Bowfishing for bronze backs: for bowfishers across North America, the mighty carp is king of the spring

MID-JULY STALKING conditions couldn’t have been more ideal. The temperature was 90 degrees, the air was calm, and the sky was cloudless. Although the muggy conditions constantly fogged my shooting glasses, they also brought carp in great numbers to the water’s surface to loaf in the intense sun.

As I silently crept my Weld-Craft bowfishing rig across a tiny bay, from atop the elevated shooting deck I could see dozens of loitering fish. They seemed oblivious to their surroundings, but I knew any noise on my part would scatter the school and cost me shooting opportunities. Methodically I dosed the gap on a carp lounging straight away from me, drew my 50-pound Martin recurve, took careful aim, and drilled the unsuspecting bronzeback just behind the head. My Muzzy Stingray arrow instantly stilled the fish, and I gently hoisted the 22-pounder onboard and slid it noiselessly into the catch barrel before moving on to my next target.

MY BOWFISHING PALS and I chase a number of exotic rough-fish species each season, but common carp always top our list. That’s because carp are abundant in thousands of waterways from Central Canada, throughout the U.S., and into Central Mexico. When other species are being evasive, hard-hunting bowfishers can always track down a school of carp for some aquatic action.

While carp are scientifically classified as minnows, that classification belies their size. In my home state of Minnesota a lucky bowfisher bagged the current world record carp in 1991, an 85-pound leviathan that dragged his boat around for some time before the archer could wrestle the fish over the gunwale! Of course, most of us will never see a fish like that. More typically, carp weigh 10 to 20 pounds, while some trophies grow to 25 to 45 pounds. Unlike buffalo fishes, carp are not native to North America. Much to the chagrin of sport anglers, and the delight of bowfishers, carp were introduced into U.S. waters in the late 1800’s from Europe and Asia.

Carp reproduce from March to June, depending on latitude, when water temperature reaches the optimum 68 degrees. While generally found in lowland eutrophic waters, carp are plentiful in deep, clear highland lakes and reservoirs, too. To locate carp hotspots, contact local fisheries personnel, who are always eager to help anyone who wants to thin out some rough fish.

In springtime, look for carp in protected, mud-bottom bays rimmed with cattails, reeds, or brush. Also, don’t overlook freshly flooded grain fields or woodlots. Lake inlets and outlets are also excellent areas to waylay bugle mouths throughout the spring.

BOWFISHING ACTION FOR CARP begins in early spring when the fish venture from deep water to the warming shallows. If you lack a boat, this is the time to fish by donning waders and sneak-hunting them like big game. Carp are sharp-eyed critters, so I suggest wearing camo and breaking up your outline by staying close to bulrushes and brush.

Pre-spawn carp regularly cruise muskrat runs. To improve visibility into the water and get a lot of shooting, take a stand on a ‘rat house. Big, pre-spawn female carp make cruising loops from deep water to shallow, and if you’re patient you can wait them out and bag a bona fide wall hanger.

A specialized boat with elevated shooting platform gives you a distinct sighting advantage over wading. Simply stalk carp with a bow-mounted electric trolling motor, or work with a partner to push-pole your boat within range of the fish. Move slowly and very quietly, because pre-spawn carp are touchy and will head for deep water at the slightest hint of danger.

When carp begin their annual spawning runs, rolling and pushing crazily along shorelines, they lose much of their inherent wariness. Bowfishing action literally turns furious during the spawn, and many archers count their take not in pounds but tons! Use this time to sharpen your shooting skills, because once the spawn ends, carp will modify their habits and become doubly spooky.

In summer you can hunt some post-spawn carp in the above-mentioned habitats, but you’ll find many more hovering in deepwater weed beds. You definitely need a boat to hunt these fish. On calm, hot days carp sun themselves near the surface. Stealthily troll your boat close to these suspended fish and take your initial shot when you reach the edge of your effective range. On windy days, let your boat drift across thickly weeded flats, and arrow carp as you spot them in open-water pockets within the weed mat. In reservoirs, seek out quiet, shallow coves with algae-covered gravel and rock bottoms. Many times you will spot sediment slicks rising to the surface, which indicate where carp are sucking food particles off the rocks.

ANY COMPOUND OR TRADITIONAL bow pulling 40 pounds or more is sufficient for carp. I generally shoot a 50-pound recurve but opt for a 65-pounder for big carp swimming in deep water. The extra draw weight assures better penetration in the depths.

Most serious bowfishers have switched from hand-wound fishing spools to AMS Retriever reels or oversized spincast reels like Shakespeare’s Synergy. The Retriever is lightweight, releases line with zero drag, and retrieves line quickly by stacking it in a storage bottle. However, the Retriever has no drag setting, so you must pull-in fish by hand. Spincast reels hold a significant amount of line and feature a drag system that allows you to play and crank-in your fish. Personally, I use a Retriever for most of my bowfishing but switch to a Synergy spincaster when I’m prowling weedless waters, especially rivers, where I’m free to play arrowed fish without reeling chunks of weedy debris into my reel. On both types of reels, I replace the factory line with super tough, low-stretch, abrasion-resistant BCY synthetic line.

To penetrate both water and carp, you’ll need solid fiberglass fishing arrows or top-of-the-line composite fiberglass or carbon-core aluminum shafts like Muzzy’s Penetrator and Big Game arrows. Rig every arrow with an AMS Safety Slide, which keeps line safely in front of the bow, eliminating dangerous backlashes that can occur when line is tied to the hock end of the arrow.

I like Muzzy Stingray heads for carp because the ultra-wide barbs are tops for holding and keeping the soft-fleshed fish from tearing off. The Muzzy Quick Release Carp Point and Shure-Shot Penetrator also are good choices. All three are easily reversed for speedy fish removal, and all feature Muzzy’s rock tough, needle-sharp replaceable Trocar tips.

Finally, wear quality polarized sunglasses on all your carp outings. Polarization cuts through surface glare, enabling you to see more underwater prey.

A MUZZY BIG GAME ARROW and Stingray head accounted for my most memorable carp. I was hunting a small river inlet on a sprawling lake when I spotted the beast sneaking along a cattail shoreline. Unfortunately, before I could draw my bow the critter spotted me and bolted back upstream.

I couldn’t pursue the fish because my boat wouldn’t pass under a low bridge spanning the river. Figuring the mammoth carp would eventually return, I dropped anchor and perched like a heron on my shooting deck to wait. For almost an hour I saw nothing, not even a little fish.

Then the huge carp cautiously ghosted into the lake. To avoid alarming it a second time, I let the trophy swim past before taking my shot.

My arrow sliced through four feet of water before slamming home alongside the brute’s dorsal fin. Not wanting to lose the fish, I dropped my bow and hastily dragged the carp, hand over hand, to the boat. Then, I leaned over the gunwale and grabbed the arrow in one hand and a platter-sized gill plate in the other and vaulted my prize into the boat. After removing the arrow I clamped my scale on the fish’s craw, which read out a jaw-dropping 42 pounds! More than satisfied, I stowed my gear and headed for the boat ramp. One bronzeback like that makes for a very good day.

The author is an avid and rather well known bowfisher from Mankato, Minnesota. He has written several features on bowfishing for this magazine.

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