Bowfishing is an old sport that, because of the World Wide Web, social media, YouTube, and hunting shows, is gaining popularity. It is a sport that can be inexpensive, it is loads of fun, it gets you outdoors, and anyone, men or women, young or old can participate. I say inexpensive but, like many outdoor sports, you can spend as much money as you want to. . .and many want to spend a lot! Kind of like a rifle hunter that only needs a two hundred dollar rifle to harvest a deer but “needs” a high end rifle, hunting blind, camo attire, 4-wheeler, private hunting land and so on. A bowfisher could easily get by with a hundred and fifty dollar setup but will often spend thousands after they get a taste of the fun: new bow set up, new boat, trolling motor, generator, batteries, lights, pickup to pull the boat, you get the picture.
|Matt Willis, Dwayne Carter, Lance Carter|
I asked a couple bowfishermen why they liked bowfishing and they both stated it was exciting. It is a hunt where you do not have to sit quietly waiting on the game. You get to be loud, you get to cheer your friends on that make a good shot on a fish and give a good harassing when someone misses. You get to shoot over and over and are not finished with the hunt after the first kill.
I remember bowfishing at Lake Texhoma with my dad when I was younger, a lot younger, but it’s been several years since I’ve enjoyed the sport. After seeing an interest by many on social media I thought I’d see what the big deal was and why it is again gaining popularity. When dad and I bowfished we just used our fishing boat and dad took the sight off my hunting bow, attached a reel in its place, attached a bowfishing arrow to it, and we started shooting. Today, setups can get pretty elaborate. Some build special boats with a raised platform, which help you see deeper into the water with less reflection. Some buy special bows and retrieval systems.
I visited with Dwayne Carter of Dwayne Carter Hunting and Oklahoma record holder for the shortnose gar (nine pounds eleven and a half ounces and forty three and a quarter inches long, he was quick to mention) about bowfishing. First we talked about equipment. What do you have to have what can you get by without and this is what Dwayne said. “All you absolutely have to have to get started is a bow with some type of retrieval system; my first was a Folgers coffee can with twine wrapped around it, and an arrow with a barbed point. A fiberglass arrow is the most popular and very reasonably priced, running around $10 an arrow. You can pick up a heavy duty carbon arrow but it will set you back more than two times the cost of a fiberglass arrow. It doesn’t matter if you have a recurve or a compound bow, there are benefits to both. When it comes to retrieval systems there are a few ways you can go. Of course you can go the extremely cheap way and use a coffee can or you can spend around seventy dollars and get a spincast reel or a retriever reel in the one hundred dollar range. A barbed point, which penetrates through the fish and uses the barbs to hold the fish on your arrow for retrieval, will run you about eight dollars. There are a ton of accessories you can add but my advice on this is find a friend who is into bowfishing and look at their set up or go to a good archery shop and the staff bowfishing expert to get you set up.”
I spoke with Brian, the staff bowfishing expert at Davenport’s Archery about equipment and technique. I asked him what his best advice was. He replied simply: “aim low”. Because of the refraction of the water the fish are usually deeper than they appear. That one looked a foot deep and was really three feet deep. Add night shooting and it gets even harder. If you think you’re aimed low enough then aim even lower. As one bowfisherman, Britches Ryerson, interjected during our conversation, the point of bowfishing is to have fun and do not get frustrated with misses.
|Davenport's Archery Staff Bowfishing Expert Brian Seaton with an alligator gar|
So, now that you have your setup, what do you bowfish for? “Trash fish” also known as nongame fish is what you are looking for: gar, carp, or paddlefish. To shoot these nongame fish you do need an Oklahoma fishing license and a paddlefish license, which you can get for free when you buy a fishing license. Paddlefish and alligator gar are the only two nongame fish that have special requirements. You can only harvest one paddlefish a day with a limit of two per year and you cannot shoot paddlefish on Monday or Fridays. Hey, I’m just telling you the rules, I’m not telling you they make sense! Alligator gar are restricted to one a day but no yearly limit or limit on days you can harvest. You are required to check these fish in with the Oklahoma Wildlife Department using the E-check system or calling a phone number available in the Oklahoma Fishing Regulations. Other species of carp and gar have no limits and no restrictions. Just make sure you properly dispose of them.
Where do you find these nongame fish for shooting in Oklahoma? Just about any decent size creek, pond, river, or lake will have plenty of fish for shooting. The best place to look is in grassy water and during the heat of the day look in water with trees for shade. Speaking of time of day, you can shoot fish day or night. At night bowfishers will outfit their boats with lights. You can use LED or halogen but you have to look at electric supply. LED draw less amps and can be ran off good batteries for a few hours, halogen generally require a small generator.
If spending money on a boat setup isn’t what you want to do you can do what many do and wade the banks of the waterways or shoot off the banks. You will still get plenty of action and save a *boatload* of money. To do this you only need your bow, retrieval system, and arrow.
Why do people shoot nongame fish? Well, many of these nongame fish are not native to Oklahoma waters and most people say they are not good for eating. Like any such wild game, if they are not controlled through legal harvest they will become more invasive. The gar species will eat game fish, destroying the population of good fish in a waterway quickly and the carp move into the areas where game fish spawn and destroy their beds.
Dwayne also told me about the Oklahoma Bowfishing Association. They host several tournaments throughout the year to get people out and hooked on bowfishing. Dwayne and his team took 3rd place a while back in the Big Five Red River Tournament. These tournaments all have different setups. Some go by most weighted in fish, some by size of individual fish, some by specific breed of fish. I asked Dwayne what his best advice was for bowfishing, whether it’s a newbie or someone who’s bowfished a lot and he told me “be safe, have fun, and keep shooting. The more you shoot the more fish you’ll reel in. You might not hit every one you shoot at but that’s okay, you’re there for a good time.” So ladies and gentlemen, get out and enjoy a fun sport where there are no heavy expectations, just heavy fish.
|Brian Seaton, Randy Mayfield, Dwayne Carter, Dustin Statton, and Derek Mayfield|
|Christine Carter - Stingray kill while bowfishing the Gulf of Mexico|