Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Bowfishing opportunities now abound in Minnesota

Steve Biedscheid (l) and bowfishing partner, Paul Ziegler, stalk nighttime rough fish in a specialized bowfishing craft only days after ice-out. (Photo courtesy of Mark Morrison)

By Mark Morrison
Contributing Writer

As I write this, 40-mph wind gusts are turning lakes in my area to a froth, making them unfit for any type of boat-borne sporting voyage. While it’s possible to negotiate rough seas while hook-and-line angling, it’s nearly impossible to bowfish, because that sport requires flat, clear water to ensure success.  

Fortunately for southern Minnesota’s bow-and-arrow anglers, the season is continuous, offering ample opportunities for sports folk to hunt rough fish across myriad waterways. (The early season south of Highway 210 runs through April 29; the statewide regular season runs April 30 through Feb. 26, 2023).

The state’s bowfishing season hasn’t always been this way. In 2005, a group of diehard bowfishers formed the Land Of Lakes Bowfishing Association with the goal of expanding the sport beyond what was then a brief season. Back then, the season began May 1 and continued until the end of February.  

In reality, the season ended earlier, at ice-up. Shooting hours were sunrise to sunset, and no night shooting was allowed on any of our lakes.  

By 2008, the LLBA had secured a three-month night-shooting season, and a year later, running a bill through the state Legislature secured a 365-day a year season (in the south) and unlimited shooting hours.  

Night-shooting soon became immensely popular, with hundreds of bow shooters setting up specialized night-prowling boats with high-power, water-probing flood lights. Because night-shooting means fish less easily spooked – and, usually, more of them – fast action and full fish barrels can be had on many trips. The price of admission is cheap: Just a valid Minnesota fishing license is required. Of course, bowfishing’s fast action can become addictive and lead to hunters securing rigs that rival high-end bass boats in cost. 

While night-shooting can be more productive than day shoots, prospective bowfishers should know that good numbers of fish can be had during day hunts, too. Plus, you can utilize any fishing craft to stalk carp during daytime. 

Regardless of boat choice, day hunters are advised to add a shooting platform at least level with the rig’s gunwales or higher to make spotting fish easier.  

Hunting fish during the spawn (generally two weeks either side of Mother’s Day) can be a blast because fish such as carp and buffalo lose their inherent wariness while rolling in the shallows. This is the time to fill fish barrels and have a great time with hunting pals. The shooting can be fast and furious.  

There’s one caveat: Before venturing out on any fish hunt, bowfishers need to secure a way to properly dispose of their harvested fish. That may mean taking them to a farmer who will utilize them as fertilizer, giving them to a trapper to freeze for future bait, or gifting them to a fish-smoker enthusiast looking to slow-cook a mess of buffalo or carp. Leaving shot fish at boat landings or along roadways is not only unethical; it’s also illegal.  

Also, night shooters who use generators to power lights should be aware that the Minnesota DNR requires these units to be quiet, not emitting more than 65 decibels – a mark many cheap generators can’t meet. Thanks to LED technology, many shooters now use battery banks to run the high lumen lamps on their rigs, ensuring quiet hunts. 

My bowhunting pals, Steve Biedscheid and Paul Ziegler, have accompanied me on dozens of fish hunts. Without a doubt, our favorite times to chase fish are right at ice-out and right before ice-up. It’s not unusual to find us smashing the boat through thinning ice in early spring to gain access to an open bay.  

A few years ago, we launched our rig into a narrow spit of lake water open between shore and remaining ice, then guided the boat around and through ice to reach a large cattail-ringed bay. The night air was cold, but the bay was dead calm and the mud bottom had soaked up enough sun to attract scores of carp, buffaloes, and bowfin. The shooting was fast and panicked and we were in a constant state of “tripling up” – all archers arrowing fish simultaneously, rapidly adding fish to our 75-gallon catch barrel. 

After an hour of non-stop action, our barrel overflowed with fish, and we departed the lake having experienced one of our best night shoots ever.  

Days later, we reconvened at another lake where size rather than numbers was the rule. At the end of that hunt, we counted several behemothic carp over 40 pounds, making the hunt just as memorable as the previous one. 

Thanks to the work of dedicated bowfishers from the LLBA, we no longer need to wait for May 1 to make memories like that. The time for that is right now. 

At least when these gale-force winds finally ebb.

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