What do you think of when someone says predator? Many forms of predators exist in the outdoors such as those that walk on land, fly in the air and swim in the water. Today, we will discuss the kind that swim in the waters of the Southern United States (You never know who is reading this. We have a global audience.) The predators of the water (fish) consist of gar (needle-nose & alligator and spotted or short nose gar), bass, crappie, catfish, grinnel (Common names include mudfish, mud pike, dogfish, griddle, grinnel, cypress trout and choupique) and the list goes on even to include including bream.
There are many ways to capture the swimming predator and that brings us to bowfishing. Bowfishing is a sport that we enjoy just about year round in the Northeast Texas. There are many bodies of water to choose from for this sport. The waters around here contain a lot of what some call “trash fish”. As a friend of mine says, “I am saving our game fish one trash fish at a time.” This is a quote from Marty McIntyre of Garquest Bowfishing guide service (www.garquest.com) in central Texas. This is a similar statement that Mac & Prowler make about predator hunting for coyotes, bobcats & feral hogs. But that is another story.
When bowfishing in this part of the world, there are several species that are legal to shoot. Remember that we cannot shoot bass, bream (not true, pan fish/bluegill are not considered game fish), crappie or catfish in Northeast Texas. (Note: It will be of the utmost help for you to read the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual prior to taking on the task of your first bowfishing trip.) But most people just stick to shooting gar, buffalo, and carp. In some of our lakes there is a species called tilapia. Tilapia resemble an oversized red ear brim. (Tilapia are a completely different species with completely different origin) They can grow up to 5 pounds but average about 1-2 lbs. But for today, we will stick to what most of call trash fish.
One of the first items one will need to go bowfishing is a bow, a solid fiberglass arrow, some type of string to attach to the arrow, and a reel to hold the string. There are several types of bows already set up just for bowfishing. The one that I personally use is the PSE Wave, with a Muzzy Bowfishing reel, Innerlock H2O Arrows, Lumenok lighted arrow nocks and tipped with a Muzzy double barbed point. The process of retrieving your fish is a lot easier with the proper bowfishing set up Just about any bow can be used for bowfishing. Use whatever you have: recurve, long bow, compound, or lever bow. Just remember that you will have to have some way to attach a reel to your bow or you can also use a simple hand wind spool. Bowfishing has come a long way from where it was even a decade ago with the advent of products such as the Safety Slide System, which helps prevent potential “snap back’ of the arrow or line when shooting. One of the nicest innovations in bowfishing has been in bowfishing reels such as the AMS and Muzzy Bowfishing reels. This is nicer than having to hand spool the line, as was done in years past, or mounting a spin-cast style reel and having to remember to release the reel every time you shoot. Many arrows and points are also now available and most are now made with durable materials for big fish and harsh conditions.
For a bowfishing bow, most people prefer a compound or recurve bow. You can purchase one new but there is really no reason to not buy a used one from a pawn shop or other retail outlet that sells archery equipment. For all my archery needs, I use Backwoods Archery located in Malta, Texas. Just be sure to check the limbs for cracks or splitting as this could be a dangerous issue down the road. Also make sure that the string is in good shape and not showing serious signs of fraying as new bowstrings will run $60 to $100 or more. Other than that, you don’t need anything fancy or flashy and you can buy a used bow, especially an older one, for a very reasonable price. Remember to have fun in whatever you do. An important note here is to always purchase and carry more than one arrow every time you head out to the water for a bowfishing adventure. Many trips have been cut short by an arrow breaking or being lost. Back-up arrows are always a good idea and a good repellent for “Murphy’s Law".
The basics of shooting at a fish in the water are simple. Drawback and find an anchor point, just like shooting a bow at a normal target on dry land. My anchor point is my middle finger on the side of my cheek, for instance. This will help your shooting be consistent. Invest in a pair of archer’s gloves for protecting your fingers when shooting or invest in a pair of “finger savers” which are a soft material that goes above and below your knocking point on your bowstring, to protect your fingers as you shoot. This will help you to draw the bow easier as well. When aiming at your target, remember the phrase, “Aim Low, Think Big”. This sums up bowfishing quite well. Because of the refraction of the water, your shot will always be higher than the fish actually is if you aim right at where the fish appears to be. This is one of the unique properties of water and the way the human eye sees what is in the water. How far to aim under the fish depends on the depth of the water and distance of the fish from the boat, hence the challenge of the hunt! Bowfishing certainly shares all the challenges and excitement of bowhunting. I enjoy rod and reel fishing too but enjoy bowfishing more simply because of the challenge and, quite frankly, the adrenaline of the hunt. Much like rifle shooting, you have good days and bad. Sometimes you hit almost everything you aim at and sometimes you can’t hit the broadside of a barn from the inside.
Many people think you have to have a boat outfitted with elaborate light rigging and a generator to fish at night. Yes, many seasoned bow fishermen & ladies have all that, but it is not necessary. My first bowfishing trip was walking along a bank of a creek and shooting at suspended gar that was close to the bank. But when you want to go to different places on a lake or river and get to more bowfishing hot spots, then yes a boat is the way to go. In the summertime, I have fished out of a pirogue (Please define this. Many people may not know what kind of boat it is unless they watch Swamp People, which was where I learned what it was). I must warn you that this is not a safe way to fish. Now I use my pirogue to just get to certain spots then get out and wade for the fish. Wading is also good in the spring when the, gar, carp and buffalo are in the shallows spawning.
For fishing at night you need to use either high pressure sodium (HPS) lights or LED lights. There are now many models to choose from. Currently, we only use LED lights as they cost more, but last longer and do not get near as hot as HPS lights. On most light setups, we use 6-8 lights to get the glow in the water needed to see the fish at a good shooting distance. Another plus when fishing at night is that it is the best time to shoot bullfrogs. But as always, check your local game and fishing laws concerning the taking of fish or frogs with a bow. There is a great product produced by Lumenok for night fishing. This is a lighted nock on the arrow that will light up when shot through a bow. This allows you to watch your arrow wherever it is taken by the fish. I use these in the daytime as well as you can see where the fish is while the arrow is under water. A great advantage to shooting with the Lumenoks is that you can get immediate feedback on your point of impact in the water and the way the arrow travels under the water in relation to the fish. You can quickly tell if your shot was over or under the fish. Since we film most of our hunting expeditions it also aids in the camera catching the arrow in flight. It just makes for a better TV show.
If you are new to bowfishing or just need to brush up on your shooting skills a good way to do this is to hire a guide. It is the most inexpensive way to see if you like the sport or not. Most bowfishing guides have all the equipment you will need for the trip. Or another option, if available, is to ask a friend that you know who might go bowfishing. Most of the people I know love to have fellowship while fishing.
Whatever you are after, bowfishing is a fun way to keep up with your archery skills and take invasive species of fish out of the local lakes and rivers. You will be helping the ecosystem and you get to enjoy the great outdoors at the same time. Remember, “Aim Low, Think Big and have fun out on the water. If you need more info, call your local game warden. Most likely, he will be happy you are out there fighting the good fight against the invasive species. Now go shoot some fish!
I must tell you of one such adventure on Lake Texarkana (excuse me, Lake Wright Patman). Brian Shuetz, the owner of Olympic Arms, came down from Washington State to do some predator hunting with Mac and Prowler. It was August and you know the temperature was around 100 degrees. Just too hot for just about anything. So, Mac & Prowler loaded him up in the boat and went to the lake for some bowfishing. Brian had never seen a gar, bullfrog, or an alligator. The first fish he saw was a big needle nose gar and it was about 6” under the water. He drew the bow back and we all hollered, "Aim low, aim low!" He shoots and actually hits the gar and the race was on. Brian, being from the North had no idea of fish slim or the smell it creates in the hot sun! So, after landing the big needle nose, we tell him to hold the fish up for photos. He does and the teeth go through his glove and he decides to hold the fish against his body for a good photo shot. Well, by mid-morning, he was smelling rank. But that was an adventure he will never forget. Oh, by the way, he got to see a gar, a bullfrog and an alligator. He actually shot the first gar he ever saw.
What would you like to read about? If you get a chance to view some of our photos and videos, you will see we have a lot of fun and shoot lots of fish.
Prowler Bill Henson
Co-Owner of Coyote Tales TV Show
PS: Some data and research by Dustin Vaughn Warncke.