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Lake Perris becomes 11th lake in Southern California to allow bowfishing


The Lake Perris State Recreation Area is now open to bowfishing, with certain area and gear restrictions, just in time for this spring’s carp spawning season. The lake was opened to bowfishing officially on Jan. 22 by an order from Kelly Elliott, district superintendent for the Inland Empire District of state parks.

Bowfishermen have long sought to have Perris opened to bowfishing for carp, the only species that may be taken at the lake under the new rule.

Perris is the latest Southern California water to be opened to carp fishing with a bow, becoming just the 11th water in the region to allow bowfishing. Lake Casitas in Ventura County opened in 2012, and five other waters opened in 2011 when Lake Elsinore, Lake Cachuma, and three of the San Diego City Lakes (El Capitan, Lower Otay Reservoir, and San Vicente Reservoir) opened. They joined Big Bear Lake – which is probably the most popular bowfishing lake in Southern California – Lake Hemet, and lakes Sutherland and Hodges in San Diego County.

Lake managers throughout the region are realizing that bowfishing, which is a legal method of angling for non-game species, not only allows for more public recreation and revenues from entrance and boat launching fees, but helps managers remove non-native carp from their lakes and reservoirs. Carp frequently become a nuisance species that degrade water quality and negatively impact preferred gamefish species. Allowing bowfishing rather than spending precious funds on expensive carp removal programs just makes sense.

Mike Messina, a retired law enforcement office from Brea and avid bowfisherman, has been the driving force behind many of the recent lake openings, and first requested state parks to open Lake Perris in 2011. State Parks said the low water levels during the dam restoration weren’t conductive to bowfishing, and that he should come back with his proposal once the lake was filled again. Messina saved all the e-mails and correspondence, and when he saw the lake was again filling after the dam restoration was complete last year, he reconnected with the park staff, including the relatively new Perris superintendent, John Rowe.

“John grabbed on to it, and moved this along,” said Messina. “It’s taken about a year, but his open-mindedness and pushing it through the bureaucracy is why it’s open today.”

There are a number of restrictions to bowfishing at Perris, with only bowfishing or crossbow archery gear and arrows allowed on the lake. No bowfishing is allowed from shore. Bowfishermen may only arrow carp from boats in the 5 MPH zone extending from just east of the Power Cove launch ramp along the north and east shorelines to the Bernasconi Day Use Area buoy line. Bowfishing is prohibited within 100 feet of any person or other vessel. All carp must be removed from the lake and park facilities, consistent with the Department of Fish and Game code regarding waste of fish.

Bowfishermen do not need to get special permits, only regular entrance and boat permits are required, and the activity is permitted during all hours the lake is open to boat access.

Many of the other lakes are more restrictive. At Lake Cachuma, all bowfishermen must pick up a free permit at the front gate when they check in, and all the San Diego lakes have a similar requirement. At Lake Hemet, bowfishing is only allowed on Monday through Thursday.

Big Bear Lake is the granddaddy of SoCal bowfishing, where it has been allowed for 25 years. Messina said carp bowfishing tournaments held at Big Bear typically remove 10,000 pounds of carp from the lake per event, at no cost to the Big Bear Municipal Water District.

Messina believes more waters should be open to bowfishing for carp, a legal fishing method under California state fishing regulations, and he continues to provide information to lake managers who don’t understand the difference between bowfishing and regular archery. Many lake managers envision arrows skipping across the waves or flung at rude jet skiers. Messina has to explain that the heavy bowfishing arrows are tethered to the bow itself with a heavy line that allows the fishermen to retrieve the arrow and fish.

Messina would like to see at least two other major reservoirs in the Inland Empire opened to bowfishing -- Silverwood Lake and Diamond Valley Lake. There is now precedent at State Parks to allow bowfishing, so Silverwood could be next on the list of lakes opening to carp bowfishing. Diamond Valley Lake is managed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and its staff might be convinced removing carp would help water quality in this giant water supply reservoir.

Other possible waters that could be open to bowfishing include waters like Pyramid Lake, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, along with Castaic, Piru, and Casitas lakes.

Bowfishing for carp has been growing in popularity in the past few years across the country, and there are now hundreds of tournaments held annually. There are at least two each year at Big Bear Lake.

Many bowfishmen eat their carp (smoking and made into fish cakes are two of the most popular ways to eat these rich, fatty fish). Carp are also popular with gardeners who use the fish as fertilizer, and DFG regulations require that all bowfishermen utilize or dispose of the carp properly. That means not leaving them on lake shores or in park trash cans.

Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 909-887-3444.

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