Deacon Dominic Couturier, a fourth-year theologian studying for the Diocese of Grand Rapids, aims his fishing bow into Saint Mary’s Lake from a bridge near the boathouse.Jesus calls his followers to be fishers of men. Mundelein Seminary offers a training ground for such anglers, providing spiritual, human, academic and pastoral formation to be able to lead souls to Christ. That said, Mundelein also has fishers of men.
With its signature lake surrounded by forest, bridges and a belvedere, Mundelein offers faculty and seminarians kayaking, boating and fishing. (Please note that public use of the lake is prohibited.)
The lake features bass, pike, catfish and sunfish. Along with those species are a few unwelcome tenants: common carp and grass carp.
Father Zachariah Chichester was recently ordained a priest for the Diocese of Albany in 2018 and earned his licentiate in sacred theology in 2019. A proud outdoorsman, he’s practiced archery for years. When he arrived at USML, a classmate showed him his fishing bow, opening up a new way of looking at fishing.
“When I found out that someone had a bow, I was like, ‘Cool, I get to shoot things at fish,’” Father Chichester said. “I think I got one the first time. But I did an awful lot of missing, because it takes time due to the refraction of the water.”
Common carp are an invasive species native to Europe and Asia. Estimates have the number of common carp in the seminary’s lake at 10,000. The carp there can grow to be more than three feet long. Seminarians who catch one on Mundelein’s campus are encouraged to toss it into the woods as an easy meal for the raccoons, coyotes, foxes and other critters who make their home near the lake.
“The common carp smell like trash,” Father Chichester said. “You have to wash your hands off immediately in the water and wash your bow off, and you can immediately smell your hands later. They’re slimy, gross.”
Understandably, the technique for bow fishing is far different than fly fishing or using a traditional spin-casting rod. Father Chichester often shoots the fish from one of the many bridges around the lake. Carp tend to huddle together in the water in clusters. Rather than tossing a lure in and reeling it in, bow fishers must aim at the carp, hoping to stick the arrow barb in. Often, the carps’ bodies rise above the surface, which makes it relatively easy. But because of the optical illusion effect of the water, aiming becomes more challenging.
The maximum range for a bow is about 25 or 30 feet, and the line on the reel connected to the bow is rated on average for 90 to 100 pounds. Father Chichester said when shooting from the bridge at night, it helps to have a friend to flash light on the water briefly, so the shooter has time to aim.
Deacon Dominic Couturier, a fourth-year theologian studying for the Diocese of Grand Rapids, has always loved the outdoors. He started bow fishing with Father Chichester his first year at Mundelein. Knowing that the seminary life is jam-packed — full of papers, exams and meetings — Deacon Dominic said bow fishing offers a little stress relief that takes advantage of Mundelein’s expansive campus.
“You’re out there with your buds. You’re outdoors. You’ve got this bow and arrow, you’re going to go catch something,” Deacon Dominic said with a chuckle. “It’s fun. You get to relax, get to talk about whatever’s on your mind. It’s bonding, fraternity.”
When considering spiritual metaphors for bow fishing, Father Chichester went deep, pun intended.
“My hit rate on a good night is three out of four, but it’s usually around 50 percent,” he said. “It’s a constantly humbling experience when you’re six feet away from a fish and you miss.”
This article originally ran in the Winter-Spring 2019 issue of the seminarian-produced BRIDGE magazine. The full magazine can be viewed here.