Carp, by crossbow pistol

Carp, by crossbow pistol

It’s a lot tougher than what it looks… so is the fish.


I’ve been trying for a long time to bag a carp with a crossbow pistol.  It’s not like I was out every day trying to do so, just on the occasion when I had my kayak on Smithville Lake in Missouri, especially paddling around in the backwater of the upper reaches of the lake.

The crossbow pistol I have is fairly common:  an 80# model easily cocked and extremely accurate at short distances, except when you are bobbing up and down in the water while drifting by your target with the whims of the wind; not to mention that the target is also moving and easily alarmed by sights and sounds, like the slap of water on the bow of the boat or the bump of a paddle or the thump of…  well, of anything.

Crossbow pistol rig.  Note white PVC spacer in bow mount, steel cable string, white break-away clamp holding yellow bottle, and the spooling (reel) effect of the bottle’s body holding the cord.

My crossbow pistol rig has been modified to increase the power, or, as I like to say, the fling.  I placed a spacer, made from flattened PVC tubing, behind the bow where it mounts in the stock, moving the bow forward a bit and providing a little more fling.  I also replaced the standard string with a steel cable string.  The increase in power isn’t much but it is noticeable, raising the fling power about 10% or so, as best as I could measure.

Bolts, on the other hand, were another matter.  I’ve hit several carp but a lightweight bolt with an inferior tip just ricochets off or barely penetrates.  Ultimately, in spite of everything I tried, my success finally came as a result of improvising in the field.

Crossbow pistol with my Schrade dive knives which I carry on my leg.

The big day started off by me having left most of my crossbow tackle in the truck.  I had one barbed, lightweight bolt tied to a float with about 10 feet of nylon kite string.  The float, made from an empty yellow bottle that HEET gas treatment comes in, works surprisingly well.  I also had the sense to bring along four regular bolts that I had made for self defense purposes since I decided to not carry a gun that day.  (I’ve had one incident at the lake which caused me to consider self preservation.)


The successful shot, going in.

My first shot at a carp was ill-aimed; actually, it was rather awkwardly aimed and I nicked the front edge of the kayak, shattering the barb off of the bolt.  Not an unusual feat since I’ve been known to shoot my own truck with a .30/06, but that’s another story.  Thinking that my carping for the day was instantly over, I settled down for some catfishing, giving me time to think through a different strategy.

I set about rigging one of my homemade self defense carbon bolts by unscrewing the 125 grain needle sharp tip and tying the line to the shank of same.  Tightened down and triple knotted (a good thing, as you’ll see why in a minute), I loaded it up and went off in search of the prehistoric beast.  It didn’t take long to spot the sea creature.  One must have an imagination to keep things exciting, you know.

The water level at the lake was about normal, which meant that the shoreline in the backwater was lined with submerged growth that still had plenty of greenery above water.  Just watch for the erratic movement of the seaweed.  That’s where you’ll find carp basking about, and usually more than one, though you’ll naturally be focused on the one moving in the vegetation.

The successful shot, not coming out.

I spotted the heavily scaled, bronze-backed fish and positioned my kayak to drift in for a sneak attack.  Six feet away I leveled the sights and pulled the trigger.  In a flash, the water boiled, ten feet of line went out, the bottle snapped off the stock of the crossbow (by design), and the chase was on.  Remember the scene in Jaws when the barrel went off the boat and the shark dragged it away?  It was a mini-version of that.

I chased the bottle around the cove, catching up to it often and gently pulling in the line until at one point I could see that the bolt did not go through the carp like I had hoped – it just stuck at an angle in the thick muscle and bone of the fish.  My strategy changed from pulling in the fish to tiring it out.  It worked.  I was finally able to bring it to the side of the boat and lift it in.

I determined that the triple tied knot was large enough to serve as a barb, but barely, holding the bolt in place just enough for me to tug on.  Tiring the thing out did the trick:  When the fish took off I just let him have it, chased down the float again, and repeated until it was tuckered out.  It was a lot of fun and a lot of work, all at the same time; not exhausting work like laying rail for the railroad, which I’ve done, but it was tiring, muddy, bloody, and satisfyingly enjoyable.

Crossbow pistol in place on the kayak and ready for action.

A few significant notes about my rig:

  • The bottle is held in place on my crossbow by a tube made from a white pill bottle, cut open so as to clamp to grooves in the underside of the front of the stock.  The neck of the bottle fits snugly enough inside the clamp but loosely enough to snap away from the crossbow as needed, that is, when the line runs out.  The cap of the bottle, being larger than the clamp, creates a “stop” on the clamp.  It doesn’t take much to break away the bottle when rigged like this.
  • The bottle also serves as a reel.  When in place, the body of the bottle faces forward allowing the cord to be wrapped as on a reel.  The mid-body of the bottle narrows a bit which serves to keep the cord in place.  It’s like these things were made for this purpose.
  • The cord is simply nylon kite string that I have tested numerous times to make sure it’s up to the task, not only of forceful flinging but of pulling in a large, struggling fish.  It’s a thin cord which provides less drag, and it doesn’t kink.
  • My crossbow, rigged, fits nicely in the rod holder of my fishing kayak, providing a convenient way to keep it handy and ready for use.

It’s muddy, bloody work.

Shooting a small crossbow bolt at a partially submerged fish that is nearly on the same plane of view as you are in a sit-in kayak is challenging.  The greater challenge is the hunt:  preparing, improvising, scouting, spotting, stalking, and succeeding.  It sharpens a man’s woodsmanship and other outdoor skills, not to mention a sharpening of the spirit of survival, not that I’d care to eat carp to do so!