June 8, 2010
Madison, Wisconsin - 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
“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
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.
The fish weighed in at 18.17 pounds at a local grocery store.
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
“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.”