Last Wednesday evening I treated my soon-to-leave-for-college nephew and my brother to an evening of bowfishing on Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir. What an exciting and unique experience this was!
Bowfishing is just that — fishing with a bow and arrow. This is accomplished by using a specialized fiberglass arrow tethered to the bow with a length of braided line which allows the fish to be retrieved following a successful shot. A specialized line retriever resembling a bottle with a crank handle on it is used to retrieve the line and keep it contained.
For this four-hour expedition, we were capably guided by Marty McIntyre, the owner of GarQuest Adventures. McIntyre is a retired U.S. Army noncommissioned officer who has a real passion for this sport, an easygoing demeanor and a desire to see his customers succeed. He supplied everything we needed for this trip except snacks and our fishing licenses, and he even maintains both right- and left-handed bows for guests.
Our shooting platform was a converted deckboat with a shooting floor in the front for shooting and upholstered bench seating in the rear for traveling in comfort. A single-hand controlled electric trolling motor pulled our boat through the skinniest of water, and quiet Honda generators on the back supplied the electricity for both the trolling motor and the halogen lights.
We met at the Stillhouse Marina around 8 p.m., went over our game plan, and then worked on the mechanics of shooting well. The greatest challenge in bowfishing is accounting for the refraction of light as it penetrates into the water. When rays of light strike the water’s surface, the water “bends” these rays, thus objects in the water, including our quarry, are not actually located where they appear.
One must aim well beneath the target in order to strike it with the arrow, and this can be counterintuitive. McIntyre did a great job of instructing us in this area, and a great job of being patient with us when we missed, despite his great instruction.
In Texas, only nongame species of fish are able to be legally pursued with archery equipment. Nongame species are generally those species to which size and bag limits are not assigned, such as carp, buffalo, suckers and shad.
As we set out after these “rough fish,” the generator-powered bank of eight halogen lights on the nose of McIntyre’s boat lit up the night and the shallow waters we patrolled. Bowfishing aside, it was incredible just being out at night and seeing the amount of wildlife active under the cover of darkness. We spotted deer, herons, turtles, spiders and fish — lots of fish.
As we eased along the shoreline, the water was typically clear with a green-yellow tint to it, but the anticipation built every time we saw the water “clouded up,” as it meant that feeding fish were nearby. In fact, our easiest shots of the night came on carp and buffalo that were so engrossed in feeding that their tails were pointed up toward the surface and their noses buried down in the muck on the bottom as they rooted around for organic matter to feed on.
These rooting fish made a small mud cloud easily seen from yards away. So when we approached, we just studied the muddy “boil” (typically 2 to 4 feet in diameter) to try to locate the fish within it.
When everything finally came together and a clean shot was made on a fish, the “stuck” fish would panic and swim off for quite a distance with the arrow embedded in it, trailing the braided retrieval line. Specially designed barbed points on the tip of the arrow usually kept the arrow from coming out. Once the shot is made, the bow is laid down and the fish is fought by hand by grasping the retrieval line and fighting the fish back to the boat. All the while, one must be careful not to exert so much pressure that the arrow pulls out.
It was amazing to me how differently the fish we pursued behave at night compared to their behavior in the daytime. For example, carp, which are normally wary and don’t let you approach near at all without spooking during the daytime, allowed us to approach within just a few feet. Occasionally, we even had fish that we shot at and missed stay close enough, and relaxed enough, to allow for a second shot or even a third shot. When all was said and done, our party of three hit a total of 12 fish on this particular outing.
Bowfishing is not only limited to night hours, however, the species and tactics for daytime bowfishing do vary as compared to our approach on this outing. Even for someone who has shot a bow or bowhunted before, one would be wise to take your first bowfishing trip with a guide.
This will greatly decrease your learning curve, help separate marketing claims from reality in the area of necessary gear, and help you decide if this sport is for you before you make an investment to get started.