Fishing Report: Bowfishing for carp easier in warm weather

While riding along Route 9P around Saratoga Lake recently, I saw a very familiar site — a man standi

While riding along Route 9P around Saratoga Lake recently, I saw a very familiar site — a man standing in the bow of his boat, not with a fishing rod, but holding a bow with a knocked fiberglass arrow with a barbed point attached to a clear bottle full of heavy line.

He was looking for carp.

Bowfishing has begun.

The New York state season opened on May 15 and ends on Sept. 30. The unseasonably cold and wet weather has not yet really triggered the carp to full spawning activity. Once warm weather sets in, the splashing will begin. Right now, you can still-hunt those cruising in the shallows.

According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, carp have been in New York waters since 1831, and the state freshwater fishing record for the common carp is 50 pounds, six ounces. It was caught in Rensselaer County’s Tomhannock Reservoir in 1995.

Although the number of carp bow shooters is dwindling, there are still many out there enjoying the challenge. Many of those who are are also big-game bowhunters. It’s an excellent way to keep bowhunting muscles limber between seasons.

Bowfishing requires a current New York fishing or small-game hunting license. It’s illegal to shoot a bow within 500 feet of a dwelling, house, farm building or farm structure occupied or used, school building, playground, factory or church.

I’m sure those of you who have been on the water have seen and heard the large splashing along the shore lines and in weed patches — those aren’t pike or bass, they’re carp, and it’s just a part of their mating ritual.

The biggest carp I ever shot was a Saratoga Lake 38-pounder I found deep in Manning’s Cove, near one of the creek mouths. The lake is one of the more popular bowfishing spots in the state.


Any hunting bow is all that’s needed for this sport. My bow preference is one with a let-off of at least 50 pounds — the greater the let-off, the better, because most shots are taken in weedy waters, both surface and sub-surface. You may see a carp coming and then disappear in the weeds just as you come to full draw. With the let-off, you are able to stay at full draw until it reappears.

Two new pieces of equipment you’ll need —- special bowfishing arrows and a bowfishing reel. I suggest when choosing an arrow you get one with a partial screw-off tip, one that the point does not come completely off, but rather loosens just enough to reverse the barbs so the arrow can be removed easily. The tips that screw off completely are easily dropped into the water.

There are several types of reel, the easiest to use being the one made by Zebco — the 808 Bowfishing. It comes with 80-pound-test braided line and has a right/left retrieve handle. There is also a hand-wind reel that attaches to a bow, but the Zebco allows for a much quicker retrieve and quicker follow-up shots.

One of a bowhunter’s most important tools is quality polarized sunglasses that will cut down the glare of the sun as well as protect eyes. I also carry a pair of rubber fishing gloves which are quite helpful when trying to remove an arrow from a slippery, flopping, 25-pound carp. There are a number of bowfishermen who use a release. If you shoot with a release regularly, use it. It will definitely provide a smoother shot.


When the carp are spawning and splashing all over the surface, they’re not difficult to find. However, when you move in, I recommend not using the gas engine. I use an electric motor or push pole to get into the middle of them.

Before drawing a bow with a knocked arrow, make sure the line from the reel is free of anything it may get caught on. I’ve seen several nasty accidents that happened when a bowfisherman released a fishing arrow and it came back at the shooter. It hurts.

Don’t let enthusiasm override safety.

Aiming at an underwater target is quite different than when shooting on land. The location of what you see when looking into the water, is not necessarily where the target is. Water optically distorts everything’s location, so shooting a carp requires adjusting the aiming point.

A good rule of thumb is if the carp is one foot under the water and five feet out, aim about two inches under the target. At 10 feet out and one foot down, aim four inches below.


Shooting carp at night with the right equipment can be very exciting. I’ve found the head/hat-mounted lights work very well for the close encounters common at night.

Serious bowfishermen are fully equipped. They’re easy to spot with their high platform boats and sets of high powered lights operated by gas generators that really light up the water at night.

When hunting at night, remember the rules about shooting near dwellings and do not disturb those who live/rent on-the-water homes. Those bright lights and noisy generators are not meant for shoreline cruising for carp.

There are plenty of creeks, rivers and ponds non-boaters can walk and/or wade. Try it once during the spawn. It won’t be your last time.

Categories: -Sports-

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