Bowfishing During Spawn Gives Archers Spring Targets | Outside

By BRETT FRENCH

Wading through the grassy, ​​flooded shallows of the Tongue River Reservoir, Ann Feragen stalked her golden, scaly prey – the common carp.

In the distance, the water lapped as the big fish struggled in the throes of spring spawning. It was a carp party, and Feragen was about to crush it.

With her bow and arrow at the ready, she moved closer, pulled the bow string and took aim. When the arrow hit the water with a splash, the party shattered in a flash, the fish scattering in all directions like gangsters fleeing a police raid.

“It’s really easy when they’re in the shallows and you can see their fins,” Feragen said earlier. “When they spawn really heavy, there’s no finesse. Just aim in the middle of them and shoot.

The old phrase “as simple as shooting a fish in a barrel” comes to mind. But for Feragen and others, the sport of bowfishing for carp is a way to hone bowhunting skills between the spring turkey and fall seasons. And it is much more interesting than shooting at targets from a distance.

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“In an hour and a half to two hours on Mother’s Day, we had 25 to 30 between the two of us,” Feragen said of a date with her husband. “There were even more gunshots.”

Archers can also target paddlefish during the spring season below Fort Peck Dam, the only game fish that can be harvested in Montana with a bow.

Bow fishing for carp is helping eliminate what the state of Montana considers a thriving non-native species. Carp live in the waters of the eastern two-thirds of the state, mostly in reservoirs. Since anglers rarely target them, except for a few fly anglers looking for a challenge, their populations continue to swell.

Asian fish were brought from Europe to the United States in 1876, probably as a food source. In Europe, they are still considered a revered trophy game fish. The larger ones are tagged, released, and known by name to anglers who want to catch them so they can have their picture taken with the lunkers.

In Montana, bowhunters with a fishing license are allowed to take carp and other non-game fish with a bow.

“You can shoot any non-game fish, but carp are the only ones that come to the surface where you can shoot them,” said Ken Frazer, director of fisheries for Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Billings. “Plus, they’re a big target.”

The fish killed by Feragen weighed an average of 3 to 4 pounds. The fish are easily identified by the whiskers near their mouths and the large golden scales on their sides. Carp spawn between May and July in shallow waters.

“The sun and the water temperature need to be right for them to spawn,” Feragen said.

Some bow anglers use boats to sneak up on fish. Feragen and her husband, Lyle, built a platform in the front of their fishing boat for them to stand on and shoot from the bow. Standing above the water makes it easier to see the fish if there are reflections on the water. Polarized sunglasses also help.

Because light is refracted through the water, bow anglers must aim below the fish to hit their target. The deeper the fish, the more the archer has to compensate.

“The hardest thing to get used to was water refraction,” Feragen said. “The weight of the arrow was a bit odd too.”

Bowfishing arrows are made of fiberglass or carbon and are longer and heavier than traditional hunting arrows. On the tip of the arrow is a special arrowhead equipped with two teeth to prevent the rod from coming loose. After the fish is reeled in, the arrowhead can be loosened allowing the fish to slide past the teeth.

The arrows are connected to the bow by a braided line. The line is attached to a spool that looks like a small paint gun. A plastic container holds the line while it is reeled in. Most bow anglers pull fish by hand because reels have little drag.

Some anglers buy the reels and arrows and use their own hunting bows. Others buy bows specifically for bow fishing. Most carp fishing bows are set up with 40-50 pounds of pull or less.

At Superior Archery in Billings, the cheapest bowfishing setup is a $50 bow with a $50 Bohning bowfishing kit – reel, line and arrow. Next up is the AMS Reel and Arrow Kit for $160, which includes a better reel with two arrows. To do it all, a complete AMS bowfishing kit costs $430. Individual arrows sell for around $17. A minimum of two or three arrows is recommended, with some spare fish points in case the arrowhead breaks.

Sixth grade students at Tongue River Middle School in Dayton, Wyo., recently had basic bow fishing facilities for their school enrichment program at Tongue River Reservoir. The field trip was an extension of their archery program.

Teacher Ann Powers said bow fishing was a way to make the sport more interesting for students. Although none of the youths shot a carp, they were able to aim at floating polystyrene targets.

Feragen said she used to have a different bow for each day of the week – one for target shooting and another for hunting; one for bow fishing and a classic. She still has her first bow, the one she now uses for bow fishing.

Feragen’s hunt through the shallows of the Tongue River Reservoir proved productive. She shot at least 10 carp.

“It’s pretty cool to see that arrow swimming,” she said.

Other archers had been there before, as evidenced by the dead fish floating with their bellies nearby and the red-headed vultures and seagulls circling overhead.

Earnest A. Martinez