Iowa fisherman use bows to catch rough fish
Jun. 24, 2017
BELLEVUE, Iowa (AP) — Kenny and Cody Nachtman peered through their polarized sunglasses and spotted a carp to the right of the stripped-down pontoon boat near a tiny island on the Mississippi River.
It wiggled slowly near the surface about 15 feet away, providing a perfect target among the reeds. As Kenny counted down, "3, 2, 1," they drew back their bows, aimed about 6 inches under the carp and let their arrows fly. The slow wiggle turned into furious flopping as the two projectiles penetrated the side of the carp within inches of each other.
The 10- to 12-pound fish was pulled into the boat by heavy test lines attached to the arrows. The Bellevue brothers posed for a photo, then yanked out the arrows. Kenny knocked the carp over the back of the head with a wooden club and set it down in a large barrel.
"It seems kind of cruel, but if we didn't do this, they'd be flopping around, and every other fish around would get spooked," said Kenny, 32, of the blow with the club. "And it basically puts them out of their misery."
The practice is common enough that some companies make specialized clubs. One is called the Thumper.
The Nachtmans landed seven carp and one shortnose gar during a 75-minute outing on a recent sweltering late Sunday morning. The fish were later frozen and will be used as trapping bait in the fall. Carp are not known as great fish to eat, but some people do smoke the meat.
At big tournaments, thousands of pounds of fish will sometimes be trucked out to companies that turn them into liquid fertilizer for lawns.
"This helps the environment out incredibly," said Cody, 26, of bowfishing. "Carp ruin habitats of other fish and can take over an area. Rough fish, like gar and carp, will also eat the food of other fish."
Matt Kirschbaum, 28, of Lancaster, Wisconsin, who competed on the team that won the prestigious AMS Big 30 Challenge bowfishing tournament, has even had fisherman cheer him on.
"Mostly the bass guys," he told the Telegraph Herald (http://bit.ly/2rReHr4 ). "They'll see me come up with my bow and say, 'We hope you're going out to kill them.' There are so many. It's hard for other fish to prevail."
On the recent Sunday near Bellevue, the Nachtmans used bows that cost about $400. But some, such as the Oneida Osprey used by Kirschbaum, can go for double that. A regular fishing license is all you need to legally bowfish. Only rough fish — those less desirable to sport anglers — can be hunted.
The best time to find them is during the day in the spring when they are in large groups spawning. After that, they are easier to find at night, especially if your boat has special lights like those on the Nachtmans' boat. The carp come out more at night and are less spooked.
Cody and Kenny used to hunt them with spears as kids, while their father used the bow. As the boys advanced, they became competitive and won various tournaments. Kenny has competed in the two AMS Big 30 Challenges in Wisconsin with Lucas Ruff, 24, of Bellevue, and Brent Thompson, 35, of Elizabeth, Illinois.
Kirschbaum and two friends from Stoughton also competed this year after winning last year with 846.5 pounds of fish during the one-day event.
"We did a lot of scouting and learned a lot the night before," said Kirschbaum, who might cut back on bowfishing. "This sport is so popular now, it seems like if you go to a river or a lake, you're going to run into other bowfishermen. It's getting almost too crowded."
Sometimes, luck can be on your side. You never know when the "big one" might float by.
Kirschbaum's father, Larry, can attest to that. He, his wife, Lisa, and Matt went out for a day of fishing on the Mississippi River "somewhere off the Grant County shore" on Mother's Day 2016.
They already had landed several large carp and then spotted a huge, longnose gar.
"I hit it in the middle of the back as it was swimming away from me," said Larry, who only occasionally bowfishes. "I've got this gar curled around in the boat, and when it straightens itself out, Matt says, 'Boy, that's a big fish.'"
It wriggled loose of Larry's grip and flopped out of the can.
"(Matt) told me to just grab it and throw it back in," Larry said. "But that thing had teeth! 'Dad,' he said, 'you've just got to man up!'"
The next day, they got it certified. At 18 pounds, 7.4 ounces and 52 inches long, it set the state record.
"Matt or my wife could have shot it, too," Larry said. "We all saw it."
Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com