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 increase.
(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 best spots.
(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 for them.
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 bar there.
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 into it.
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 boat.
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 event.
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.