Reel in Some Dinner, With an Arrow!
In Bowfishing, or even conventional rod and reel fishing, I am not a big fan of eating carp and buffalo or other scaled “rough fish” due to the many “Y-Bones” in the meat. I usually chunk them up for cut bait for future catfishing trips or even try to find a local turtle farmer as turtles and other critters LOVE these fish. Remember, nothing goes to waste in nature if you don't want to eat it. Snakes, turtles, small game, and other fish have to eat something, too, and are most likely grateful for what you leave for them, should you choose to do so. There are some folks who like to eat carp and buffalo though and do so daily all over the world, especially in Europe and Asia. Grilling or baking them on the “half shell”, (with the skin and scales on) and scoring through the small Y-Bones, then seasoning them like regular fish, and throwing them on the grill skin side down, is a pretty popular method. From my experience, Grass Carp taste better than Common Carp due to their diet. My grandparents used to even pressure cook carp that they would catch while on catfishing trips. They would fillet the fish and cut it into chunks, then stuff the fish chunks into a canning jar and pressure cook a batch of them at a time. They would store the canned carp, like canned salmon, and make carp patties out of them using several seasonings, onions, bell pepper, and other ingredients and fry them like a sausage patty or burger. Many seafood markets now have salmon patties and “burgers” made from fish like this and it has become a more popular way to eat fish in our culture today. As I mentioned earlier, I also have tried this method but there are so many other fish I usually catch and eat that I typically do not eat carp and buffalo these days. There was a time though, in my earlier years of rod and reel fishing for carp, where carp patties were a common meal for me.
Marty McIntyre with Garquest Bowfishing Adventures (www.garquest.com) likes to take large buffalo and fillet out the ribs, cutting each rib separately, and then battering and frying each one separately. The end product is like eating any other kind of meat right off the bone. Again, this is not my preferred fish to eat, but your mileage may vary. No, I will not make any “Cedar Plank Carp” recipe jokes here. If you missed that one, look it up sometime. I assure you will at least get a chuckle out of it. And to think, the humble carp was brought to the USA in the early 1900’s as a food source for our expanding economy, especially in rural areas of the country, due to its adaptability to just about any kind of water and fast growth potential. That is a history lesson I love to share with others while I am out on the lakes and rivers, just for fun. Many people find it hard to believe this to be true but you can do the research for yourself. For most folks in our country these days, however, the carp is looked at as the feral hog of the rivers and lakes as a “trash fish” and bait stealer! Go figure.
In the rest of the bowfishing realm, Gar and Tilapia are among my favorite non-game fish to eat. Tilapia is served at many restaurants and is as easy to clean as a crappie, bluegill, or other pan fish. You can cook them just about any way you can imagine as the meat is as nice to work with as just about any game fish. Tilapia is among my favorite fish to pursue on bowfishing adventures during the daytime because they are pretty smart and sometimes hard to sneak up on as they can easily detect movement and will disappear like a ghost and leave nothing but a dust cloud for you to shoot at if they sense even the slightest hint of danger. It is comparable to hunting a ghost in a way. They are relatively curious fish, however, which usually plays in the favor of the bowfisherman. On one trip I took last summer on a local lake, Marty and I would spook a group of 4 large tilapia from the same sunken tree stump and they kept coming back to it every couple of minutes making it easy to nail a couple out of the group on each pass. If you have tilapia in your area at all, give bowfishing a try. It is a blast!
For cleaning Gar, which are relatively easy to catch on live or cut bait and a fairly easy bowfishing target, you will need a simple pair of tinsnips, a machete (yes, I said machete!), or even a power reciprocating saw to get into that armor plating of this prehistoric fish. What is inside when you get past the armor, as I mentioned before, is nice boneless white meat that fillets out like a deer backstrap. Cut out all the sinew, tendons, and other undesirable parts of the meat, chunk it up into nuggets and batter and fry as you would any other fish. You can even boil the meat in a crawfish boil and make “Gar Balls”, fish cakes, or other recipes out of the resulting meat. Be advised that a Gar’s roe (eggs) are poisonous to humans but if you clean them using the approach I outlined above, this should not be an issue as you will not even encounter the inner cavity of the fish in most cases.
Small Game and Birds
Eating rabbit, squirrel, raccoon, possum, and nutria or other small game is still a common staple for many homes in America, especially in the Southern US and more rural “backwoods” parts of our country. Stewing or braising small game meat is usually the best method due to the traditionally lean and sometimes even tough or chewy nature of wild game meats. For raccoon, possum, nutria, and other medium-sized game, cooking in a slow cooker or oven, like you would a pot roast, is my method of choice. How does raccoon taste? Not bad at all. It reminds me of a beef roast. It is dark meat, maybe a little on the greasy side, but with an overall good taste. Squirrel and Dumplings, cooked much like Chicken and Dumplings, is a very popular dish for many hunters and similar recipe ideas are out there for other small critters as well.
Most upland birds and waterfowl are very tasty and easy to prepare. There are so many different methods around for cooking them that we will not go into all of them here. I will share a couple of basic ideas though. The Mourning and White-wing Doves are some of the more popular upland birds we hunt here in Texas. Simply filleting out the breasts of the bird, or “breasting” them, is the most popular and quickest way to clean these small birds. My favorite way to cook the breasts from just about any upland bird or waterfowl is to stuff them with cheese (even store-bought “string cheese”) and a piece of jalapeno, then wrap with bacon, and grill! Add a cold beverage of your choice and it does not get much better than that, my friends. You can do likewise with many other types of birds and waterfowl.