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Amanda Buer, front, of Willmar, Keane Johnson, middle, and Jesse Medalen, both of New London, bowfish for carp May 18 from the fishing pier along County Road 41 in Willmar. They harvested 102 carp that day while practicing for last Saturday's Bow Fishing Contest in Kandiyohi County. Tribune photos by Gary Miller

Changes in regulations help bowfishing grow in popularity

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WILLMAR -- Combine the sports of archery and fishing and what do you get?

"An adrenalin rush,'' said Jesse Medalen of New London when describing the similarities of bowfishing to hunting.

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You can also get lots of fish, if you have the aim, stealth and good luck.

Medalen and friends Amanda Buer of Willmar and Keane Johnson of New London had it all May 18 when they arrowed 102 carp in outings on local waters during the day and nighttime.

It was just practice: They were getting ready for last Saturday's first ever Bow Fishing Contest sponsored by Precision Archery of Spicer. Nearly 20, two-person teams competed in the all-day event, a sure sign of the growing popularity of this one-time backwater sport, according to Corey Barber of Precision Archery.

Its popularity has been growing ever since an association of bowfishers convinced state legislators a couple of years ago to join the rest of the nation and allow bowfishing at night.

That change has opened the sport to many, according to Patrick Kirschbaum, president of the Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association.

Until the change was made, bowfishing was limited for most people to a few weeks in spring. That's when the rough fish that are fair game for bowfishing are spawning in shallow water, where they can most readily be targeted.

Nighttime bowfishing extends the season through the spring, summer and fall, according to Kirschbaum.

Even during the heat of summer, rough fish can often be found in shallow waters at night, he explained. The nighttime waters are more apt to be settled and clear.

And the fish are not as easily spooked as during the day, when any movement or shadow can send them darting away.

It's possible to get much closer to the fish at night than during the day, but there's one constant.

"It's a challenge,'' said Buer. "It's a lot harder than a lot of people think.''

She took up archery at the urging of her boyfriend. She is looking forward to harvesting her first deer with a bow, but in the meantime, wanted more of a challenge than ripping paper targets with her arrows.

She gave bowfishing a try with the season's opening on May 1. "I've been out every day since,'' she said when contacted earlier this week.

Carp are the number one target due to their prolific numbers, hefty girth and propensity to congregate near culverts and intakes where shore bowfishers can take aim.

Yet bowfishers will pursue everything from river gar and mooneye to buffalo fish and various suckers. The prehistoric, but pipe-shaped gars are probably the toughest challenge, according to Kirschbaum.

His biggest fish ever was a 46-pound carp.

All he needed to hoist the monster to shore was an arrow, strong line and reel attached to his bow. That's also part of the reason for the sport's growing popularity, according to Barber.

It's a relatively inexpensive sport to take up. He said many of those who enjoy the sport are archers who already own bows. They can buy the line, reel and arrow for less than $100, or as little as $20-$30 if they find used gear.

Manufacturers have taken notice of the growing sport and now also manufacture specialty bows and equipment for it, he added.

There are lots of bowfishing opportunities from shore, but having a boat can add to the fun. Buer said her father is a serious bowfisher. He's rigged a flat-bottomed boat with a platform to stand on in the bow.

Regulations governing the taking of rough fish are liberal, but bowfishers cannot waste their harvested fish. Many find farmers and gardeners willing to take them as fertilizer. Some will donate the fish to wildlife centers as feed for animals.

Some will put them on the kitchen table. Carp and other rough fish taken from clean waters can be fried, smoked or pickled like any other freshwater fish species.

Like all anglers, bowfishers are guarded about revealing their favorite locations, according to Kirshbaum. But he and others will concede the obvious. Shallow-water lakes -- like many in Kandiyohi County -- offer fertile waters for bowfishing.

But don't think the challenge of hunting down rough fish is limited to shallow lakes. The winning carp entered in last week's tournament was a 29-pounder taken from the clear, cold waters of Green Lake.

For more information on bowfishing, check out the Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association website: http://www.landoflakesbowfishing.com.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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