The summer months are upon us, bringing scorching temperatures. A constant reminder that we’re still a long way from bow season. Most of us can and will endure the sweat and ‘skeeters, spending time in the back yard slingin’ arrows at targets. But let me offer another option. An option than involves refreshing fun on the water and an off-season challenge for diehard bowhunters.
I am one of those guys that would rather hunt than fish. Few things pull me away from hunting summer coyotes, but when the heat of summer cranks up and rough fish roll, I can’t resist the urge to shoot monster fish with a bow.
Maybe you’ve driven past a bowfishing rig and thought, “looks fun, but I haven’t got that kind of money.” Well, good news. You too can enjoy the fun and challenge of bowfishing at a modest price. High-deck boats and high-dollar bows are not necessary. There are bowfishing opportunities now available for the young and old, rich?and poor.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you must go out and buy a new bow geared specifically for bowfishing. Use the old bow that’s been out in the garage ever since you decided to “upgrade” back before deer season. In fact, you probably don’t want to have your best bow out there on the lake. Bowfishing is rough on equipment, particularly the bow. It gets thrown around the boat, dropped in the water as you attempt to retrieve fish, stepped on, kicked, and the list goes on. Find an old bow that you don’t mind beating up on.
Most bows will do but the AMS FishHawk is made just for bowfishing.
Visit your local pawnshop in search of used bows. They are likely to have just what you’re looking for, and at a fraction of the cost of buying new. Compound and recurves both get equal playing time when it comes to bowfishing. Which one works best? That’s a matter of opinion and opinions are like elbows – everybody’s got a couple of ’em. Find what you’re comfortable with and more importantly, what your confident with.
A friend and longtime bowhunter, Bob Cathey, has logged many hours on an airboat screamin’ across lakes and coastal waters in search of bowfishing opportunities. Bob shares a little insight with us from his many years of bowfishing for competition?and fun.
There are more than just gar in the water so enjoy.
A good shoot starts with locating a good supply of rough fish. What comes under the “rough fish” category? “The fish to look for are carp, gar, cats, drum, bowfin, and buffalo,” says Cathey. Bob has been known to pass up shots at smaller gar, waiting for shots at monster buffalo lurking in the shadows. “Buffalo are a lot of fun to shoot and are quite tasty,” says Cathey.
“Look for fish in shallow waters on the uprise, and then also on the edge of deeper waters,” Cathey says. “Shallow grass beds are always a likely place to find gar and carp. At night, look for fish at the edge of button-ball bushes and willows.”
Bob can often be found toting a compound bow, although he admits that there are times the recurve is the only way to get shots off as fish offer fleeting shot opportunities. Many folks crank down their bow’s poundage for shooting fish. Bob tends to take a different approach. “I like to leave my bow at a higher draw weight,” says Cathey. When shooting carp and gar I’ll have my bow set at 60 pounds. This allows for better anchoring of the fish and also helps condition me for the fall.”
There are several options when it comes to what type of reel to use. Reels on the market allow archers to be as simple or complex as they care to be. There are simple shoot-through type spools that tape onto the lower limb of the bow and are hand wound. Then there’s the Zebco 808. This reel is similar to what you would use on a rod fishing for bluegill, yet it’s oversized and mounts to a reel seat that attaches in the stabilizer hole.
AMS Retriever Reel
I use an AMS Retriever brand reel mounted on my recurve. This type of reel mounts easily to a recurve. Mounting to a compound bow usually requires a mounting bracket. The advantage of this style reel is that line is stacked inside a bottle rather than wound around a spool. This allows the line to exit with minimal friction.
For shooting carp and gar, Bob outfits his bow with a Zebco style reel. This reel allows for quick retrieval following the shot, an advantage when fishing for competition.
Gar, big boys and a whale of excitment
Remember, we’re not after bass and bluegill. Bowfishing for the “big boys” requires serious line. Not monafilament line that you’ve used before, but a braided line with test strength from 80 to over 500 pounds.
Arrow selection is fairly simple. Standard arrows are made of fiberglass and do an adequate job for shooting carp and gar. Most arrows are tipped with a plastic nock. Fletchings on an arrow are basically useless. They do little for arrow flight. I generally tear them off when I purchase a new arrow. It’s just one less thing to get in the way.
When it comes to points and blades, Cathey prefers a 2 barb, chisel point from Muzzy. “It does a great job of anchoring the fish despite the size,” says Cathey.
I’ve used the reversible blades that retract when the point is twisted. This sounds handy, but I’ve lost a lot of fish as they thrashed in the water following the shot. Fish points come in a variety of shapes and sizes for taking fish from carp and gar, to flounder, and gator gar.
From boat or shore, bowfishing keeps you tuned up with hours of fun shooting.
The early months of summer find carp and gar in shallow waters. You’ll often see and hear these fish as they roll and thrash in shallow waters. Fishing is available not only to those in boats, but those willing to wade around in shallow waters. Fish can be located by moving slowly along banks or in shallow water. Look for an exposed fin above the water’s surface, or the long slender shadows of gar as they slip through vegetation in low-level waters.
An abundance of summer rains can cause water to spill over levees flooding fields and timber. Look for these areas. They are likely to have fish – and in very large numbers. The best shoot I’ve been on to date was following a severe storm. Rising water levels caused the nearby lake to rise spilling over into a field. The action was simply amazing. Upon wading into the flooded field, I immediately began to feel fish bumping into my legs. The water was a mere six inches and there were thousands of fish scrambling for deeper waters.
Cathey says making shots on fish can be difficult. “Most people underestimate the deceptive appearance of fish below the water’s surface,” says Cathey. “The aiming point all depends on how deep and how far the fish are from the shooter. If the fish is on the surface, you can usually hold right on ’em. However, if the fish is in deeper water, you must hold low. Generally the deeper the fish, the lower you’ll need to hold below the fish. The exception to this rule comes when shooting straight down on fish. In this case, you can just hold right on ’em.”
When the temperatures of summer soar, why not get your feet wet. Grab an ol’ bow, get the gear, and jump in. You’ll find a challenge that’ll keep your archery skills keen throughout the summer months and an opportunity to keep “hunting” throughout the offseason.
Tips for getting started
Talk to your local wildlife officers for information on where to go. They can tell you what kind of fish to look for and where to go on the bodies of water you fish.
Wear polarized glasses to better see fish amidst the water’s glare.
Reflections in the water can be deceitful. Shots on fish in deeper water will require holding below the fish to make an accurate shot.
Remember, game fish are illegal to take with bowfishing equipment. Archers must shoot what are termed “rough fish.” Carp, gar, drum, buffalo, catfish, and others.
Better archery pro-shops may have bowfishing gear, but check out the following for your complete sources for bowfishing equipment, gear, and information.