Illinois Bowfishing Tournament Characterization

A study that was conducted in our lab was to determine angler fishing effort, harvest composition and harvest rates at bowfishing tournaments, as well as to characterize bow angler favored target species and fishing habits. The objective was to determine what effect bowfishing may have on fish populations.

Creel surveys at bowfishing tournaments in Illinois have revealed that harvest is largely dominated by invasive carp species and native fishes comprise a much smaller percentage of total harvest than anticipated.

Targeted Species for Bow Anglers

The popularity of certain species among competitive bow anglers is likely influenced by fish body morphology as well as the community composition and the relative abundance of populations within the watershed where bowfishing activities occurs. For instance, large-bodied species, such as carps and suckers, may be valued for their weight in the context of tournament contests that reward biomass measures of harvest. Indeed, carps dominated harvest composition at bowfishing tournaments in Illinois (84%), and 91% of tournament bow anglers reported carp among their three favorite bowfishing targets.

However, gars were also in the top favorite target species for 58% of bow anglers, suggesting there is a substantial interest for a gar fishery in the state. Although the number of gars harvested at tournaments was low, they were substantially larger than gars sampled in our long term mark-recapture study. Female gars tend to reach sexual maturity later than and grow larger than males, and fecundity typically increases with size, so competitive bow anglers may disproportionately remove fecund females from the population. Therefore, gars have the potential to be susceptible to overfishing if large fish are harvested in high numbers, which is important information for managers.