Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, offers ample bowfishing opportunities. I often heard about the sport of bowfishing here growing up, and it remains quite popular even today. Beware of where you bowfish in some areas because some places have ordinances against bow discharge. Minnetonka, MN, for example, encompasses 10 cities, but each of them has its own ordinances about bow discharge. The bowfishing laws and regulations in Minnesota can be a bit of a gray area.
Do You Need a License to Bowfish in Minnesota?
Minnesota just requires that you buy a fishing license since they classify it the same as fishing. All Minnesota residents from the ages of 16 to 89 must present a valid fishing license upon request from the DNR.
Non-residents under the age of 15 don’t require a fishing license, but those over the age of 16 must present a Minnesota fishing license. Those in the state for only a short time might lower the cost with a day pass. Check out the prices of a Minnesota fishing license here. You can also look at the different types of fishing licenses. One is offered for a lifetime.
Bowfishing Regulations in Minnesota
You can only bowfish for the rough fish in Minnesota, and while most of the rough fish have no limits, you do have a couple to be aware of:
- Gar limit of 10
- Bullheads limit of 100
- Redhorse limit of 50
- Sucker limit of 50
You can shoot an unlimited number of the other rough fish. Like in many of the other states, bowfishing falls in a legal gray area at times where even the DNR doesn’t always appear to know the law. Keeping a guidebook handy can give you some credence if a DNR official gives you trouble.
Bowfishing Season in Minnesota
Unlike in some of the other states, bowfishing season is not year-round. The season for bowfishing runs from the last Saturday in April through to the last Sunday in February. The early season is typically when the carp spawn, which I wrote about here. I would recommend that you check this each year since the season has changed from one year to the next over time.
In some places, they run an early bowfishing season for those diehard bowfishermen, which allows you to bowfish from February 28th to April 29th. You can only bowfish south of Highway 210 on the lakes for the early season. You can bowfish on the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers south of Highway 210.
During the early season, you must bowfish from a boat. You can only take carp, buffalo, bowfin and drum with no limits in the early season. Gar used to be no limits, but they put a new limit on them in February 2023. You can also take redhorse and sucker, but they limit you to 50 for each species.
Practice Good Bowfishing Etiquette
Unfortunately, bowfishing occasionally gets a bad reputation because of bowfishermen who act irresponsibly. When you bowfish, remember that you represent the sport. We don’t want to see bowfishing in Minnesota get more regulated and restricted because it becomes a nuisance to local residents. Check out the do NOT list below on proper bowfishing etiquette.
Good Bowfishing Etiquette: Do NOT Do These Things
- Do NOT flash your bowfishing lights into home windows late at night
- Do NOT leave garbage and discarded fish on the shore
- Do NOT trespass on private property
- Do NOT shoot toward houses if you can help it
- NEVER shoot near other boats
- NEVER shoot in swimming or diving areas
A lot of this sounds like common sense, but I highlight it because some bowfishermen forget to follow these practices, and it can lead to an overall bad image for the sport. If someone complains, simply move on rather than argue. Go out of your way to avoid a confrontation that could give people reasons to hate the sport.
Up until 2010, you couldn’t bowfish at night in Minnesota because they restricted the bowfishing lights. We want to be able to bowfish, but we also must act responsibly so that it doesn’t get restricted again and doesn’t annoy others. Even some fishermen surprisingly dislike bowfishermen, which seems ridiculous. However, you have some people in the sport who have given it a bad name by behaving poorly.
Don’t dump fish up near the landing after a shooting session since they will rot and stink up the landing for everyone. It makes the boat launch less pleasant and puts a negative spotlight on us. People can tell it was a bowfisherman because of the arrow wounds.
Killing Invasive Species: Good Stewardship of Minnesota Waters
We have invasive species in the state that threaten to overtake our waters. Bowfishing targets the carp specifically to cut down on their numbers and keep them from overtaking our local populations. Although, I often shoot whatever I see in the water as long as it’s a rough fish. Even though bowfishermen cut down on the carp population, even that has proven difficult in ridding us of these species.
In case you don’t know what to do with carp after you have shot them, I wrote an article here on what to do with carp. Many don’t like the taste of carp, and the fish, unfortunately, go to waste. However, they make good compost for the garden, and if you know a trapper, you can sometimes sell them for bait and make a side income from something that you love doing.
Great Minnesota Bowfishing Lakes
With a large number of choices in the state, you have no shortage of lakes to bowfish in Minnesota.
I’ve outlined the best lakes to bowfish on below in the state, but keep in mind that you have a big list of lakes to bowfish on:
- Any of the Chisago area lakes
- Rice Lake
- Buffalo Lake
- Wells Lake
- Lake Ossawinnamakee
- Big Pine
- Little Rabbit Lake
- Wymer Lake
- Coon Lake
- Mississippi Winona Tournament
Any of the Chisago Area Lakes
Chisago takes its name from the Chippewa Indian word, Ki-Chi-Saga, which means, “Fair and lovely lakes.” Chisago County, MN has over 19 lakes. You can find a lot of rough fish in the lake, making it the perfect bowfishing spot.
Since 2009, the Chisago Lakes Lions Club has hosted a bowfishing tournament here to decrease the invasive carp populations. The tournament continues to grow each year. This area sits to the north of the Twin Cities. You can compete or come for the simple camaraderie.
Rice Lake hosts a bowfishing tournament as well. This year in 2022, they bagged over 250 carp. The Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association holds the event each year, and while I would recommend checking the date, they held it on May 8th this year. The event helps youths from ages 11 to 18 learn how to bowfish. Many don’t have the chance since their parents don’t bowfish.
Some of the other targets that you can find on this lake include bullheads, bowfin and other fish species.
Buffalo Lake offers tons of carp swimming around, and you can find them swimming in the shallows like crazy. The lake sits about 30 minutes from Maple Grove, MN, and 1.1 miles from Buffalo, MN. You can access the lake from three boat launches. During the evenings, you can spot a lot of carp in the center flats.
Other fish that you can bowfish here include bowfin, bullheads and suckers. If you’d like to learn about bowfin in the state, check out this guide that I wrote here on them.
Located in Rice County, MN, this 677-acre lake reaches 4 feet at its deepest point. As you can imagine, that makes it the perfect bowfishing lake since most bowfishing happens in water between 3 and 4 feet deep. Too much deeper than that and the arrow won’t penetrate correctly, getting misdirected in the water.
I hope you appreciate my efforts to spell that one correctly. Close to Breezy Point, MN, Lake Ossawinnamakee covers 691 acres. You can get up to 20-pound carp on this lake. Find the right area, and you will encounter tons of redhorse. Many people come here to bowfish during the opener, but they leave after for greener pastures.
Check out Farmer’s Bay if you wish to know where to look for fish. Many of the carp here are, in fact, bigmouth buffalo. You can shoot some huge bigmouth buffalo on this lake. Clear Lake is another lake tied to Lake Ossawinnamakee, and you can go bowfishing there as well.
Check the rushes near the dam on Big Pine Lake since you will see tons of carp spawning here come the beginning part of June to mid-June. They love to congregate in the rushes next to the dam. To get access to this lake, you need to pull the boat to the north end since it has no public access or parking. You will see plenty of gar on this lake too.
Little Rabbit Lake
30 feet at its deepest point, Little Rabbit Lake sits in Crow Wing County, MN. You can shoot a variety of fish here including carp, bowfin, buffalo, redhorse, white sucker, brown bullhead and yellow bullhead. This small lake only covers 172 acres.
Wymer Lake has a little boat access that has plenty of carp in the area. Located close to Frazee, this has become a lake favorite in the area. The lake is clean, and it offers up beautiful shorelines. Be aware of how Wymer Lake is a private lake with no public access. If you want to bowfish here, you will need to ask around.
Located in East Bethel, some bowfishermen have talked about going to Coon Lake. They named it Coon Lake because it had become a popular hunting ground for coons. It consists of two major river basins and covers 1,250 acres.
Some of the popular bowfishing targets on Coon Lake include:
- White sucker
- Black bullhead
- Yellow bullhead
- Brown bullhead
Mississippi Tournament in Winona
Located right next to the Wisconsin border, Winona hosts a bowfishing tournament on the Mississippi. To give you an idea of the size, they shot roughly 6,200 fish at the last tournament. This is a BAA World Championship Bowfishing Tournament. Over 75 bowfishing teams from across the country come to Winona to compete in an event that happens on June 29th.
The all-night marathon does good for the Mississippi in that it allows us to clean up the waters from the invasive common and ASIAN carp that threaten to overtake native fish populations. In some places, the carp reach anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds here. Some bowfishermen claim that they have seen some reach 45 pounds.
Are Bowfishing Lights Illegal in Minnesota?
Up until 2010, you couldn’t bowfish with lights in Minnesota, but the law has since changed to let bowfishermen go bowfishing even at night. This has opened up many more opportunities for bowfishermen seeking to go bowfishing since they don’t have to do it only during the day. I’ve always found that bowfishing at night is easier since the lights illuminate the fish and make them easier to spot.
Minnesota Bowfishing Tournaments
Minnesota has a host of great bowfishing tournaments worth participating in. Some are held by the Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association (LLBA), which would be an awesome resource to check. I’ve found how every state bowfishing association usually hosts a tournament of some type, and many will host multiple tournaments throughout the year.
The Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association is the only bowfishing association in Minnesota. Unlike some of the other states, you don’t have a bowfishing association called the Minnesota Bowfishing Association.
The thing that I like about Minnesota, however, is that you have more tournaments than just those that come from the state bowfishing association. Many people here get involved in bowfishing.
Some of the tournaments worth checking out in Minnesota include:
- BAA World Championship Bowfishing Tournament
- G3 Extreme
- MSAA State Bowfishing Tournament
- EBC August Daytime Tournament
- LLBA Shoot
- Land of Lakes State Bowfishing Tournament
- Alberta Wildlife Annual Bowfishing Tournament
The North Country offers you ample opportunity to go bowfishing with plenty of tournaments and many great places to shoot carp, gar and bowfin. Do you have a favorite bowfishing spot that I didn’t mention? Unfortunately, Minnesota has so many lakes and rivers that it’s difficult for me to cover all of them in a single article.
Please, feel free to drop a comment below on your favorite bowfishing spots in Minnesota. I tried to mix in a good variety of lakes throughout the state, but maybe I missed a good one that you’d like to highlight.