I’ve been bowfishing before, but always in the spring and summer. Living in the frozen north (Minnesota), I never even thought about bowfishing in the wintertime, until I heard about a particular frozen lake that had “ice out” (some open water) and a whole slew of visible carp swimming around at the surface. After living with winter temps being in the below zero and to twenties above, (and occasionally reaching freezing), when the temperature had suddenly gone up over 40 degrees (ABOVE zero) I figured this was a great chance to get some shooting in.
If you live where lakes freeze over in winter, look for areas near shore that have streams feeding into them. These locations often offer the best chance of open water when temps begin to rise, where carp and other rough or “garbage” fish may be spotted. You’ll see them in shallow water and many times hanging close to the edge of, or just under the ice cover. If you’re lucky and are there at the right time, you could see thousands of carp on the surface.
Do your local DNR or Fish & Game a favor and shoot the non-native invasive species!
Some members of our local bowfishing association (Land of Lakes Bowfishing Ass.) were also at this particular lake on this particular day, to clean up dead fish that others have shot, speared, gaffed and just left to rot on the edge of the ice and in the water.
They had sleds and containers on wheels and would haul off loads of carp to a waiting truck and trailer. This would then find its way to a nearby farm where the farmer would take them to use as fertilizer. I can’t imagine the smell all these dead carp would make if just left there at the lake when the real heat of spring and summer hit. Actually I could, but don’t want to, as I’ve smelled that smell before. Eww!
I had hoped that other people would see that our cleaning up was the ethical thing to do.
Of course the LLBA members spent some time shooting also, and enjoying every minute of it.
I had just bought a pair of Neoprene chest waders and put them on over my pants and long-jans. I also had a nice snug pair of Neoprene fishing gloves to wear. I wished that I had slipped some chemical heat toe warmers in my boots before I put them on, but I didn’t. Next time I definitely will. I will also keep some hand warmers in my pockets. They didn’t do me any good back in my van. I did however, have my polarized sunglasses with me, as those should always be on your face when bowfishing, even in the winter. Water is water with refraction presented, no matter what the season is.
I pulled my plastic sled (which was actually my deer drag sled) down onto the ice with my bow. I would throw my carp in it so I could easily haul them away.
I began by standing on the edge of the open water, but when I realized the depth of the water was only knee deep, I just stepped in. After all, I was wearing waders. I walked around breaking some floating ice sheets that were in the way. Then I stopped and stood still. I would eventually see carp swimming and then I’d shoot. My first shot was a double kill – a sucker through the head and then a carp through the body. I called this one a shishkabob.
I walked slowly through the water for the next three hours, shooting and pulling out my arrow in repetitive form. This was a repetition I enjoyed!
As the sun was beginning to get very low in the sky, I felt it was time to pack up and head for home. My fingers were pretty cold anyways and could use some heat. I shot about three sleds full of carp, two being taken away in the trailer for fertilizer and the last load back to the cities for my sister. She has many friends that love eating carp and would gladly take whatever I shot.
I put the carp in two very large garbage bags in the back of my van. I discovered I could only put my van’s heat setting directionally pointing towards my feet only, as anything more would blow the smell of fish to the front and out of my dashboard vent at me. It’s not a smell I wanted to smell the rest of the way home!
My drive home was two hours and I could occasionally hear a fish flopping around in back. When I did finally get back home, I had to put one of the carp back into the bag as he had flopped out. I couldn’t believe he could still be alive after more than two hours out of water!
My sister was glad to receive the fish and started right in on cleaning them for her friends.
One should always have a plan on how to dispose of their fish after they shoot them. If you’re not going to keep them, do you know of a farmer or gardener who might like them for their fields or gardens? Or anyone else that really likes to eat carp? Just don’t be unethical and leave your dead fish lying around to rot. We need to be good stewards and good examples for others.
So if you want to do some “hunting” before spring turkey season arrives, why not try some winter bowfishing? It’s awesome fun!
The bow I use for bowfishing is the first bow I ever owned – a Browning Micro Midas that I had long since maxed out on poundage. It’s perfect to set up on smaller and lighter weight game such as carp. Any old bow will do when fishing. Recurves work great too.
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