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Bowfishing Carp the 'Traditional' Way

Kevin Wilson


With a Hoyt Buffalo recurve in hand, Kevin Wilson, of K&H Outdoors, targets carp on Saskatchewan's Last Mountain Lake.

Perched high on the deck of my 17-foot jon boat, I scanned the water for movement. Sunny conditions offered great visibility. Poling our way through the tall bulrushes and into a shallow bay, we found an area populated with spawning carp. Every now and then one would emerge from the dense cover, passing through the open areas in a matter of seconds. Time it just right and a shot opportunity would be inevitable!

Sure enough, as a giant carp finned its way through an opening, it paused briefly giving me a broadside shot. Drawing back my 50# recurve, I compensated for the refraction and released. Piercing the water a little too high, I had underestimated the distance. Indeed it was a long shot at over 15 yards, but the fish was also deeper than anticipated. Quickly reeling in my line, I eagerly nocked the arrow and resumed my vigil. Then, emerging from beneath the boat, there it was; finning slowly away from me a fine looking carp appeared just below the surface. Only a few feet away, I drew, anchored, aimed six inches low and released. The barbed tip penetrated deep into the fish and, with a violent splash, my first carp of the day erupted from the water!

“Fish on!” I hollered, and an awesome battle ensued. A short time later, with the carp played out, I hoisted it up on to the deck to collect my prize.

Over the next two days, my buddy, Gord Nuttall, and I shot fish after fish. We missed a bunch, but also connected with a heap of fish as well. An invasive species on Last Mountain Lake in Saskatchewan, Canada, there is no harvest limit so anglers and those fishing with archery tackle can take as many as they want. If you’ve ever considered bowfishing carp, here are some of the ins and outs.


Gearing Up

 Bowfishing requires specialized equipment.  Really, you can use any of Hoyt’s compounds, but a specialized arrow rest is usually recommended for bowfishing. My own preference is to use a recurve and shoot off the shelf.  With a little practice, a recurve can be deadly accurate. I can’t say enough about the Hoyt Buffalo. I’ve shot traditional archery equipment for a long time, but Hoyt’s Fred Eichler Signature Series Buffalo is truly a notch above all others. Even before tuning it, within minutes of setting my nock point, I was drilling four-inch groups at 20 yards.

With a few manufacturers making bowfishing reels, you have some choice as to what equipment you use. In my opinion AMS makes the best retriever out there. Beyond the bow itself, the retriever reel, line (usually inherent), the arrow, arrow tip, and safety slides are other important considerations. Let me tell you they are a huge improvement from the old spools that used to screw into your stabilizer receiver. This new technology is slick and makes nocking the arrow with safety slide and line attached, both easy and safe.  As long as the safety slide is positioned in front of your arrow rest or shelf, it serves to eliminate the chance of backlash, something that can be dangerous if the line snags and yanks the arrow back toward the shooter. The brake system inherent to the AMS retrievers allows the line to flow freely as long as it is not engaged. Likewise, when it is engaged, it allows the line to be easily reeled in and contained in its plastic container.


Compensating for Refraction

One of the biggest challenges with bowfishing is hitting your target, mainly because you are not aiming directly at it. Big or small, the academics of compensating for refraction in the water and the fact that fish are often moving make your target elusive.

A good rule of thumb is that for every foot (12 inches) the target is away from you, along with every foot (12 inches) in depth it is, you need to compensate by one inch. So, if the fish is 10 feet away and swimming at a depth of two feet (24 inches), then you will need to aim approximately one foot (12 inches) below your target in order to connect. One of the reasons I like to use a recurve is that shooting eventually becomes instinctive, even as you compensate for refraction.


Unparalleled Sporting Opportunity

Bowfishing for carp involves sight fishing and there are basically two main ways to do it. One involves walking and wading, and the second involves fishing from a boat. Carp typically migrate all over the place in among the tight reeds. As they move about, it is common to see and hear the tall reeds moving as they swim through. For the walk and wade archer, this is a great opportunity to wait and anticipate a shot. If you are walking or stalking carp in the shallows, look for swirls in the water, moving bulrushes, and other signs of movement. As long as water clarity is good, you may get lucky and be able to see them moving about in shallow pools. On occasion, you can even catch them sunning themselves with their dorsal fin exposed above the surface of the water.

If you have a boat capable of maneuvering in shallow water, this can be ideal as it allows you to get high enough above the surface for a good view of the surrounding water. A flat bottom jon boat is perfect for this. I built a shooting platform on mine and it works extremely well.

Regardless of your preferred method, carp offer an unparalleled sporting opportunity. They are a sizeable target, they move around a lot, and they can swim very fast. One of the appealing aspects is that they put up a good fight when you finally get one on the end of your arrow and line! I have been an archer and a bowhunter for 25 years now and I can say with great enthusiasm, that bow fishing for carp is one of the most exhilarating hunts I’ve done. If you are looking for an action-packed shoulder-season activity like no other, give carp a try!


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