By Andy Mannix
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Pushing for most of those requirements were the bowfishers themselves. They wanted to avoid the pitfalls of the past. Their hope was that the requirements would help the sport gain acceptance and grow.
Their biggest ally may be their quarry: the carp. An invasive species, the carp is a plague on the state, responsible for millions of dollars of damage to the ecosystem. It is also indomitable—no one has found a very reliable way to kill it.
"Bowfishing is one effective tool for helping with the carp problem," says Chaudhary. "They are paying us to help instead of us paying to eradicate a non-native species. Legislators saw it as a complete win-win."
"AW, MAN!" says Petschl. "You missed it! Went right over thetop of his head. Like I told you before, you really need to aim low."
He revs the trolling motor and the front of the boat lurches forward with a whir. A tug at the line reveals a clean shot that pierced several inches of mud.
Petschl say he doesn't even really aim, because the light refraction of the water tricks your vision. It's not like archery or bow hunting. It's all feeling. All reaction.
"I kinda just shoot," he says. "Hard to explain. But everyone gets it after a while. They call the style 'instinctive shooting.'"
Petschl continues to patrol the shoreline. He tells stories about a big fish he once reeled in on Coon Lake—trophy-size, it took two hands to hold up. But it has been two years since he's picked up a pole. Bowfishing is too much fun.
"All my girlfriends left me during hunting season," he says without resignation.
Petschl pilots the boat toward a row of lakefront homes. Up ahead, a woman in capris and a V-neck stares at him from her lawn. She strides to the far end of her dock. Petschl sees her and aims the boat in her direction.
She politely asks what exactly he's doing.
"We're just out fishing," says Petschl.
"With a bow?"
"Yep. Bowfishing. This water around here is full of carp."
"Yep. A month or so ago I shot a couple big ones right off the front of your dock."
"Well, in that case, please make sure to shoot every last one of them," the homeowner says. "And while you're out there, could you chop up the milfoil?"
"We'll try," Petschl says with a laugh.
"Have a good day then, and good luck."
She turns and walks back off the dock. Petschl says that such conversations are commonplace. People are a little nervous when they see guys with bows out on the water in front of their homes, but when they realize the goal is to harvest carp, they ease up.
If there were ever a fish Minnesotans wanted shot to death with arrows, it's the carp.
Hailing from the Caspian Sea, carp quickly spread through ancient Europe with an assist from the Romans, who considered it nature's portable protein. The fish were prized for their rapid growth cycles and reproductive ability. Young carp grow about 1 to 3 pounds per year and can live past age 50. A female carp produces close to 300,000 eggs per spawn.
"They are really unlike most other fish species," says University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation biology professor Peter Sorenson. "Rarely do any animals with a long life cycle produce such high amount of offspring. It's one of many factors contributing to their dominance in our lake systems."
In a ground-floor laboratory at Hodson Hall, Sorenson and a team of researchers are trying to understand the effects carp have on the local ecosystem, ways to control them, and their basic biology. A Montana-born man with a soft New Jersey accent, who favors khaki pants and white Nike walking shoes covered in lake scum, Sorenson looks more like a friendly uncle who collects duck stamps than someone with the nickname his researchers gave him: "The General."
The General is waging a campaign to understand and hopefully reverse a mistake made by the state of Minnesota nearly 135 years ago.
In 1874, Minnesota set up its own fish commission with the goal of engineering a better aquatic ecosystem than nature could supply. With the rapid growth of the Northern Pacific Railroad line, it was hoped that sport fishing would lure tourists to local waters.
According to a Minnesota Historical Society paper by Steven R. Hoffbeck, the first attempts to stock local lakes consisted of 80,000 hearing shad, followed by Atlantic, landlocked, and Pacific salmon. The majority of the salmon died within the first year.
While other fish, like brook and rainbow trout, flourished in streams, scientists of the era were most excited about carp. They hailed the fish's desirable traits, like climate adaptability. Like the Romans before, the U.S. government saw the fish as a cheap source of protein that could feed the growing population. The New York Times published an article praising carp, noting how they could withstand sewage and tolerate water with low oxygen levels.
In 1882, the Minnesota fish commission finally got hold of 69 precious carp. The fish were immediately introduced to shallow lakes mostly populated with buffalo fish and suckers. Two years later, the commission stocked an additional 9,000 carp in 90 different spots around the state.
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