Bowfishing for carp in Minneapolis-St. Paul area lakes

After other fishermen have trailered their boats and headed home, dusk settles over a west metro lake. At the boat launch, the whir of crickets and the slow descent of three axles are the only sounds as Curt Cich, guide and owner of Edge Bowfishing, returns his rig into the water.

Above his company’s logo, below the gunwale, are the words “We hunt the night.”

I jump aboard the deck, choose a bow and take a seat atop a raised shooting platform while Cich steers us toward his “honey spots” along the edges of the lake.

The evening grows darker, the wind a few degrees cooler. Two gas generators situated atop rubber mats — to reduce vibration — hum quietly near the stern.

The stage is set. A golden glow from eight high-pressure-sodium lights gradually emerges and crowns the bow of Cich’s 19-foot boat. The curtains are drawn back. The players emerge.

Every night clients have the potential to see large mouth bass and walleye, handfuls of sunfish darting back and forth, and the occasional 3-foot musky, its back speckled white from the teeth marks of a rival male.

But this part of the show is only prologue.

Cich takes his place at the bow, thumbs the trolling remote in his coat pocket, and guides the boat into an inlet. It points out whirling clouds of mud in the shallow water below.

“They’re here,” he says.

A carp swims away from bowfishing boat on a west metro lake Monday, April 18, 2016. (Courtesy Dara Hennessy)

I stand ready, an arrow nocked, fingers on string. We scan the circumference of the light, hoping to see the shape of a fish larger than most men’s torsos.

Suddenly, just outside a stand of cattails, the light catches the fins of something massive.

“No sudden movements,” Cich advises.

We both conduct a twice-over to ensure the fish is legal. I draw back the arrow and release. An orange tethered line zips toward the water and goes slack, crimped upon the surface.

All that remains is murky water, a stagnant arrow embedded in mud.

One out of 10 is about average, Cich often tells his clients. “If you hit a fish every time, what would be the challenge?”

I let go a deep exhale, reel in and reload at the moment Cich points ahead. “There’s another,” he says. “Kill it.”

This time I remain calm, close my left eye and line up the shaft of the arrow more than a foot below the carp’s silhouette. I relax my string hand. Tethered line sails ahead. The shot felt good, but still only the sight of murky water.

However, a wagging nock — the tail end of the arrow — above the surface means only one thing. “You got him,” Cich says.

Jack Hennessy shoots a carp while bowfishing on a west metro lake Monday, April 18, 2016. (Courtesy Dara Hennessy)

Some nights, Cich and his clients can spot upwards of a hundred rough fish — though, on average, participants can expect to see 30 to 40. The same rule applies with every encounter:

Make the most of those few seconds, and aim low.

A bowfisherman can tell immediately when his arrow finds its target—the arrow wags in the water, almost like the waving of a flag, indicating there is no retreat for the fish.

The Minnesota bowfishing season opened nationwide April 30 and continues to grow in popularity.

No hard figures are available for participation, but the Department of Natural Resources fishery programs consultant Al Stevens said he’s hearing from more people bowfishing. “People are getting out and able to do something different, which is good,” he said.

During an adrenaline-packed ride across the water, bowfishermen are required to utilize precise archery skills and calculate water-refraction differentials within split seconds.

“After the first 1,500 shots, it gets easier,” said photographer Mitch Kezar, who has been bowfishing since 1966.

Participants hunt late into the night, sometimes early morning, hoping to pull hundreds of pounds of rough fish and invasive carp—fish responsible for muddying water and harming native minnow and even duck habitat—from their community lakes and rivers.

These hunters live for that recurring, albeit brief, opportunity — when they get to draw back and loosen an arrow at a common carp or dogfish before it quickly disappears into silt.

Edge Bowfishing guide and owner Curt Cich steers his clients toward the cattail edges of a west metro lake in search of rough fish Monday, March 25, 2016. (Photo courtesy Dara Hennessy)
Curt Cich

For Cich, the sport combines his lifelong passion of fishing and big-game bowhunting, although he notes archery skills are more frequently employed during this sport.

“It is about all the excitement at the moment of the shot, all night long on the water. You’re stalking, instead of waiting for something to happen,” he said. “You are always seeing something new and different, not reading a book waiting for something to appear.”