Alabama’s Lake Guntersville historically has been a hot spot for bowfishing. Many major national bowfishing tournaments are held there throughout the spring, summer and fall due to the lake’s being relatively shallow in many parts. It also homes a huge population of rough fish and some monster-sized rough fish too. Many bowfishermen have taken the biggest fish of their lives on Lake Guntersville. Such was the case for Nicki Greene when she shot a state-record smallmouth buffalo weighing 70.55 pounds, with the world record being 106 pounds. Below is the story by David Rainer of Alabama’s Department of Conservation’s I & E Section.
When Adam Bearden and Nicki Greene of north Alabama, are planning a date, there’s never any of the usual, “Well, what do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” Picking the date activity is easy for this couple. They hop in the boat and go bowfishing for buffalo fish, members of the sucker family that are abundant in Alabama’s lakes and river systems, and carp, both common and grass carp. One recent date night was special when Greene of Douglas, Ala., arrowed a state-record smallmouth buffalo that weighed almost as much as she did. This state-record fish hit the scales at 70.55 pounds.
On that record-setting night, Bearden of Albertville, Ala., explained he steered the boat around a secondary point, made a wide turn and came back past the point. “As we were coming back in, that fish swam right across the side of the boat where Nicki was,” Bearden said. “Nicki shot. Eric Pendergrass was with us that night, and he shot about same time. Nicki’s arrow hit first and then his hit. We had two arrows in the fish back-to-back. They were fighting the fish and got it close enough for me to shoot the backup shot. You try to get as many arrows in the fish as possible because the arrows can pull out. If the fish gets down in the grass, you can’t tell where the fish is. If the line gets caught in the grass, it can pull the arrow out.” With three arrows in it, the fish was soon in the bottom of the boat. Now it’s listed in the Bowfishing Association of America’s record book as the official Alabama bowfishing record for smallmouth buffalo. Bearden said sometimes distinguishing between a smallmouth and a black buffalo is hard. So, tissue samples have been sent to a lab to determine which species it is. The fish will be an Alabama record whether it’s determined to be a smallmouth or black buffalo.
This shot certainly wasn’t bad for someone who only got serious about bowfishing 10 months ago when she and Bearden started dating. “I’d been bowfishing a couple of times with my brothers,” Nicki said. “I was talking to Adam, and he said he went all the time. I liked it when I went with my brothers, so I started going a lot more when I started dating Adam.” Bearden said he got an early start with his bowfishing career, thanks to bowhunting legend Fred Bear. “I started bowfishing before bowfishing became popular,” said Bearden, who has been bowfishing for about 14 years. “Some of my buddies and I got one of those Bear Archery kits that had a bow and spool for the line. We started bowfishing on a dam in a creek. The buffalos there, between 10 and 15 pounds, would come up to the dam and we’d shoot them. ”
Bearden later moved up to using a bass boat with a trolling motor and started bowfishing with a spotlight on Lake Guntersville. “My friends and I shot a lot more fish that way,” he said. “That’s when we started to find out better ways to do it. We got a 14-foot flat-bottom boat with a 5,500-watt generator that’s about as heavy as the boat. We mounted halogen shop lights all the way around it.” Today Bearden uses a light box with 20 LED lights on an 18-foot duck-hunting boat that’s modified with a front deck and a bow rack. The boat sports a 90-horse main motor and a 25-horse kicker motor that is controlled from the front deck with a Powr-Tran electronic steering system.
Bearden explained that some bowfishermen use high-powered airboats that cost up to $70,000, but he insists that’s not necessary. “You see these guys in the tournaments with the $50,000 to $70,000 airboats. and people think that’s what you have to have. Every tournament I get in, I fish the Open Division, the toughest division, in my 18-foot boat, and I finish in the top five in the Muzzy tournament every year. So, you can buy a 14-foot boat with a 25-horse motor, put one of the forward steering units on it and still have a good chance to compete. You have to know where the fish are and how to fish for them. I want to get the message out that you don’t have to have all that expensive stuff.”
Greene and Bearden, whose team name is the Scale Ignitors, shoot Oneida compound bows at relatively light draw weights of 35 and 45 pounds, respectively. “We shoot 300-400 times a night, so you don’t want something that will wear your arm out,” he said. The Scale Ignitors compete in as many bowfishing tournaments as possible, including the All-Out Carp Out, Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open and Muzzy Broadheads. Obviously, competitors have to deal with the weather during the tournaments. When Greene and Bearden are going fun bowfishing, they pick their nights.“The ideal weather is whatever is comfortable to you,” he said. “At different times of year, where we go depends on which fish are up and spawning. One night you can go, and the weather conditions are right. That night you may fill the boat up with fish, and the next night they may not be there. It seems the bigger fish are out more in the wintertime. I think it has something to do with water temperature. Buffalo are pretty much a deep-water fish that like to stay in a certain temperature range. But the biggest thing is we don’t fish really shallow water much anymore. We fish open-water flats and humps more than back in the sloughs. Most people associate bowfishing with shallow-water sloughs, and that’s where a bunch of smaller fish are. That’s where you find most of the carp. But we’re looking for bigger fish.”
Water clarity has a lot to do with bowfishing tactics too. “Sometimes I’ve been able to see 15 feet down, and sometimes you may not be able to see but a foot,” Bearden explained. “That’s one reason we use a kicker motor. Buffalo usually will run from that motor, and when it takes off, it will come to the top of the water. Then we’ll chase the fish, running 6 to 7 miles per hour until we get a shot on top of the water.”
On this record-setting trip, Greene said she had no idea what to think when the big fish surfaced near her. “I just shot,” she said. “And then I was focused on getting the fish in the boat. It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to think. I wanted to pick it up, but I couldn’t. Adam had to help me hold it.” Greene says after shooting the bow several hundred times a night her arms are pretty worn out. “I love bowfishing though,” she said. “When we go, Adam is usually the one who sees the fish first. He yells, ‘Shoot right there.’ Sometimes I see them, but most of the time I shoot wherever he points.”
Greene said they hit the water as long as the weather’s not too cold. They bowfished three nights during the Christmas holidays, but Greene does prefer warmer weather, so they can go more often. Greene admits the genesis of her relationship with Adam is not the norm for most couples, but their similarities made it a natural fit. “One of the things that brought us together is we love to hunt and we love to fish,” she said. “With bowfishing, you do both. That makes it easy. We’re not arguing about what we want to do.”
To learn more about bowfishing check out The Bowfishing Bible http://amzn.to/1phQAQH by John E. Phillips
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