Let me begin by saying emphatically that I am not calling for the complete eradication of common carp. Even though they are an invasive exotic species, they have been here a long time and are a fixture in our waterways. Not only that, they are a blast to bowfish for! They are one of the strongest fish to fight on conventional gear and a superior opponent on fly gear. If you ever want a lesson in frustration, target a common carp on fly gear - it will humble you for sure.
I bowfish for a number of reasons: it is fun, it hones my skills, some of the fish are good to eat, and it helps control populations. One of the biggest arguments I hear is about killing something that I don’t eat. Well, I kill roaches, rats, mice, spiders, ants, and coyotes, and don’t eat them. That is where I draw the line. I do eat some of the fish I kill though, but not all. Best I can tell you is you draw your line I will draw mine. Nothing goes to waste in the wild though and even those that I don’t eat are used for a purpose. For me, carp are fertilizer; I put them in my food plots, and turn them into fresh deer meat in October.
Some species of carp are good to eat, and even common carp are eaten by some folks. I willingly supply anyone who wants it with fresh meat. Other repurposing of carp includes feed for hog or alligator farmers, free food for raptor recovery centers, bait for nuisance trappers, or even donated to community centers if they want them. The main thing is to not litter the waterways with them, or dump them at the ramp. This gives bowfishers a black eye in the angling community.
I can testify that gar is excellent eating. They are difficult to clean, but worth the effort. A set of tin snips will help to open the scales, and then you remove the “backstrap” much like a deer. It is boneless, pure white meat. The texture is more like lobster than fish, but it holds up well for grilling, steaming, or frying. Being a southern boy, frying is of course my favorite.
Suckers are another great fish for frying but they take special preparation. You need to know how to score the meat so the bones fry away in the process. For saltwater species, rays will surprise most folks with how good they taste. The first one we ate opened our eyes, and they are now welcome on my menu anytime. I am not a mullet fan, but I have friends that will fight you over smoked or fried mullet.
Another reason for bowfishing is the one folks get all up in arms about - numbers control. Carp are sexually mature in their first year, can spawn several times a year, and lay up to two million eggs at a time. Once they grow over three pounds or so, the only predators they have are man and alligators. In unchecked numbers, carp are detrimental to any waterway. The way they feed - by rooting in the mud and blowing the unwanted material out of their mouths - silts up the water. This causes multiple issues, including starving game fish eggs of oxygen and causing the death of beneficial aquatic plants. They are even linked to a decrease in waterfowl because of the death of the pond grasses and out competing for aquatic insects and invertebrates the ducks need for food. This is backed up by countless DNR studies, and is easily researched.
My own "greatest" experience with this was a neighborhood lake of about ten acres that I fished as a kid. It was lush with grass and lily pads lining the bank and I caught some awesome fish in those weeds. topped by a 24” and a 25” largemouth. The neighborhood wanted to reduce the weeds to make the lake “prettier” and stocked it with supposedly sterile grass carp. The few grass carp turned into many grass carp and reduced the lake to a muddy, grassless dead sea.
Carp are here to stay. They are one of the most successful invasive species of all time. They started out as a small introduced population, and now every state except Alaska has a growing population of carp. As stated earlier, I am in no way advocating the complete removal of the species. I see myself as one that helps to keep their numbers in check, one flopping carp at a time.
I love to bowfish, and seeing that arrow leave the bow and strike the target is beautiful to me. When the arrow rips across the surface with a screaming drag behind it and nearly pulls you out of the boat, you will be hooked for life. It is a great way to spend time on the water and learn about the critters we are surrounded with.
I hope these segments have been helpful to you. Get your gear ready - the redbuds and dogwoods will be blooming before you know it!