Bowfishing for Food
I certainly love to eat what I catch on the water or hunt in the woods. For many years when I fished for carp before I started bowfishing for them, I would pressure cook carp in canning jars, which was a technique I learned from my grandparents when I was growing up in my formative years. You could make fish patties, similar to salmon patties, and they were decent, just not my first pick of a fish for good table fare. Since I am usually blessed with a freezer stocked with fish from saltwater fishing trips and catfish and other fish from our local freshwater lakes, I usually don’t keep many of the fish I shoot in bowfishing with the exception of gar and tilapia. When I started bowfishing, I initially had a moral dilemma with the issue of not eating what I shot as it seemed wasteful. But then I realized that there are plenty of fish, turtles, snakes, even raccoons and birds, who are most grateful for an easy meal now and again and nothing ever goes to waste in cycle of nature.
I do save meat from carp, buffalo, red horse suckers, bull gizzard shad, and other fish on occasion for making frozen chum or making cut-bait for my other rod and reel or jugline fishing adventures. Just about everything is edible in bowfishing though, as with most things in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many people do not know that carp were originally imported into our country and widely distributed into lakes and ponds as a food source back when our country was in leaner times in the early 1900’s. Most Americans turn their nose up at Carp and other “rough fish” but many countries around the world wouldn't think twice about eating meat from one and often do on a regular basis. Native Americans would frequently bowfish for gar and buffalo on a regular basis as a food source for many decades and centuries ago before the US was settled.
Two serious considerations for table fare are the alligator or long-nose/short-nose gar and tilapia. Gar are relatively easily easy to find during day or night and can be easily cleaned with a pair of tin snips or any tool that can cut through their armor plating. Under that armor are two white strips of boneless meat, similar to deer or pork backstraps, which make a great meal just about any way you cook them. You can then cut that meat into chunks, soak in saltwater, drain and deep fry as you would any other fish. The taste usually isn't fishy at all. It has the consistency of pork or beef when cooked.
Once you get the hang of it, gar are easy to clean and yield a good amount of meat for the work. Cajun Gar Balls, Gar Patties, or just regular fried gar is good. One method I like is to boil the meat in a Louisiana Cajun crawfish boil for about 10-15 minutes or until the meat is cooked all the way through. Then, let it sit in that water and cool for about 5 minutes after you turn of the heat so it soaks up more spice and flavor. You can do a variety of things with the meat from this point. It reminds me of lobster in its texture and even a little in the taste. Now I am hungry...
We had Tilapia in the Comal River which ran through our local park in New Braunfels, Texas when I was growing up there. I never knew much about them other than they did not eat the bait I was fishing with and, consequently, were a hard fish to catch by normal means. Tilapia is now one of the most popular fish in meat markets and restaurants today. Concentrated mainly in warmer-water lakes in the southern US, Tilapia are a challenging fish to pursue and guide Marty McIntyre with GARQUEST (www.garquest.com) teaches me something new each trip we make hunting… I mean bowfishing, for them. Power plant cooling lakes usually have good quantities of Tilapia, especially here in Texas. Lakes such as Calaveras, Brauning, Colleto Creek, Gibbons Creek, and more are all known for Tilapia bowfishing and cast netting around Texas as they are all centered around privately owned power plant facilities with warm water discharges. These lakes are neat as they are man made and many times stocked with fish for rod and reel fisherman, like freshwater redfish, that many other lakes do not have. Power plant lakes use the water from the lake to cool the plant during its operation, yielding warm water year round.
One method Marty perfected in his earlier days is to get a tripod hunting stand or step-ladder and set it up in about 3 or 4 feet of water, much like a deer hunting stand. Climb up on top of your elevated platform and just wait for the tilapia to come in during the day, right off the bank. They are curious fish and always like to see what is new in their surroundings but if they see any fast movements from above, they will dart for cover in a flash… hence the addiction to game. It is similar to bowhunting on land for deer or turkey in many ways. Get a floating costal stringer and you can have hours of fun just wading out or sitting stationary bowfishing for these crafty fish. It goes without saying these fish are an excellent table fare as well as tons of day time fishing fun!
Many other lakes will have tilapia as well. Marty and I happened upon one of the best kept secrets on our recent Tilapia fishing trip with Lake Calavaras having mixed results since the cast net boats had been through the bank lines and the water was unusually cloudy, making visibility an issue. We hit the jackpot on some nice huge slab Tilapia on Lake Dunlap though, which is part of the Guadalupe River that runs between Austin and San Antonio through my hometown of New Braunfels. This little gem of a lake holds a ton of different kinds of fish and was and unexpected bowfishing paradise both times we have been on it in the last year.
On one night trip we took on this lake during the last leg of a four lake 24-hour bowfishing marathon yielded several longnose gar, a few Plecostomus (Armored Catfish/Aquirium Algae Eaters), a Rio Grande Perch, Tilapia, and more in a two hour time span! Talk about hot bowfishing action! I caught my second wind real fast after we started shooting fish that night even though I was about worn out from the efforts we put in earlier in the day.
Although many bowfishers never think about it, gar and tilapia make great table fare. Next time you go out bowfishing, give these fish a try in your skillet or deep fryer.