When I was a kid growing up a block from the Big Sioux River in Watertown, SD, every spring there were always the spring carp and buffalo races that brought hundreds of these rough fish upstream to spawn.
We speared them, which was fine, but we aspired to be bowfishers because those who caught them with a bow, as far as we were concerned, were “living the dream” catching rough fish with shooting gear at the bow.
Once again our good friend, outdoor enthusiast and neighbor, Glenn Matteson came by, giving us a lightweight fiberglass bow that had a small crack.
My brother AJ and I used our dad’s best part, Cal’s electrical tape, a can of tuna, a small piece of wood, some short screws and some wire and we were bow fishers now.
In Watertown, the fish we and others caught with our bows and spears was smoked and quite tasty, and what wasn’t used was properly disposed of.
There are people who may think that bow fishing is just a blood sport, well that’s not true because with every invasive fish they shoot it means there’s one less bighead or silver carp to siphon off the zooplankton our native fish need and one less invasive species to spawn.
Our bodies of water, rivers and lakes have been invaded by these fish, the fish that bowfishers target, reducing the numbers of these invasive species.
These fish are not native to United States waters and many of these fish, being plankton eaters, create problems for our native fish.
These native fish include paddlefish which feed entirely on plankton as well as all small game fry which feed on them before changing their diet to other fish.
These invasive, rapidly growing species are all Asian carp, they include bighead, silver and grass carp.
Bighead and silver carp feed continuously throughout the day, swimming with their huge mouths open, siphoning off tons of zooplankton that native species need.
Grass carp, although it does not feed on plankton, has a true appetite and, as its name suggests, feeds on aquatic plants, reducing and destroying much of the aquatic vegetation, affecting the loss of water. habitat for our native species as well as our waterfowl population.
I have been fortunate enough to spend time on the river bow fishing with a good friend, Team Outdoorsmen Production member and guide Marilyn Wiebelhaus many times when my film crew and I were there to see how bow fishing has changed.
He was also kind enough to introduce my daughter Mieke Slaba and grandson Ted, of Wagner, SD, to the sport of paddlefishing.
Marlyn lives for archery season, with bow fishing high on the list, he said “I’ve been bow fishing since I was thirteen and I love it and I like to introduce others to this sport.”
He is no newbie to bow fishing and enjoys hunting record fish, as he holds 24 bow fishing records in the state of South Dakota and Nebraska.
In the Missouri River in both states, as long as you have a current fishing license, you are allowed to bowfish for rough fish year-round, and once July 1st rolls around, archers can also catch game fish, and If you’re lucky enough to draw one of the bi-state archery paddlefish tags, you can be on the water during this season to test your skills with a bow on a paddlefish.
On several occasions I have been in the boat when Marlyn broke the Nebraska bowfishing record for smallmouth bass and helped Marlyn land a massive eighty pound paddlefish with our bows.
Marlyn said: “When I first started bowfishing on the Missouri it was like I had the whole river to myself, but as bowfishing became more popular the things have changed.
“Now you very rarely see a John boat on the river that doesn’t have a fishing platform out front, a raised deck or the brackets to quickly add them to the boat and when I’m on the river I bow fishing, I see more bow anglers than anglers.
The boat Marlyn uses for bow fishing, a john boat, with a raised deck, with a long shaft trolling motor attached to the deck, used for gliding close to fish, especially Big Heads as it doesn’t take much to get them to move from the surface where they feed into deeper water.
I asked him about the bow fishing tackle he uses, he told me “I always use a recurve bow because it allows me to make quicker instant shots, with a sturdy reel, like the Zebco 808 or the Brute enclosed reel, spooled with heavy braided test line, up to 200 pounds, as the paddlefish can weigh over a hundred pounds and are very powerful fish, as are the bigheads, which grow rapidly and can weigh up to forty pounds and more, and if you plan to bring either of them to the boat or the shore, they will need a well-tuned reel drag, a back and strong arms to hold your bow as these hard-charging fish race through the water, using their powerful tails to put as much distance between them and you as possible.
Wiebelhaus estimates that “in the last 10 years, bow fishing, which is one of the fastest growing sports, has tripled. The equipment used on many boats has also changed, with many bowfishing boats having generators to power any lights they have on board, allowing them to bowfish at night.
Not only has the equipment of the boats changed, but the archery equipment used is now specially designed for the archery fisherman, in particular; bow fishing reels, Drum, Spincast and Retriever reels, more durable arrows, with safety slides that, in the event of a malfunction, prevent the arrow from returning to the archer and fishing tips bow that help secure the fish.
I knew Marlyn had been in several of the bow fishing tournaments held on the river so I asked him about the number of boats entered he said “at the first tournaments or contests where maybe a dozen boats and in order to win the event, the bow fisherman or team had to have the heaviest total weight of fish to win the contest.
It could be hundreds of pounds, where participants would have so many fish in their boats that it wouldn’t take much to sink them.
Now there are a lot of competitors, some with big cash prizes, so the format has changed, the system they use to award the winner, depending on how the competition is run, is what we calls the biggest five, ten, or twenty, meaning the team that brings their heaviest five, 10, or 20 fish to the weigh-in wins the contest.
Marlyn is an excellent shooter, when I was on the river with him, once he pulled his bow back and released there were very few arrows that didn’t hit the fish.
There aren’t many days when Marlyn won’t be out on the river either as a guide or as a bow fisherman on his own and many years ago due to his ability to fish arc, he was approached about the possibility of getting the Wynot Area Veteran’s Memorial. some raw fish for their annual Fish Fry fundraiser, he not only got them some fish, but he shot, rough cleaned and donated over 120 pounds of fish and continued to do so each year.
He said: “I like doing it because it’s for veterans and they deserve our respect and it’s just a little something I can do for them.
Bowfishing has definitely changed since my brother bowfished from the bridge behind Larabees, the 212 Hwy bridge, the Sioux River footbridge and we waded through cattails and reeds .
It’s not an expensive sport, you can start with an inexpensive recurve bow, a heavier Zebco reel, like their 808, spooled with heavy line, and as you get into it, move up to flats. -more expensive forms.
It’s also a sport where you use your bow, sharpen your eye, giving you more confidence in your ability to use your bow and get ready for the next bow season, archery.
Gary Howey (Hartington, Nebraska) is an award-winning former tournament angler, fishing and hunting guide, writer, producer and broadcaster, and was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in 2017. If you are looking for more d For outdoor information, check out garyhoweysoutdoors.com, outdoorsmenadventures.com and like the Gary Howey Facebook page and watch shows on MIDCO Sports Network, News Channel Nebraska and outdoor channels www.MyOutdoorTV.com.