A Lot Like Fishing, a Lot Like Hunting and a Whole Lot of Fun!
It was so hot earlier this day. On the white beaches of Alabama, the sun baked all of those tourists covered with oil, as Jimmy Buffet sang In “Margaritaville.” Now, after the sun had dropped below the gas rigs off to the west, the air was much cooler and the water flat and clear.
A boat in the darkness was floating in a brilliant pool of its own light slowly moving up the shoreline of Orange Beach. All the boat crew stood and looked intently into the water. Then, the person on the bow stepped carefully to the very front of the boat, lifted an old compound bow and quickly drew on a target.
When the arrow left the bow, there was a flurry of wild water in the shallows. Then, the shooter’s position changed to the other side of the boat as something very strong and upset took line off the reel and pulled hard. The other crewmembers gave advice. As the shot fish began to tire, line was retrieved steadily and the fish came to the boat side.
The guide leaned down with a sharp gaff. With a quick jerk, the 20-pound stingray came aboard, still very unhappy. The arrow was removed, the fish subdued and pictures were taken. Everyone was smiling and laughing. The next shooter hurried to take her place on the bow of the boat.
When the trip ended around midnight, there was a large pile of stingrays and a few flounder piled in the box of the boat. Even though a few yawns were seen and some sore muscles were massaged and rubbed, no one seemed to be disappointed. In fact, plans were made for another bowfishing trip on the Alabama Gulf Coast in the very near future.
Just about the best things about bowfishing on the Alabama Gulf Coast, the costs are pretty low, the setup simple and the results can be outstanding. Of course, bowfishing here is a whole lot of fun.
Rigging Up Right
Although it’s perfectly legal and often quite productive to bowfish during the day, most dedicated bowfishers find the cooler temperatures at night to be best for good bowfishing trips. Bright overhead sunlight can produce either very good seeing conditions or it can be totally worthless for seeing fish. Artificial nights used for night fishing often produce much more uniform seeing conditions for shooters.
Of course, good lighting is crucial. You can’t shoot what you can’t see, so lights on the bowfishing boat must be carefully placed so that shooters can get the best benefit of the light. Capt. Jason Mallette of Liquid Trails bowfishing charters says, “I use a Carolina Skiff wide Model 198 with welded aluminum light rail. I also have a shooting stool that makes it more comfortable for shooters for the long waits between shots. I run 10 lights, six 250-watt halogen lights and four 50-watt LED lights. For power, I run a Honda 2000 generator.”
Of course, beginning bowfishers who want to get into the bowfishing game without paying so much cash up front can do quite well with a very simple rig. Captain Jason says, “To get started, just get a basic flat-bottomed boat, put some shop lights on the front and rig up a generator.”
“Good lighting is crucial. You can’t shoot what you can’t see.”
Make sure that the generator and the lights are very securely mounted to the boat. A generator failing off a platform in a wake can cause some real problems to the boat hull and it doesn’t do the generator any good, either. Hot lights falling into the water can be exciting, also. Just make sure everything is very firmly attached before going out on the water.
Once a suitable boat and lighting system has been set up, bowfishers need to think about their actual shooting gear. Captain Jason tells us, “I like a smaller bow with a light draw. I like a Pearson Sidewinder or a PSE Discovery bow. These lighter weight and lighter draw bows make it easy for anyone of any size to have success.”
It’s totally possible to use older recurve bows for bowfishing duty, but it would not be a good idea to bring that prized old bow because saltwater bowfishing, in fact, bowfishing of any kind, is hard on equipment. There’s lots of water to get on gear and salt water is especially rough on bows.
Brian Hughes of Backwater Outdoors, a major bowfishing equipment sales company, says, “A bow of 30- to 50- pound draw and good bowfishing reel setup work very well. We recommend the Muzzy bowfishing reel, 200-pound Fast Flight line, a Muzzy reel seat and Muzzy Fish Hook. We also use Muzzy carp point arrows.”
A Good Night for Bowfishing?
Obviously, going out bowfishing on a stormy, windy, high-wave sort of night is not a good idea for many reasons. Bowfishers can have good success any time of the year that the water temperatures are above 75 degrees, but summer is prime bowfishing season on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Capt. Jason Mallette says, “In good clean water, we can shoot fish as deep as six feet. Out in the gulf in clean water, we can shoot up to six feet deep, too. On a good night, we can shoot up to 400 pounds of rays and other fish.”
Most shots taken at night will be about one to two feet deep. These are much easier shots to make to get a good arrow placement in the fish. Perfect bowfishing conditions are winds less than 10 knots and clear, clear water. If the water is murky or choppy, this makes seeing the fish much more difficult.
Why Do I Miss so Many Shots?
Beginning bowfishers often face frustration when they draw careful aim on a ray or gar and then totally miss. The problem comes from the fact that light reflected from the fish has to pass through both water and air and these two substances transmit light at different rates. In short, this situation called refraction happens when the water acts like a lens to change the way the light reaches the archer’s eye. How deep the fish is, the angle the shooter sees from and even how tall the shooter is all make a difference in dealing with refraction. If the shooter doesn’t allow for refraction and simply shoots directly at the target, usually a good idea when bowhunting in most conditions, the result will be a miss every time.
To correct for refraction, the shooter needs to aim low, sometimes very low. It takes a lot of practice on the water for each particular archer to learn just how deep to hold on a target.
Capt. Jason Mallette says, “Don’t hold on the target too long. Just draw to the target. This should get the right and left part of aiming taken care of. Then drop the aim low. Try to take the shot within three seconds of drawing on the fish.”
It takes time and lots of practice to make aiming at fish deep in the water a natural part of the bowfisher’s skills, but at least this kind of practice is a lot of fun.
What Kind of Fish to Shoot?
Unlike rod and reel fishing where the angler really doesn’t have much to say about what kind and size fish hits a bait, in bowfishing, the shooter is in charge. The decision to shoot or not is up to the bowfisherman.
In fresh water along the Gulf Coast, bowfishers can take carp, buffalo, gar, grinnel, drum and catfish. In salt water, sharks, stingrays, flounder, sheepshead, mullet as well as other species can be taken.
“Know your game so you don’t shoot something you’re not supposed to shoot.” — Capt. Jason Mallette
Some of these fish, such as sheepshead, flounder and mullet, are prime eating fish, but what about sharks, rays, skates and other fish taken by bow? What happens to them?
Captain Jason says, “For most bowfishers in Alabama, nothing goes to waste. When we shoot a couple hundred pounds of rays, and this is pretty common, the rays are used for shark bait. Any other fish are used for crab trap bait. Crabbers are always happy to get a big supply of free crab trap bait. Many bowfishers like to dress out and eat the rays and sharks we shoot.”
Captain Jason reminds potential bowfishers, “Know your game so you don’t shoot something you’re not supposed to shoot.”
Shooting an illegal fish can produce some hefty fines, so be sure and check the regulations, which can change from year to year, to make sure that only fish that are fair game for bowfishers are taken.
Great Nights Outdoors
Many times, kids and women who get bored by regular daytime fishing just love the excitement, challenge and constant activity of bowfishing. The equipment is not expensive. The results are immediate and the conditions are often much more pleasant than in the heat and humidity of daytime in the summer on the Alabama Coast.
As Capt. Jason Mallette tells us, “Get out with some friends and do it! It is a fast-paced sport that can be an addictive habit.”
Sounds like fun to us.
Important contact Information
Capt. Brian Hughes
Capt. Jason Malette