Scanning the horizon, I thought I saw a movement; there it was again. Just out of range, I slowly trudged forward. This time I was ready. Coming to full draw, I found my anchor and released. As the arrow found its mark all hell broke loose, water erupting-AHH! Bowfishing at its finest.
I don’t often get a chance to travel for exotic game, basically anything that doesn’t live in Missouri is out of the picture. And once the spring turkey season goes out, it’s a long wait until deer season. Sure, I shoot 3-D, but it’s just not the same. But there is a cure for the summertime blues.
In many parts of the country the rivers, streams and lakes are teeming with bowhunting opportunities in the form of common carp, grass carp and several varieties of gar. And that is only the beginning. In the big river systems, though most folks aren’t fond of them, the invasive Asian carp provide more fun than should be allowed.
If you have never bowfished but always wanted to, and own a bow, I have good news-the expensive part is over. When getting started not much equipment is needed. In fact, complete kits ready to bowfish can be had for less than $40.
So what is included in this kit? An arrow, usually made of solid fiberglass to penetrate through the water. This arrow may or may not have any kind of fletching, so it is important to ensure your bow is set up for the heavier arrow. The kit will include a reel to retrieve your catch or arrow in case you miss and a length of line which attaches to the arrow and the reel. That’s it, no treestand, no cover scent, no camo.
The weather can change your equipment list too. I like to bowfish early when the water is still much too cool to wade in shorts. I wear chest waders, but that is the extent of the additional equipment. As you progress in your bowfishing endeavors you might opt for a different bow and a fancier retrieval reel.
Currently, I use a recurve bow with a 42-pound draw weight and a Zebco 808 reel spooled with 80-pound-test SpiderWire. The reel seat attaches in the stabilizer insert of the bow. With this rig the only thing you have to remember is to push the spool release button before you launch an arrow.
Taking It to the Next Level
Keith Riehn and the crew of Aim Low TV.com specialize in bowfishing.
“Many bow anglers convert their old hunting bows for bowfishing, but most turn the poundage down to about 40 pounds,” said Riehn. “You can get as many as 100 shots in an afternoon of bowfishing, or you might go all day without a shot. It depends on the species you are after.”
Riehn’s quarry is often the Asian carp that live in the Mississippi River system, but he and his partner Robin Parks travel to Texas each year to do battle with the giant gar that dwell there. It was from their specialized boats equipped with shooting decks and bright lighting for night shooting the duo arrowed a behemoth alligator gar on Sam Rayburn Lake. The fish was a new lake record and possibly the second largest ever taken with a bow and arrow. The gar weighed in at a whopping 244.5 pounds and measured over 8 feet long, a true monster.
Bowfishing the High Seas
Freshwater isn’t the only game when bowfishing. Many coastal bowfishers have taken their sport to the open water. A vast array of species can be taken with archery gear. Becky Vannes of Open Season TV fame, which can be seen on the Pursuit Channel, was visiting family in Tampa, Fla. when she hooked up with a mutual friend and Wounded Warrior, Kelly Anderson and the gang from Tink’s Deer Lures for some stingray action.
While it was Vannes’ first attempt at bowfishing, she is an accomplished hunter and archer, though she admitted, “It took me a long time to figure out how much to hold under the ray to connect.”
First time bowfishers often learn the hard way that the light refraction of the water’s surface necessitates the need to aim below your intended target.
“I was aiming three feet under the ray to hit them,” said Vannes.
By slowly cruising the flats in the shallow water, much like bowfishing freshwater species, Vannes and her crew stood on elevated platforms keeping an eye peeled for telltale signs of a ray.
“It’s a lot like hunting in the woods. You really need to pay attention to what’s going on. It’s not like they are swimming around and we are flinging arrows at them. They are so well camouflaged on the bottom of the channel it is difficult to see them.” said Vannes. “I looked for their shape and occasionally I’d see a shadow that gave away their position.”
Good Tasting Table Fare
Though looked upon as trash fish, many of the species can be quite tasty at the dinner table. Carp were introduced to North America by the Europeans as a source of food, and if properly cleaned and prepared will rival many sport fish. Vannes claimed stingrays are a delicacy and taste very much like scallops.
If you are looking for a challenge, some off season practice and fun, give bowfishing a try. But don’t say I didn’t warn you, it can be very addictive.