MADISON - It’s hard to say what’s more impressive over the sweep of Wesley Babcock’s 40 years of bowfishing: the more than 18,000 carp and other fish he’s taken with a bow and arrow, or the eye-popping lunker he hauled in last month from the Castle Rock Flowage.
Babcock, a biology teacher for the Pardeeville School district for 33 years, shot the quillback/river carp sucker hybrid while bowfishing on the Castle Rock Flowage.
He’s been bowfishing since he was in middle school, keeping his dad company on trips to the Rock River. It was pretty low-tech, but lots of fun, back then. “We used to tape a coffee can to our recurve bow and wrap line around it,” Babcock recalls. “The arrow was tied to this string. You could not shoot very far.”
Next, they moved on to a 3-foot circumference hoop they shot through the middle of and wrapped line around. Now they use a bottle reel which allows longer shots and fast retrieval of the line after shots.
“Carp shooting has always been a fun pastime for me,” he says. “I used to only shoot as many as I could bury in our garden for fertilizer, and then had to stop because of no way to dispose of them. This was normally 100 to 200 a year.”
Eight years ago, when the Beaver Dam Lake Improvement Association began offering a 50-cent bounty on each carp shot with a bow, Babcock and his 14-year-old son, Aaron, started shooting over there every chance they got.
“The first year we shot more than 900,” he says. “The next year, it was 2,700-plus, and the third year, we topped 2,300.”
Aaron died suddenly on August 26, 2004.
The elder Babcock continued to find peace and relaxation in bowfishing, shooting more than 2,000 every summer since. The total is now over 18,000. “I plan to back off after reaching hopefully, 20,000,” he says.
A day he’ll never forget…
Babcock was on the Castle Rock Flowage shooting carp and buffalo when he shot the carp sucker hybrid.
“I saw two fish swim in front of the boat in cloudy water. Thinking they were buffalo, I shot at one,” he says. “It took out a lot of line and got tangled in the boat motor. When I managed to get it in, I was shocked to see it was actually a sucker. I thought it was a quillback, but now find out that it was a quillback/river carpsucker hybrid.”
He knew it was huge for a sucker and started checking. The Bowfishing Association state record was 11 pounds and the official state record for quillbacks was 10 pounds plus change.
John Lyons, a longtime DNR researcher with an encyclopedic knowledge of fish and a mission of updating George Becker’s seminal Fishes of Wisconsin, a compendium of information about fish species in Wisconsin, indeed had never seen a bigger carpsucker. He looked at the frozen fish and sent photos and a small fin clip to a Tulane University expert, who concurred that the fish was the hybrid.
But Lyons said it was far larger than any of the thousands of hybrids he has personally observed. That was pretty exciting.”
“This carpsucker is huge,” Lyons says. “Based on my own field experiences and my quick review of the literature, this may be the largest carpsucker ever recorded anywhere.
“I've handled thousands of carpsuckers of all three species found in Wisconsin and various hybrid combinations from all over the state and elsewhere, and I've never seen one more than about 8-9 pounds. Becker lists the largest carpsucker he was aware of from Wisconsin, a river carpsucker, at just over 10 pounds. Other literature sources from other states list the maximum size of carpsuckers in the range of 9-12 pounds; the angling record is a 12-pound quillback, the largest carpsucker I can find in the literature. So this fish, at 18.17 pounds, shatters all records.”
Babcock hasn’t decided whether he will have the fish mounted or have a replica made. In the meantime, he’s back out there bowfishing.
“I have always enjoyed being outside and observing other things in nature as I hunt or fish. No two days are the same. Seeing things like an eagle stealing a fish from a pelican, an osprey diving into the water and catching a fish, muskies swimming around where I shoot, or having an otter get in the boat and eat a carp while I was away shooting in the canoe,” he says. “I also enjoy the hunting experience without the hassle of owning land. I enjoy the peace and quiet and escape from every day work related stress.”
Advice for new bowfishers
His advice for novice bowfishers is to invest in a bottle reel and good arrows.
“They will get frustrated with losing fish and poor shot accuracy with inferior equipment. Also, don't worry about getting a fancy bow. Any used bow with a lower draw weight (45 pounds or less) will work. You will hopefully be shooting a lot of times and often must shoot quickly, so a bow that is easy to pull back works better.”
One more thing, he says, “Make sure you have arrows equipped with ‘slides’ to prevent dangerous line tangles on the bowstring when you shoot. Never tie the line directly to the arrow. I used to do that and almost lost an eye when a loop formed on my bowstring and the arrow snapped back, missing my eye by about an inch. I've used slides ever since.”