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Carpe Carp

GOLD HILL — The boat's trolling motor hums ever so quietly as Darin Claiborne scans the Rogue River's Kelly Slough, bow and arrow in hand, searching for one of archery's more unusual prey.

Suddenly, almost right underfoot, a target presents itself. Claiborne pulls back, rapidly aims and lets loose an arrow that skims quietly and harmlessly over the animal's back.

His quarry disappears into the greenery.

"Missed him by that much," says Claiborne, two fingers two inches apart. "No excuses."

Bow-hunting can be a game of inches when archers take to the sloughs to stalk the wily ... carp?

For 20 years, Claiborne has stalked and shot carp with his bow in the sloughs upstream of Gold Ray Dam. He enjoys his skill-honing days on the water, flinging arrows at the Rogue's biggest and much-maligned trash fish, which are destined for the Central Point man's smoker.

Carpè carp.

"It's exciting, it's a challenge, it's harder than it looks, and they're tasty," says Chris Anderson, Claiborne's hunting and bow-fishing partner the past three years.

"Bow-fishing's the ticket," he says.

The pair hope it becomes a meal ticket of sorts, as well.

The duo has just launched a guiding business to present bow-fishing for carp as the next alternative for big-game hunters tired of off-seasons spent shooting at 3-D targets in the backyard or on video screens at area shops.

For $100 for one or $150 for two, Claiborne or Anderson will take bow-hunters to stalk what they insist are very sporting and largely misunderstood mega-goldfish.

"We're out here almost every weekend, so we thought we might as well show other people how to have fun here, too," says Claiborne, 44, a media salesman by day.

The pair, who also run a waterfowl hunting business under the name "Two Blind Guides," are launching their effort just as bow-hunting for non-native carp is catching on in the Pacific Northwest.

Commonplace in the East and South, where professional bow-fishing circuits draw crowds and sponsors, bow-fishing in Oregon largely has been something young archers try once or twice and speak little of.

A telling point is that carp join suckers, pikeminnows and unsavory critters like nutria on the short list of fish or wildlife that are legal to shoot with a crossbow in Oregon.

But archers more and more are starting to buy retrofits that attach fishing reels to bows and special weighted arrows that can penetrate water more effectively. Monofilament line is attached to arrows that sport a barb-like attachment point, allowing bowfishers to reel in their quarry.

Kits start around $30, and locals visiting DewClaw Archery Supplies in Medford are showing a growing interest in a $160 package that includes two arrows, a reel and a DVD extolling the virtues of bow-fishing.

"We're starting to sell quite a few of those kits," DewClaw salesman Ryan Nelson says. "I think guys are getting interested in it because it's something different."

But Two Blind Guides have an even more basic approach.

Weighted bow-fishing arrow, 15 yards of braided Dacron line ... and a crab-pot buoy.

The weeds are so thick in the Rogue sloughs that it's best to shoot the carp, chase after the buoy and hand-line it in.

"It adds to the excitement," Anderson says.

The sloughs are rife with big carp, but they're tough to get into range, which is about 10 yards under no more than three feet of water.

Stealth is a must, so quiet trolling motors are required. One shooter stands on the bass-boat bow, the other at the stern.

"Sometimes they swim right up to the boat," Claiborne says. "Most of the time, they're pretty skittish."

The hard part, Anderson says, is to judge exactly where the carp are hovering. The refracted light and varying depths can be confusing. Usually, underwater objects are closer than they appear.

"Most first-time shooters take 30 shots before they get one," Anderson says. "Mostly, they shoot over the top."

On a good day, Anderson fires at 30 carp, hitting four or five, he says.

"That's if you're really serious, super-quiet and stealthy," Anderson says.

Normally, it's one or two in the cooler.

"If you get a couple, you're doing pretty good," Claiborne says. "It's hard to hit them."

Many carp in the sloughs run five to 20 pounds, with a 30-pounder tops for the men so far.

Already this year, they've seen what had to be a 50-pounder.

"We called it 'Carp-zilla,' " Claiborne says.

The pair don't waste the carp, which are widely panned as too bony and muddy-tasting.

They soak the meat in water for three days, then in a salmon-like brine before smoking it.

"You hear so much negative about carp, but it's good," Claiborne says. "Really."

And they better be.

There's no such thing as catch-and-release bow-fishing.

"Usually, if you get them," Claiborne says, "you got them."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

Carpe Carp