Aim low: Bowfishing continues to grow in popularity in county, state [UPDATED]Published 10:58am Tuesday, June 24, 2014 Updated 10:59am Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Floating over the murky water of West Lost Lake, Darrell and Tammie Schreiber keep their eyes focused along the reeds off the shallow shore.
“Aim low,” Darrell likes to remind newcomers to the sport of bowfishing. Refraction from the water makes the targets — today the golden tint of carp — look as if they were floating at a higher angle than they appear in the bow’s sights.
With the tight pop of a bow, an arrow is sent plunging into the water and, if the shot is on target, the shooter brings in the fish, pulling hand over hand on the florescent orange line that connects the arrow to the bow. If it’s a miss, a reel device quickly brings the arrow back for another shot.
This is the busy routine that makes up bowfishing, an outdoor sport that continues to grow in popularity around Otter Tail County and throughout the rest of the state. Instead of using a classic rod and reel to pull in the traditional walleye or bass, the catch involves rough fish, near-giants like carp, bullhead, suckers and buffalo fish, that lurk the depths of lakes in the county.
“I want to say the first 10 years I did it hardly anyone else was out,” Darrell, who was born and raised in Otter Tail County, said. “There were a few guys who did it in the spring, but they wouldn’t go out on lakes and boats like we do now. The past 10 years have just been full of unbelievable growth. It’s gone from just us being on a lake to six other boats being on a lake as well.”
The Schreibers run a company, Carpe Diem Outdoors, which they use to produce photos and videos out on the water. While most of their fishing is done in Otter Tail County, the sport has brought them across the country to other bowfishing destinations like Texas and Louisiana. Darrell, who has gone after rough fish for 30 years, introduced his wife to the sport 15 years ago. Tammie said she brought a book to pass the time on their first outing together, but when Darrell finally got a bow in his wife’s hand, she was, well, hooked.
“It’s not just a sport for the athletic person,” Tammie said. “Anybody can go out there and try it. Really, everyone can do it.”
It’s that accessibility that has attracted many newcomers over the years and, as Tammie pointed out, has recently brought a large number of children into the mix. It’s also why the two expect the sport to continue in its popularity. Across the state, the numbers of people heading to the lakes for bowfishing has grown. An estimated 10,000 people bowfish every year and 80 percent of their kill includes carp, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Last year, the legislature made changes to increase bowfishing opportunities as well. The regular bowfishing season now lasts from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in February. An early bow season was also created south of Hwy. 210 for the rest of the year. During that season, people can only bowfish from a boat and only while on a lake or on the Mississippi, Minnesota or St. Croix rivers, instead of other rivers and streams across the state. But the opportunity to fish with a bow year round meant big things for the sport.
For the Schreibers, who are avid hunters throughout the other seasons in Minnesota, it means a few extra months shooting a bow and keeping their skills sharp. Using polarized sunglasses, the rough fish are spotted in the water during the day or with large lights that illuminate the water at night. A smaller trolling motor can only get a boat so close before the large fish scurry for cover. Shots are made quickly as fish are pursued up and down the shoreline or out into deeper water.
“There’s certainly a rush to it,” Tammie said while keeping watch at the front of the boat as Darrel guided the boat with the handle of a small motor. “That’s why it’s such a great sport to introduce to people, especially kids, because there’s so much action involved.”
The killing of rough fish, the only fish allowed to be taken with a bow, also benefits lakes in the area. Carp, for example, is a regulated invasive species by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. It is one of the most damaging aquatic invasive species because of its wide distribution and its feeding habits, which disrupt shallowly rooted plants. Carp also release phosphorous that increases algae abundance and causes a drop in water quality due to the decline of aquatic plants needed by waterfowl and other aquatic life.
Even with its benefits, however, the continued increase in popularity has caused some problems as of late. With more and more boats on the water, the Schreibers said they have heard some complaints of overcrowding. The bright lights used at night can also be bothersome to lakeshore owners and resorters enjoying a peaceful evening by the lake.
An even bigger problem has been the improper disposal of the fish and illegal dumping. With the large size of the fish and the numbers that are often pulled in during a single trip, some residents have complained of finding fish piled on shorelines or dumped illegally on private land.
But when out either introducing a newcomer to the sport or with friends and fellow long-time enthusiasts in the sport, the Schreibers stress courtesy on the water and the proper disposal of their catch. They’ve used a number of options over the years, including giving fish to farmers to be used as fertilizers and to leechers who use it as bait. A new company in Alexandria will even pay 10 to 15 cents per pound for the fish to be used at a turtle farm.
Better yet, the Schreibers said they like to turn some of what they catch into table fare, which is something they said most people don’t expect with rough fish. When prepared correctly, often in a smoker, the fish makes for a great meal.
It’s little surprises like that, along with the thrill and challenge of a big catch, that keeps the couple out on the water, traveling across the county and country for different experiences, sharing the sport together and with their son, Devin. It’s something they plan to continue for a long time.
“For me, it’s the traveling aspect and the culture,” Darrell said. “The people here and in other parts of the country, the things they eat, I think that’s almost more fun than the fishing sometimes.”