By: Nick Johnson
It was a day with an outcome that wasn’t planned. Myself and my good friend Eric Katzenmeyer were set up to fish for bass in Cedar Lake just west of the twin cities. Eric lives in the area and we thought it would be fun to stop and fish with him on our way home from my family’s cabin in Brainerd for a few hours and catch some fat spring largemouth. What we got in return was a boat covered in carp eggs and a livewell stuffed with some of the largest carp I had ever seen.
We started the morning off by throwing spinnerbaits around docks and reed edges but the bass must not have received the memo. The only action that unfolded was a quick glimpse at a large tiger muskie that followed Candace’s bait to the boat and quickly vanished again. We tried deep with crankbaits, shallow with creature baits and anywhere in between only picking up a few small bass here and there.
Then it happened. First a few splashes near some reeds on the shoreline, then more and more splashing until it looked like the water was boiling in this small bay. Eric and I had seen this before and immediately knew that carp were spawning, but we had no idea how crazy things were about to get.
We trolled deeper into this small bay to get a better look at what was going on. The water was fairly clear and we could see the shadows of carp cruising from quite a distance. My eyes got wide as we neared the back corner of the bay. An absolutely massive female carp was towing along a string of maybe five males. Then more carp appeared from the reeds. They were everywhere.
A light popped on in my head and I remembered that I had my bowfishing bow in my truck! The bass fishing immediately took a back seat and we cruised over to the ramp to get my bow. While we made our way down the lake it seemed as though most, if not all of the carp in the lake were spawning. There was thrashing along the shorelines everywhere and a larger weed choked bay closer to the ramp was roiled to a frenzy with splashing carp. I grabbed my bow and a few extra arrows and we hurried back out to get in on the action.
It didn’t take long before we were on fish. A decent sized female carp escorted by males cruised by to the right of the boat as we entered a bay. I drew back and made a great shot on her and then it dawned on me. We’re going to make a mess of Eric’s carpeted Crestliner boat, not to mention we will have to stuff our shot fish in the livewells. I said something about this to Eric and his response was basically just shoot til the two livewells are full and we’ll call it a day. We hauled the 15lb carp into the boat and she instantly started to spew eggs all over the boat carpet. Eric winced a little but laughed and into the livewell she went.
We made the decision to shoot only the biggest carp we saw and let the hundreds of 3-10 pounders swim on by which became quite maddening. If only we had a boat set up for bowfishing with a fish barrel or something and a couple more bows, we could have easily filled the boat. The method was to cruise the bays along the docks and reed edges and wait til a monster appeared and take a shot. There had never been a time in my life where I had passed shots on a 10lb carp just to wait for a bigger one until this day.
The next carp to hit the livewell was Eric’s. We weren’t twenty yards from where I had just shot mine when another hog cruised by, this one quite a bit larger than mine. Eric missed his first attempt but the big female was so entranced that he was able to reel in and shoot again, this time connecting. I couldn’t believe my eyes as Eric pulled the fish boatside. It looked like a trash barrel sitting in the water; one of the biggest carp I had ever seen. Eric put her on the scale and smiled as 22lbs appeared on the digital screen. I know common carp get a lot bigger but that’s a dang big carp in my eyes.
The actions slowed down a little where we shot the two carp so we moved to the large weed choked bay just around the corner. It was a little tough getting through with the trolling motor but the reward far outweighed the hassle. Carp were cruising in and out of the weed pockets all over the place. Most were smaller males but a few big girls gave us some great shot opportunities. Eric and I took turns on the bow and made a lot of misses but also connected with some truly big carp.
The pinnacle of the day for me came when I landed a shot on a monster. I saw her tail first and knew by the dimensions that it was a large fish. The vegetation was covering her body and males were rolling around her like orbiting moons. She must have sensed the boat and began to move a little. When I saw the fish’s head I got excited and drew back. When the body appeared I let the arrow fly and put a good shot just behind the gills. Vegetation swirled as the fish fought to get free. The arrow tip held and we quickly flopped the robust carp onto the boat deck. What a giant I hollered! An even bigger smile came across my face when 27lbs appeared on the scale. To this day that is the largest common carp I have ever shot.
By now the livewells were packed with carp and one of the doors on the front well wouldn’t even close! We had to laugh a little because although we had seen hundreds and hundreds of carp throughout the day, we only had nine fish in the boat, which should give an indication of their size.
The day certainly did not go as planned but we ended on a high note with one of the most memorable bowfishing experiences of my life. I will never forget seeing those huge female carp, not even afraid of the boat, just cruising by with males following like ducklings with a momma duck.
Carp spawning in our region usually occurs in late May or early June and is largely dependent upon water temperatures. Carp generally spawn when water temperatures are between 68-73 degrees. Sometimes rising water levels can trigger the spawn as well but water temp is the key. When the temperature reaches this point the spawn can happen any time. Usually, most of the carp in a given system will spawn around the same general time and the action can last for a couple days.
Iowa Sportsman Top Bowfishing Waters:
There are no shortages whatsoever for bowfishing opportunities in Iowa but if I had to choose my favorite places in the state these 5 locations would top the list:
1). Iowa great lakes.
With clear water, especially earlier in the year around the carp spawn, the Iowa great lakes offers bow fisherman a chance at not only large fish but also many different species including huge drum and shortnose gar.
2). Lake Red Rock
When river levels are up, below the Red Rock dam can be a bowfisherman’s dream for many species. Asian carp and gar are plentiful not to mention loads of carp and big buffalo. The lake also offers endless expanses of bays and shoreline to cruise.
The bow fishing for carp and buffalo in the ‘Ville can be phenomenal. When the carp spawn here hit the willows and prepare for a sore arm and big fish.
4). Clear Lake
Big carp and clear early season water is what makes Clear Lake a blast to bowfish. When the spawn is on this lake truly offers a chance to shoot some monster carp.
5). Mississippi River Backwaters
Many of the pools of the mighty Miss have vegetated backwaters that hold tons of carp and other rough fish species including gar and bowfin. When the spawn hits these backwaters come alive with big carp