was ours almost exclusively. That and the lake bottom, which, illuminated by the boat’s lights, kept us not only awake, but alert.