You can’t blame the fish this time.
Typically, a fish that is captured by a sportsman or sportswoman has nobody to blame but itself. That lure was just way too tempting. Restraint little fish. Restraint.
But at an event in Henry last Saturday, the fish could fully blame whatever genius came up with the bow and arrow. Twenty-five people descended on the little town right by the Illinois River and a chain of corresponding lakes and creeks to bowfish, a sport in which fish are caught by archery.
As strange as it may sound to the legions out there with rod, string and lure, it turns out that the best way to capture the carp that fill the Illinois River is to shoot them with a bow and arrow. The arrow is connected to a tube filled with string and the hunters reel in the fish after piercing it through. Then fish filets for all.
“I see it as becoming much more popular when more people realize how many bighead carp and Asian carp are out there,” says Christine Appleberg, the president of the 150-member strong Illinois State Bowfishers. “They’re big fish and they’re hard to catch on hook and line, but people can go after them with a bow and arrow. I think more people are taking advantage of that.”
Frank Frantz Sr. of Crystal Lake, Ill., and Frank Frantz Jr. of Wonder Lake, Ill., were certainly trying to take advantage of that last weekend in Henry. The two one-year veterans of the sport enlisted the help of Henry native Bill Buser to guide them and their small boat to the best places to fish.
Buser takes them to Sandy Creek, a waterway right off the Illinois River with crystal-clear water perfect for spotting carp.
If there are any carp to spot, that is.
While a few silver carp dart past the boat, the son, 27, and dad, 49, don’t have too many chances to shoot from the top of their platform that is rigged up at the front of the boat.
“It was like they were little sharks,” Frantz Sr. says of the carp.
Another one passes by. Frantz Jr. takes a shot at it and insists that he grazed the carp. Frantz Sr. isn’t too sure.
“If he’s still there, I’m gonna get him,” Frantz Jr. says.
“You’re aren’t gonna get him,” Frantz Sr. says.
Franz Sr. was right. In fact, neither one of them catches a fish on that particular trip. On the way back, the group passes a trio of bowfishers. One of them spears a fish through with a nice shot, but the fish falls off the arrow as he attempts to drag it back into the boat. Another fish story.
“Did you see how exciting it was even though we didn’t actually get anything? Frantz Sr asks. “You get wrapped up in it.”
“If you’ve never tried it, you would think that’s like nothing,” Frantz Jr says. “But it’s hard. It’s challenging. You only have a second to make a shot. You can’t think about aiming a lot of times.”
Both men are wearing sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses are an essential to the sport because they help cut down the glare on the water and enable the bowfisher to see more the carp more accurately. The only other things needed for bowfishing are a bow and a boat.
“You can got out and buy a compound bow for $800 or something,” Frantz Sr. says. “I went on the Internet and got a couple of recurves for my son and I don’t think I paid more than $300 total.”
The largest fish Frantz has ever caught bowfishing was a 27-pounder in a tournament last year, his first year as a bowfisher.
“A friend of mine told me that since I like hunting that I ought to pick it up and try it,” Frantz Sr. says. “So one day we went out in his boat, he gave me a bow and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
In all, about 25 people turned up in Henry last weekend at the event put together by Tom Davis, the tourism chairman of the Henry Area Chamber of Commerce. Five of the people were from the area and new to the sport.
“I happened to run into a guy who said they were looking for a place on the Illinois River to shoot, and I said I have just the place,” Davis says.
“He’s trying to get people to come down here so he got this little thing together,” Appleberg says. “We’re having a fish fry later.”
This part of the river is ideal for bowfishing because of the amount of carp in the area.
While weather conditions last weekend prevented a multitude of fish from being caught, the Frantz’s guide Buser says the night before was more successful.
“Last night was a lot more exciting than today,” Buser says after he helped Frantz Sr. dock his boat. “There were a lot more fish to shoot at. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I bet we shot 100 times.”
The 29-year-old first-time bowfisher only caught one fish out of his 100 shots in his initial experience.
“The gentleman that took us out was real nice, though,” Buser says. “He let us use all his gear and his boat and he didn’t even shoot. He just let us shoot. So it was three guys shooting who had never done it before. We had fun, though. We had a real good time.”
Such a good time that Buser is now a convert.
“This is my boat here,” Buser says pointing toward a medium-sized boat behind his truck. “I’m going to rig it up to go bowfishing.”
The Illinois State Bowfishers started up last summer and has seen its numbers go up in its short existence.
It participates in events like the one at Henry to increase public awareness of the sport and to meet other bowfishers.
“I think there’s always been a whole bunch of people doing it,” says Ed De Vries, director of public relations for the organization. “But now we’re just getting them all together, having some of these shoots like this, coming down to a real nice area. This is the perfect area for it with the silver carp and all the big backwaters. This is a perfect bowfishing area. There’s a lot of people from Wisconsin who will come down in the summer just to go after these silver carp. You can take a fish that’s actually dangerous and bad to the environment and make something good out of it.”
“It’s one way to try and control Asian carp,” Davis says. “But it’s just a drop in the bucket.”
De Vries, 46 of Yorkville, has been bowfishing for almost 24 years. He goes out every weekend — as long as the weather is good — and sometimes during the week.
“It’s just relaxing,” De Vries says. “It’s the combination of boating, which is a great, relaxing thing to do, and archery, which is one of my favorite things to do. All season long I’ll shoot five days out of seven; I’ll shoot 50-100 arrows. I really enjoy the two sports and it puts them together. You just really have a good time doing it.”
For those interested in bowfishing, the organization’s Web site is at http://www.illinoisstatebowfishers.com.
“Everybody should give it a try,” De Vries says. “Get out there and if you enjoy shooting a bow and arrow, go out and try this. You won’t regret it. It’s a lot of fun.”
And there’s plenty of carp in this area as well.
As a waitress at the Landing, a restaurant right outside the Henry docks, said:
“There’s Asian carp that will jump in your boat.”
But in that case, it’s their own fault.