2013-08-15 / Local & State

Bow Fishing Gaining In Popularity

By Justin Joiner

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) – As Wylin Baker pulled up to the Oahe Dam stilling basin in his old silver Chevy, the sun was peeking out from behind a large cumulus cloud forming on the northwest horizon.

It had to be one of the nicest days to have a bad day fishing. But fortunately when he is bow fishing, the hunt is almost as fun as the catch.

Bow fishing involves modifying a bow with special equipment that allows anglers to shoot a fish and then reel the fish in along with the arrow.

Although the sport isn’t new – some bow fishers have been at it for many years – it is becoming more mainstream, said Geno Adams, a fisheries program administrator with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

The boost in interest is partly due to its exposure in the media, such as outdoor programs and in magazines.

“There’s some really hardcore bow fisherman in the state of South Dakota that take it pretty seriously,’’ he said.

Baker said bow fishing for him is more fun than pole fishing.

“There is a lot more sport to it, I think,’’ Baker said as he drew his 60-pound compound bow back.

He held it steady for just a second as he sighted his target – a small black shadow, maybe a foot below the smooth surface of the water.

Then he let it fly, but it’s a miss.

“That one is going out to sea,’’ he joked.

Even if the fish is nearly at the surface, the shots are never easy due to the water’s refraction.

“You have to shoot below the fish,’’ Baker said.

The water creates an optical illusion for the angler making the fish appear above where it actually is swimming. To compensate, bow fishers have to figure out how low to aim by taking into account the depth of and distance to the fish.

Even some of Baker’s friends who regularly bow hunt struggle to hit the fish.

He is relatively new to the sport. Baker started out during the 2011 flood with his father’s old recurve bow after going out on a few fish hunts with his friends.

Last year was his first time using a compound bow and it is noticeably better than the recurve.

“That only had about a 20- pound draw on it instead of 60,’’ he said.

Those 40 pounds make a difference.

“It makes a big difference,’’ Baker laughed.

While Baker does most of his bow fishing from the shore, Adams said there are a number of people who shoot fish from boats.

There are even boats specially equipped for bow fishing, he said.

There are restrictions on bow fishing in South Dakota. Rough fish can be taken 24 hours a day, while game fish require an extra permit and can only be shot from sunrise to sunset June 15 through March 15. There are additional restrictions on where people are allowed to shoot and more information can be found in the South Dakota fishing regulations.

Those restrictions are looser than in some states, which don’t allow bow fishing of game fish at all, Adams said.

The types of fish taken down by bow fishers vary, but one unique target is the silver carp, also known as the flying fish. A new contingency of anglers is forming that looks to nail the silver carp mid-jump.

“There are some people who try to bow fish those out of the back of a boat while those things are jumping out of the water,’’ Adams said.

Adams said just like with pole fishers, bow fishing has its good and bad days.

“There are times when you do really well and times when it is tougher,’’ he said.

Although Baker’s few hours at the stilling basin had only netted one fish, most days are fairly successful.

Baker said he will shoot on average 10 fish in a day with some of his biggest trophies being a 24- pound carp and a 19-pound northern pike.

Baker didn’t walk away empty handed. He sent a picture of a large carp to the Capital Journal proving luck swung his way later in the day.

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