Bowfishing still a niche sport in Western Pennsylvania
TribLIVE Sports Videos
With no sun in the sky, Denny Russian was forced to search the clouds for carp.
Standing in his small green bass boat, the trolling motor pushing it along at its slowest possible speed, Russian peered into the water of Thompson Bay at Presque Isle on Monday. Weeds -- some of them looking like underwater hemlocks, with long "branches" of needly fronds, green tipped with red highlights -- swayed ever so gently just below the surface, as if dusting the glassy surface from below.
Then, in an instant, with a couple of excited "Oooh, ooohs," Russian wheeled at the waist, drew back his bow, and fired into the water.
The arrow disappeared with a plunk. Quickly, Russian, who lives in New Alexandria, grabbed the 400-pound test line that connected bow to arrow and started to pull. He felt a familiar weight at the end.
"Oh yeah, we got that one," he said. "He looked like a pretty nice one, too. I just saw his lips and then he took off."
The fish turned out to be a 27-pound carp, one of two Russian would shoot on this day. The other was only slightly smaller, a 24-pound fish.
It wasn't Russian's best day of bowfishing ever -- he killed a 54-pound grass carp at Erie last year, and has on occasion been able to shoot as many fish in a day as he wanted -- but for Russian, any day on the water with a bow is a good one.
"I really enjoy it. If you like to shoot a bow, and you like to hunt, bowfishing is great because it's a lot like bowhunting deer or anything else," Russian said.
It doesn't enjoy the same popularity as bowhunting, however. While bowfishing tournaments are big in some parts of the country -- there's even a Bowfishing Association of America that runs an annual World Shoot -- the sport is kind of a niche one here.
"I think it's a small group of guys," said Tom Qualters, assistant law enforcement supervisor for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in Somerset. "There are a handful of guys who do it here at Somerset Lake, and you hear of it at Shawnee Lake and a few other places, but you just don't see guys doing it that often."
That's too bad, said Tom Campbell of New Alexandria, another bowfisherman.
The sport is exciting, he said. At times, when carp are spawning and the sunlight is hitting the water, making the fish easier to spot, the action can be fast and furious, like rabbit hunting.
Even then, though, it's a challenge, he said. Archers floating through the shallows in a boat -- still-hunting, as it were -- have to learn to spot carp quickly because once a fish sees you, it's gone.
"It's sort of like hunting deer. If you've never hunted deer before and somebody takes you out, they'll say 'See that deer?' and you'll look and you won't be able to see anything. Then, after a few years, you learn to pick deer out of their surroundings," Campbell said.
"It's the same here. Spotting them is something you have to acquire a knack for."
A good bowfisherman can shoot a carp as deep as five or six feet underwater, Russian said. But the farther below the surface they are, the harder it is to hit them.
They're harder to see down deep, too, of course. The key is not to look for a whole fish, Russian said. You have to learn to look for a tail, their lips, maybe an eye. You can also look for "clouds" of mud and silt stirred up by fish rooting around in the bottom.
"You've just got to be quick," Russian said. "That's why I shoot with my fingers. I use a release when I'm hunting deer and a buck might walk past. But here, if a carp sees you, whoosh, it's gone."
"They're smart, the big ones are. That's how they got that big, just like an old buck. But that's what makes it so much fun."
Bowfishing -- which can be done with a compound or crossbow -- is legal in Pennsylvania only for carp and suckers. Fish can be taken day or night year round except in approved trout waters during the closed season.
The best fishing, though, lasts just a few weeks in the spring, Campbell said, when fish move into shallower water to spawn.
"You can do it anytime, but later in the year it gets tough. Fish get scarce," he said.
There are no regulations governing what type of equipment you have to use. Draw weight is not overly important, Russian said; it's best to shoot a bow you're comfortable with. You'll need an attachment that can hold 30 yards or so of 140- to 400-pound test line, however. YOu also need bowfishing broadheads, most of which have a collar that slides down on contact with a fish to release the blades.
For information on bowfishing equipment, visit www.shureshot.com . For information on the Bowfishing Association of America, visit www.bowfishingassociation.com . And if you want to find about about bowfishing tournaments, visit www.carpbusters.com .
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers not limiting themselves in free agency
- Big names become available this week via free agency; will Steelers be tempted?
- Under Rutherford, it’s been a sizeable shakeup for Penguins
- Blaze rips through Salem house
- Burnett’s farewell tour wishlist has just 1 item: Pirates World Series
- Winnik impresses Penguins in first workout
- ‘Shark Tank’ companies have change of heart
- Penguins’ Kunitz makes a dream come true
- Faithful stand together in Wilkinsburg
- Buffet: Berkshire’s built to last
- More departments in region eye equipping officers with Narcan to treat overdoses