By: Nolan Sawatzky, MWF Manager of Conservation Stewardship
Last week, Chase Dreilich and I ventured into unfamiliar territory to attempt bow fishing for Common Carp in the Delta Lake WMA. The Common Carp is one of only two species of fish in Manitoba that is open to bow fishing (the other being the sucker). We had heard of people bow fishing for carp, however neither of us had ever attempted it ourselves. Fortunately, Chase and I already own compound bows for deer hunting, so the only equipment needed was a simple $40 bow fishing kit complete with a reel, line, and fiberglass arrow.
With the equipment acquired we set off to try and catch the tail end of the carp spawning season. Because we were late in the season (last week of June) we needed to check out multiple locations before finally spotting the rippling waters of spawning carp. We had brought with us a rowboat for accessing different areas of the marsh, but strong winds prevented us from using it. Instead, we found the carp in a sheltered area with cattail stretching along the shore. Without knowing exactly what to do I began wading through the water in hip-waders, moving towards the rippling and splashing waters with Chase pointing out any movement from the shore. After wading back and forth for some time (and missing my first shot) I decided that the low angle shooting from standing in the water was not ideal and so I moved back to the shoreline for a better angle.
We could see and hear carp splashing in front of us, however there was rarely an opportunity where the fish was clearly visible long enough to take the shot. After drawing the bow back on several occasions without taking a shot, we were beginning to wonder if another spot would provide an easier line of sight. As we began to pack up, we heard a splash which sounded considerably close to the shore. I immediately stopped packing and picked up the bow. When I arrived on the bank of the creek, I could clearly see a carp at the surface of the water. After already seeing many disappear into the cattails, I knew there was no time to hesitate, I drew the bow and aimed low. This time I did not miss.
I’d say that the number one take away from our trip out to Delta Marsh WMA was just how easy and fun the sport of bow fishing is to try! Even though we missed the peak spawning activity we were still able to find carp spawning in the cattails at the second location. Part of the reason it was so fun is that it felt we were hunting, rather than fishing, stalking the fish. I personally can struggle with the idleness of conventional fishing, whereas this was a totally immersive experience. For anyone who already owns a bow, a simple $40 bow fishing kit is all that is needed for potentially endless amounts of action!
History of the Common Carp
Native to Asia and parts of Europe, Common Carp were introduced to the freshwaters of North America for food and ornamental purposes, appearing in Manitoba in 1886. By 1954 however, the rapidly growing populations were considered a nuisance to commercial fishers, and they are currently regarded as a pest species. As is the case with most invasive species, a lack of natural competition and predators, combined with the carp’s natural ability to survive and reproduce, has resulted in a massive over population issue. Carp up-root vegetation, making the water turbid, ultimately reducing/damaging marsh habitat for native species such as waterfowl.
On Lake Manitoba, this damage was so serious that in 2013, Ducks Unlimited, working with the province, constructed massive structures across all the Delta Marsh access points and installed large screens, acting as a giant carp sieve to keep the marsh habitat from being damaged further. Every year during the spring spawning season, it is at these gates where a pile up of hundreds of carp can be observed trying to make their way into the marsh from Lake Manitoba.
Time of year
As for bow fishing, the best time of year to target the Common Carp is during the months of May and June. As the waters warm in the beginning of May they can be seen in the hundreds piling into the carp screens in Delta Marsh WMA. While the primary spawning activity is during this two-month window, the peak activity is towards the end of May/beginning of June. When we went on the last week of June, carp could still be found in and amongst the cattails but the piling up of carp at the exclusion structures could no longer be seen.
Wildlife Management Areas such as the Delta Marsh WMA provide hunters and anglers with incredible opportunities to harvest wildlife species. Using a non-motorized boat in the WMA is an easy way to access amazing habitat for hunting and fishing!
While the Common Carp may not have the best reputation for eating, historically that was not always the case. Check out this great video produced by Steven Rinella and Spencer Neuharth in which they not only cover various ways and methods of cooking the common carp, but they also go into its history and discuss how the carp was as one point a fish eaten exclusively by nobility. Besides these methods (and various other recipes found online) on how to clean and cook it, carp can be used for fertilizers as well as various other functions.