Bowfishermen enjoy plenty of decent opportunities in Illinois and since the Asian carp reached state waters, the opportunities have only grown. Not that it’s a good thing that the Asian carp have infested our waters, but we can take action as bowfishermen to reduce their populations. Many of the bowfishing tournaments in Illinois focus on Asian carp and dropping their numbers, but they can be a lot of fun to shoot. Let’s look at bowfishing in Illinois.
Illinois Bowfishing Laws: What to Know
Before you can bowfish in Illinois, you must obtain a fishing license. While bowfishing has some similarities to hunting, the state considers it fishing. You would put it in the same category as spear fishing.
Some of the fish species legal to bowfish in Illinois include:
- Asian carp
- Gizzard shad
- Common carp
- Bighead carp
- Black carp
Illinois only lets you bowfish in specific state waters designated for bowfishing. I will cover the areas to go bowfishing soon, but you can check it out officially here.
How to Find Bowfishing Tournaments in Illinois
Like in all of the other states, the Illinois Bowfishing Association offers you one of the best places to learn more about the local tournaments. You have some great tournament action in the state that includes:
- Kaskaskia River Rough Fish Roundup Bowfishing Tournament
- Bowfishers Appreciation Tournament
- Annual Director’s Shoot State Bowfishing Championship
- SIC Bowfishing Tournament
- Illinois College Foundation Big 20 Bowfishing Tournament
These tournaments do a fantastic job at reducing invasive carp populations. For example, at the SIC Bowfishing Tournament in 2018, they hauled in 2,213 pounds of invasive carp.
Illinois Bowfishing Records
You can shoot some decent-sized carp in Illinois with the largest grass carp weighing in at 78 pounds, 8 ounces, shot on Lake Minear. The biggest common carp here was 38 pounds. In all honesty, I’ve seen states with bigger state records. For example, you can get grass carp in states like Alabama up to 92 pounds. The common carp is just slightly smaller than some of the biggest elsewhere where they can reach up to 44 pounds on the state record.
The one thing that I do like about Illinois is how you can shoot catfish here. The state record for bowfishing catfish in the state was measured at 30 pounds for a flathead catfish.
Places to Bowfish in Illinois: Where to Go
Let’s look at where you can bowfish in Illinois. Unlike in the neighboring state of Indiana where you can bowfish anywhere, Illinois designates bowfishermen to a specific set of state waters. We will cover each of them and what you might find at each one.
The lakes and rivers in Illinois where you can bowfish include:
- Mississippi River
- Illinois River
- Kaskaskia River
- Embarras River
- Wabash River
- Sangamon River
- Ohio River
- Cache River
Mississippi River: Here, you can find the Asian carp overwhelming in some areas where they overrun the local fish populations. You do have a couple of areas that you can’t bowfish on the Mississippi in Illinois, such as the Upper Mississippi River’s Spring Lake. You also cannot bowfish on the Mark Twain US Fish and Wildlife Refuge Waters or the Quincy Bay Waterfowl Management.
Illinois River: The Illinois River has Asian carp in it as well, and you’d be doing a public service to kill off some of the carp there. You can’t bowfish on Mason County’s Clear Lake one week before and during the duck season in the central zone. With all the regulations, check in advance to see that they haven’t changed them. You can’t bowfish on the US National Fish and Wildlife waters either.
Kaskaskia River: You will see so many silver carp on the Kaskaskia River, and they hold a tournament here called the Kaskaskia River Rough Fish Roundup Bowfishing Tournament. One bowfisherman reported shooting 20 silver carp between 15 and 25 pounds. You can also find a lot of buffalo and common carp here. Don’t come here for the gar since you won’t see many. The bowfin here can reach about 10 pounds, which is a fair size for those who like the fighting action and just 4 pounds short of the state record.
Embarras River: You have a good diversity of fish on the Embarras, and in fact, it boasts itself as one of the most diverse in the state. Channel catfish are one of the most popular species taken here.
Wabash River: The Lower Wabash especially offers an abundance of good bowfishing opportunities in Southern Illinois. You will see plenty of carp and grass carp here. You can find some silver carp on this river, too. In general, the Wabash River has an infamous reputation for its carp problems. In Illinois especially, those who like to target carp won’t see any shortage of opportunities compared to in Indiana where it does have some action, but it doesn’t get as crazy as in Illinois. You may especially want to target the Asian carp since they threaten to overtake the local fish populations.
Sangamon River: Bowfishing carp on the Sangamon has gained popularity in the last few years as the problem has grown with their populations. You will see plenty of gar and carp on the Sangamon. The advantage of the Sangamon compared to bigger rivers like the Mississippi or the Illinois is that you don’t need to fight with barges on the Sangamon.
Ohio River: Not known for having the clearest waters, which make bowfishing more difficult, the Ohio River does offer plenty of carp and other rough fish to target. You will see carp, buffalo and gar in abundance on these waters. There are also drum on the Ohio River in areas.
Cache River: The alligator gar became extinct in Illinois in the 1990s, but in the 2010s, they reintroduced them to the state. One of the waters where they reintroduced them was the Cache River. Bowfishermen enjoy the pursuit of the alligator gar, but I wouldn’t target this species quite as hard as what you might the carp that can threaten to overtake our native fish populations. We want to see the alligator gar make a big return. Become an asset to the state of Illinois by targeting the fish that hurt our waters like Asian carp.
Bowfishing in Illinois has its advantages if you go to the right area, but in truth, I found the state records lacking compared to neighboring states like Michigan or Indiana. You do get some crazy action on certain rivers here due to the Asian carp populations, which can still make bowfishing here a lot of fun.
If I had to make a recommendation for some crazy bowfishing action, I would recommend that you check out the Wabash River, which heats up even more than over in the neighboring state.