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The northern state of Wisconsin offers the bowfishing enthusiast many opportunity’s in taking rough fish. It has a wide variety of lakes and rivers with easy access and, of course, a wide variety of species to hunt.
My bowfishing year begins in January when the weather outside is frigid. Lakes and rivers freeze over, lowering the oxygen levels in the water. Look for openings in the ice where rivers or creeks inlet into a lake, or where there is a current or warm water discharge. Find this and you are likely to find carp, the number one target for bowfishermen. These types of area’s typically have thin ice or no ice, where you can wade in the water with waders or walk the edge of the ice. Bowfishing in these conditions separate the avid’s from the diehards! Believe it or not, a 20-30 degree day is a good day to go shooting during the winter months. Check your state regulations before venturing out in the frigid waters, and most importantly, never shoot alone and know the thickness of the ice and depth of the water! While most are waiting for spring to come, the winter shooting keeps a person in good practice.
Starting in April comes bowfishing tournaments, held by the Wisconsin Bowfishing Assoication. Shooters from all over the state of Wisconsin and even surrounding states get together to compete for cash prizes and bowfishing team of the year. About a dozen lakes are voted on during the annual meeting and 4 of them are sanctioned, meaning the shoots at those lakes are for points for WBA team of the year. Points are also awarded for big fish awards. It can get very competitive for some teams, others just show up to bowfish and have a good time, that’s why there is two classes to shoot in, open and sportsman. Check out the Wisconsin Bowfishing Association website to find out more about them, tournament rules and regulations, or just to find out when the next shoot is!
When it starts to get hot in the Spring time, usually early May, this means one thing, Buffalo Spawn. Many Lakes off the Wisconsin River provide bowfisherman many opportunities in getting some real gigantic fish. If you hunt demandingly during the day and night during the prime buffalo spawn, you can get the opportunity to shoot some fish well over the 40 lb range with a handful into the 50’s. Hard to imagine a fish being that size in the waters of Wisconsin right? You will encounter these underwater behemoths in the shallows and near river and creek outlets.
Right around the buffalo spawn, is the Wisconsin State Championship Bowfishing Tournament held on the Castle Rock Flowage in Central Wisconsin. This is the biggest shoot held in Wisconsin and quite a few teams show up from all over. Many prizes are raffled including top of the line bows, arrows, and other bowfishing related equipment. The water clairty in the spring on most lakes is crystal clear, offering bowfisherman great chances in taking high numbers of rough fish. To do well in these tournaments, you must put hard earned time into scouting and know where the fish are, and be on them all night long. It takes several hundreds of fish to win many of these tournaments. One of these shoots was won with well over 600 fish in a 10 hour shoot, that’s incredible!
While the majority of the touraments are held in the Spring with the clear water, they slow down beginning in June. There are still some state shoots that are run during the day but this is the time of year when lakes start turning over and getting the algae bloom, turning the lakes into what we call lime green, ”pea soup.” Needless to say it gives the fish an immense advantage, because of water clarity, you’re lucky to see an inch down. There are still quite a few shootable waters. Flowage’s and lakes on the Wisconsin river can still be good, the Poygan, Winnieconne, Butte Des Mortes, Winnebago chain of lakes can also be very productive, being chock full of gar. This offers bowfisherman some tough practice because of their size, gar averaging in the 10-30” range.
As summer slowly fades into fall and the last of the tournaments come upon us, it usually wraps things up for bowfisherman with all the approaching hunting seasons. Some of the diehards still keep their boats out and continue shooting until they’re breaking ice with there boats, some wait for the winter months to go shooting in the icy air, others just winterize their boat and wait until spring. Many go out and buy a new boat or upgrade. Some make repairs to their boats or add fan motors. So in truth, there really never is an off season in the world of bowfishing, it’s an on going process that exceeds 365 days a year for some. Its been a sport I’ve been introduced at a very young age and its such an addicting sport so before you go out, considered yourself warned.