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Carp for a cause: Bowfishing tournament cleans lake

by SAM FLETCHER
Staff Writer | May 24, 2021 1:00 AM

The weather was less than optimal, sky dulled by clouds over a wind-chopped lake, making it difficult to see the big bellied bottom feeders. But that didn’t stop Ellensburg residents Trevor Gibson, Gavin Wing and Colby Myers from walking away with some money.

The three have been bowfishing for about eight years, Wing said. They came to the Moses Lake Carp Classic Tournament Saturday for potential money and a good day on the water.

The trio won two categories: most fish (totaling 30) and heaviest 10.

The grand prize of $1,000 for the day’s biggest catch went to Ephrata resident Marc Noel, weighing in at 25.5 pounds.

But that wasn’t all. Talk of an unofficial fourth category bubbled up when Ephrata resident Sydney Pixlee weighed in a large carp-looking fish that was more golden than the others.

Goldfish and koi are invasive and just as detrimental to lake health, said Ty Swartout, Moses Lake Watershed Council citizen representative. When Pixlee’s fish was determined to be a koi -- the only one shot that day -- she walked away with a Minn Kota trolling motor.

“When you see a goldfish or a koi, it’s kind of like a golden ticket,” Swartout said.

Put on by the Moses Lake Watershed Council, the Grant County Conservation District, the Washington Bowfishing Association and a gaggle of sponsors, the Moses Lake Carp Classic Tournament began in 2019, was canceled in 2020 and was back this year with an even bigger turnout.

Twenty-six boats registered Saturday morning, Swartout said, about 100 shooters.

An overarching tournament goal is conservation, he said. Carp were brought to the United States a century ago to be eaten, as they are large, grow rapidly and reproduce efficiently.

Then the majority of Americans stopped eating them, and they continued to flourish.

Carp are bottom feeders, Swartout said. When they spawn, they stir up the lakebed, releasing phosphorus which feeds the toxic blue-green algae and is detrimental to people’s health.

“They’re very violent, to the point where some of them die from it, but all the mud and muck they kick up, a lot of it has a lot of phosphorus in it, which kicks back up in the water column and then feeds the bad algae that we don’t want in there,” he said.

Moses Lake’s carp shouldn’t be eaten, Swartout said, as they may contain toxic levels of phosphorus. At tournament’s end, a licensed crawdad farmer took the loot to use as bait.

Along with a fun day, the tournament aims to remove as many carp from the lake as possible, he said.

“It’s fun, and the idea that you’re helping out the lake, too, that’s always in the back of my mind,” Swartout said.

Carp are currently spawning, dwelling in the lake’s shallows. Still, bowfishing them is not as easy as it seems, Swartout said, as the water curves the arrow upon impact and the shooter has to adjust.

“The guys and gals who are really good at it, they don’t even have to think about it,” he said. “They just, boom, and they got it done.”

Whipping water makes it that much harder, he said.

“If you have a sunny day and no wind and the water’s clear like it is, these guys could shoot carp from 20 feet away,” he said.

Noel likes the close-knit community of the Carp Classic Tournament, he said. A lot of the same guys returned from the first year.

Plus, a bowfisherman can typically get a lot of fish, even on a bad day, he said.

While less-than-optimal weather meant a less-than-optimal carp load out of the lake, Swartout urges people to continue bowfishing to make an impact on the carp population, he said.

“I just hope people that bow fish remember to pick up their fish,” Noel added. “Don’t leave them, don’t dump them, because that’s what’s going to ruin it for everybody.”

photo

Sam Fletcher/Columbia Basin Herald

Left to right: Trevor Gibson, Gavin Wing, Ty Swartout and Colby Myers claim their wins of most carp and heaviest 10 at the Moses Lake Carp Classic Tournament on Saturday.

photo

Sam Fletcher/Columbia Basin Herald

Bryan Vandlen loads carp into barrels to be used as crawdad bait at Saturday’s Carp Classic Tournament in Moses Lake.