SILVER CARP BOWFISHING ON THE ILLINOIS RIVER
Everyone has heard about the newest invasive invaders
to our waters, the Asian Carp. Nothing has threatened
to change the aquatic habitat like this since the
Common Carp invasion back in the early 1900s.
Unfortunately there is not much that can be done about
it . If you havent seen them in the Illinois River yet
you really need to get out there to understand how
many fish we are talking about. Wildlife biologists
have said it is safe to say there are literally
millions of them in the river. Millions of fish that
will quickly take the place of native fish like the
bigmouth buffalo as their numbers continue to
(A good day of hunting Silver carp)
But as bad as the situation is these fish are great
bowfishing targets. They do not have the strong flavor
of the common carp and are very good on the table. And
they provide exciting bowfishing action as they propel
themselves from the water offering bowfishings version
of skeet shooting. In this column we will try to
describe how, when and where to bowfish for these
invaders. Lets start with where.
Anywhere in the Illinois river downstream from the
Starved Rock SP dam is where the fish are. We will
concentrate on the section of river between the dam
and Peru Illinois this column and look at Peru to
Peoria later. So lets take a trip downstream from
Starved Rock SP boat ramps and point out some of our
(A few good sized silvers)
Anywhere there is a break in the current you will find
fish, and just down stream of bridge pilings are
always good. As we leave the boat ramp at Starved
Rock, we quickly go under the Utica Bridge. Heading
down stream to our left just past the bridge is a
great place for silvers. A school of thousands can be
found there, and are actually close enough to the
shore for shore bowfishing.
Traveling downstream again we see several grain
loading docks to our right. These docks offer some
fantastic bowfishing for silver carp as well as huge
bighead and grass carp. And just down stream from the
last couple docks are large schools of silver carp.
We now motor down stream a bit until we find the
Vermillion River on our left. On the left, just
upstream of the Vermillion you find a very large flat
between the red channel markers. This area is one of
the best on the river for numbers of silver carp.
Across the river opposite the Vermillion is another
large flat where huge schools of silvers along with
some very large bigheads can be found.
The vermillion itself holds few silver carp when
compared to the rest of the Illinois but is worth
checking out for some good bighead and grass carp.
As we continue down river we pass the next bridge. On
both sides of the river there are flats full of fish.
Be careful though as there also are some sand bars
that sneak up on you very quick if your not watching
A bit further downstream you will pass under an old
railroad bridge with old block pilings. On the left
side of the river just past the bridge is a very good
spot, but again, be careful of the large shallow sand
Continuing downstream we get closer to Peru. Before
the town, always check the shoreline around the boat
docks on your left as some big schools have been found
there. As we get into Peru dont forget to check the
rip rap near the town on your right.
There also is a creek opposite the rip rap near the
Peru boat ramps that holds many fish if you can get up
That is one of the best areas to bowfish on the river.
From Peru to the Vermillion it is about 10 miles, and
about 14 from Starved Rock to the Vermillion.
How do you bowfish Asian Carp? Three ways. the first
two utilize your boats main motor and the third uses
your trolling motor. The main thing you are trying to
do is get the fish to jump or swim just below the
surface as you motor thru the water. Its hard to see
very deep in the Illinois during the daytime hours so
here is where we try and get them to jump. As you head
into the areas holding fish, minding the waters depth,
tilt your motor down as far as you can. Now start
moving the boat. Vary the speed and RPM of the motor.
Soon you will find the exact RPM for your boat that
makes them jump. When we bowfish during the daytime
hours we generally have two people shoot off the back
as the boat operator drives thru the area. Again, mind
the depth so you dont damage your motor. 3-5 ft of
water will be perfect.
At night its a whole different ball game. You
obviously need some lights on your boat at night. D/C
or A/C operated off a generator both work. Here we
enter the areas holding fish with the motor tilted up
as far as it will safely run. Again one person drives
the boat but here we generally shoot off the front of
the boat. Vary the motors speed and RPM until the fish
can be seen swimming along side the boat. They act
similar to the shad Im sure everyone has all seen at
night. You will get many shots at fish swimming along
side the boat as well as the jumpers you are sure to
encounter. Again be careful as you will at times find
yourself in the middle of several hundred flying fish.
Flying fish that weigh up to 30lbs! They do hurt at
times. Try to get as shallow as you can and keep watch
ahead of the boat for wakes as fish flee from the
And trolling is another way to bowfish silvers and
bigheads. This is the best way to work the Vermillion
and the grain docks. Troll slowly to find feeding
bighead carp near the surface as well as grass carp.
Some very big fish will be harvested where the chaff
blows off the grain docks into the water.
When? The best months are June thru August. But we
have taken fish as early as March and as late as
November. But generally hot humid nights are the best
time. A large Grass Carp spawn also occurs in June.
High waters caused by storms are the worst thing for
Asian Carp bowfishing. Be it the stronger current or
the introduction of cold water, an area that was full
of fish one day will be empty after a large rain
These are just a few pointers on Asian carp
bowfishing. There are many more areas where fish can
be found and other ways to do it. But hopefully this
will give anyone wanting to try the fast action sport
of Flying Carp Bowfishing this coming season a start.