Dennis Anderson
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Amid Tuesday evening's gloom, when most Minnesota anglers were winching their boats onto trailers, Patrick Kirschbaum and Carl Sassen were just launching theirs. A specially built, wartime-looking craft, their boat is constructed for nighttime stalking in shallow water, with a high deck in front and flood lamps to three sides.

Kirschbaum, 35, and Sassen, 29, are bowfishermen, the only sure-fire defense against carp Minnesota has. Or may ever have. On a good night, while most people are asleep, they will arrow as many as 100 common carp, some weighing 40 pounds and more.

"My biggest weighed 46¼ pounds," Kirschbaum said.

Working men, the two would report to their jobs at 6 a.m. Wednesday. But they wouldn't sleep much in the hours before. In some homes that circle Little Green Lake in Chisago County, Jay Leno's show flickered on about 10:30 Tuesday night as Kirschbaum and Sassen hurled some of their first arrows of the outing.

There, Kirschbaum said, pointing to a finned, bulbous figure scurrying away from the boat in about 2 feet of water.

The fish's presence had been revealed by the boat's high pressure sodium flood lamps. Rigged beneath the deck on which Kirschbaum and Sassen perched, the lamps illuminated the pair like rock stars on a stage.

But these were deadly bows they held, not Fender Broadcasters.

Shooting instinctively -- without sights -- Sassen quickly calculated the degree of illusion created by light refracting in the water, and loosed an arrow, aiming well below where the big fish appeared to be.


Slicing into the depths and trailing a string attached to it, the arrow flew true to its target. Momentarily, its nock quivered, or "danced," above the water's surface before disappearing in a cloud of muddied bottom, and trailing a tsunami-like wake.

"That's a big one," Sassen said, winding the mini monster toward the boat with a special reel attached to his bow.

Dumped into a large tub amidships in the 18-foot-long aluminum boat, the 25-pound fish sounded its arrival: Thump.

A past president of the Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association, a group of about 200 members formed in 2005, Kirschbaum has been at the forefront of a movement to increase fishing opportunities in Minnesota for those who prefer to angle with a bow and arrow, rather than a rod.

In 2009, the Legislature allowed night bowfishing largely statewide, provided that boats with their bright lights stay at least 150 feet from homes and cabins and 300 feet from campsites. The sound of a bowfishing boat's generator, which powers the big lights, also is restricted.

"Bowfishing is a lot more fun at night, and more productive," Kirschbaum said. "You can see the fish better than in daytime."

But not only fish. Tuesday night, Little Green Lake appeared an aquarium full of creatures before the bright lights of Kirschbaum and Sassen's shallows-marauding watercraft.

Snapper turtles the size of manhole covers waddled on the lake bottom. A beaver swam not far away. A raccoon's eyes lit up a homeowner's dock. A northern pike swam here. A bass there. Sunnies were everywhere.

"Rough" fish other than carp also are legal targets for bowfishing in Minnesota, among them bullheads, suckers and redhorse.

Of these, only carp were visible in Little Green on Tuesday night.

"Here," Kirschbaum said, handing me a recurve bow. "Give it a try."

No sights are used in bowfishing because shot opportunities come and go quickly. So archers accustomed only to the exacting pinpoint sights deployed on modern compound bows are a bit like fish out of water when first shooting "instinctively" -- meaning, drawing back, intuiting a sight picture, and letting 'er rip.

There. There.

This was Kirschbaum, with his seasoned eye for shadowy creatures, imploring me to get with the carp-shooting program.

I hesitated. He didn't. Thwack. Another carp in the tub.

First brought to Minnesota in the late 1800s from England, common carp were initially ballyhooed as tasty table fare and feisty sport fish. Instead they proliferated wildly and proved disastrous to aquatic ecosystems, stirring up lake and river bottoms with their grotesque snouts and preventing sunshine from encouraging the aquatic plants favored by ducks and other wetland wildlife, and game fish.

Thus the carp's fiendish apparition.

Ten shots came and went. Then I stuck a carp. The night was cool by then, and the day's strong breezes hadn't really let up. Again and again and again I missed. Then I connected a second time. And, soon, a third.

Pulled ahead by a bow-mounted electric trolling motor, we prowled into the night, our bright lights creating a watery show like no other.

Before Kirschbaum or Sassen would sleep, a hole would be dug in a field to bury the 20-odd carp we would lay into, their once lofty headliner status reduced to farmland fertilizer.

But hole digging could wait. The evening was young, the lights still bright and the generator humming. Somewhere up ahead, surely, swam another carp.

Dennis Anderson •