With a pleasantly warm breeze barely blowing and the sun slipping toward the horizon on a lazy Friday afternoon, our pontoon boat is creeping slowly into a hidden cove on the north shore of Lake Cachuma, known as a paradise for freshwater fishermen since it was dammed up in 1953. Onshore, unseen critters rustle through the picturesque oak scrub; beneath, sunken tree branches reach out like fronds of white coral; and onboard, two lifelong hook-and-line fishermen are gripping not reels and rods but bows and arrows, their sharp tips pointed directly at the water, their eyes scanning through polarized sunglasses to spot flashes of the reddish-hued carp that often feed in the tule-lined shallows.
This is bow-hunting for carp, which has become quite the sport for Cachuma-goers since it was legalized in October 2010, both to increase recreational opportunities for anglers and to help cut down populations of the mass-producing species, which competes directly with bass, trout, and other more desirable fish in the lake. “We will never eradicate them,” said our bow-wielding captain Tom Fayram, head of County Flood Control and former interim director of County Parks. “But any ones you can get out of here are one less carp to muck up the lake.”
Despite some cultural exceptions — the Jewish treat gefilte fish is traditionally made from carp, and it’s popular during Christmas in the Czech Republic and on some Asian tables, too — the bony and oily species introduced to American waters in the 1800s from Eastern Europe is not particularly good eating. So the hunt is the draw. “It’s like a short game of golf,” said marina manager Ken Hemer on technique, which involves aiming very low to deal with the refraction of light into water. “You’ve got to get the feel of it.”
You should take his tips: Hemer has caught 20-pounders and landed 25 individual fish in a day a few times already. But, in true fishermen form, Hemer has tales of seeing even bigger fish, explaining, “The pending world record is in this lake.”
Go catch it yourself by seeing Cachuma.com or calling (805) 688-4040 for more details.