- Bowfishing Adventure: A Wild Ride Chasing Flying Carp with Team GoWild and Bear Archery
Bowfishing Adventure: A Wild Ride Chasing Flying Carp with Team GoWild and Bear Archery
By Jacob Knight, Team GoWild
We have worked with Bear Archery for a couple years now and after meeting some of the Bear and Cajun Bowfishing team at a Total Archery Challenge event, the first invite to join them for bowfishing was extended. We scheduled the date and agreed to show up as complete bowfishing beginners, for better or worse.
The great thing about the Bear team is that they are used to taking out first-time bowfishers and were prepared with everything we needed for a great night on the water. Bowfishing has been around for a long time and has seen somewhat of a spike in participation over the last few years. There are still a ton of outdoor enthusiasts that don’t know what the heck it is. Hopefully you’ll see how low the barrier to entry is and will find a way to try it out where you live or travel.
Now, I feel the need to give a little bit of a disclaimer that we did this trip on an expensive boat kitted out for bowfishing with a 250hp outboard, a 30hp kicker motor, more lights than exist in my house and a ton of deck space to move around accommodating 6 people on our trip. Oh, and we had 3 people onboard that have done multiple bowfishing tournaments, been sponsored or at least been around the sport for years. The best thing about the sport though is that you don’t need that stuff. You can literally figure it out having never picked up a bow.
The Cajun Bowfishing boat
We showed up at the Bear Archery HQ in Evansville, Indiana, to meet the group before heading to grab dinner. I was told that we would be shooting “jumpers” and the rest of the prep was left a mystery. The Bear team had a little chuckle that we didn’t come mentally or physically prepared to get messy with fish slime, but our team just shrugged our shoulders and was prepared for whatever.
Over dinner we got a rundown on the kind of fish we would be chasing, silver carp, what I have always known as the subspecies of Asian carp. They wreak havoc on fishery biology and ruin fishing conditions as a prolific invasive species. I personally had a vendetta. We were told that we will be working in a relatively small area of the lake always within eyeshot of the boat ramp. We were going to motor around in shallow water trying to find the right frequency of the motor to make the fish jump out of the water. The fish respond to the vibrations in the water and launch themselves into the air, sometimes four feet high. At which point, we were to shoot (and shoot a lot) at the hurling fish. Silver carp are not small fish to begin with, averaging around 30 inches. Big target, easy shots, right?
The GoWild teams watches the Cajun Bowfishing team demonstrate how to bowfish.
After dinner we headed to drop the boat in the water where we idled out about 50 yards and got our hands on the bows for the first time. Bowfishing rigs are pretty interesting and if you have shot a compound bow, you will be familiar with the setup. The two main types of bows used are a let-off bow and a constant draw bow, both using cams like a regular compound bow. The let-off version allows you to hold less weight at full draw and the constant draw bow means you are holding the full weight at full draw, but in many cases you don’t sit and wait to take a shot. You are drawing upon seeing the fish and instinctually shooting, very quickly. There are no sights or peeps on the bow. No time to look through them. Lastly, the most noticeable addition on the bow is the reel. The two types on the boat with us were the spinner, like the Zebco-style most people learn to fish with and the bottle style. I still don’t fully understand how the bottle reel works, but there is a small reel similar in shape to a fly reel that funnels the line back into a plastic bottle. It’s not spooled like the spinner, more traditional fishing reel. Both reels types have the ever important button. If you don’t push that button before firing your shot, your arrow falls sadly short into the water. The button opens the reel up to allow the line to fly quickly through the air. Don’t forget to push the button!
GoWild team member, Brayden Ware takes aim with his Cajun Bowfishing bow
The next piece of equipment that will be familiar to anyone that has shot a bow is the arrow. These arrows are more stout than what you may be used to with hunting or target arrows and the most noticeable difference is the line attached to the back of them, going to the reel. Each arrow was tipped with an interesting broadhead that was a combination of a field point and 2-4 prongs swept backward. These prongs are to help hold the fish to retrieve it, not to cut or pass through the fish like a traditional hunting broadhead.
Silver carp are soft-sided fish, so there is a delicate dance of not pulling too hard and pulling your arrow all the way back through as you retrieve the fish. But, I am getting ahead of myself. You have to shoot one first!
The GoWild team gets ready for flying carp
The great thing about the lake we went to is that we did not have to go far for the action to start. We stood on the bow of the boat as we started to motor around above idle, to get the pitch of the motor right. Our anticipation was palpable and my heart was racing. It did not take long for us to see the first fish jump, porpoising 6 inches or so out of the water. Nobody took a shot, or even drew back a bow. But, we were able to see how fast this action was going to be because within seconds another fish was flying into the side of the boat with a loud thud. Ted from the Bear Archery team said, “you just have to start shooting a lot.”
GoWild team member, Brayden Ware getting ready to take a shot
So, that is exactly what we did. Many of our early shots were way too late to connect with a fish. Within 5 minutes of us starting to motor around, Lucas from Bear connected on a nice fish and as he reeled it in, we all got to see the size of these things. They are big, slimy and don’t just lay down after being hit with an arrow. They show up on the deck of the boat flopping around spreading their slime around for all to enjoy. It was awesome!
Since these fish are an invasive species, they have to be dispatched by puncturing their air bladder with a gaff hook before sinking them back into the lake.
Within the next ten minutes, Caleb from Bear was also on the board. Team GoWild took this personally and the competition was on. We were shooting a lot of arrows at these fish and not connecting. Then, Ted started to let us in on some tips. If you try to shoot the fish while they are in the air, you have a fraction of the amount of time to line up your shot compared to aiming where the fish will re-enter the water. Those milliseconds help. It took me about an hour to connect with my first fish. It was probably after my 100th shot though. Seriously, you shoot a lot. When you bring the fish in, you do a combination of pulling the line in by hand or using the bow and then reel up the slack. I learned on the next fish soon after that just trying to reel the fish in the drag of the boat is a bad idea. I pulled the arrow right through the fish and did not get it to the boat.
Jacob Knight is the first to nab a silver carp from the GoWild team
As we continued to motor around that area of the lake we would go over shallower spots or humps and this seemed to be where the fish would really get worked up and start jumping up all over the place. There are many times where you can see the wake of fish trying to move away from the oncoming boat and that was a sign to be ready, we were about to be in ‘em. The entire boat celebrated each fish, shared high fives and eagerly awaited the boat moving again to get more fish stirred. One crazy thing was that when someone shot a fish and the boat idled down to make the retrieval easier, more fish decided at that moment to launch. You had to always be ready and draw as fast as you could, aiming where you thought the fish would end up.
GoWild team member, Arica Johnson, starts reeling them in
Everybody started hitting fish and while the team fish total does not reflect it, Team GoWild definitely won. We chased these fish around for nearly 6 hours, even through swarms of mayflies that legitimately looked like a snow storm. We were treated to the best equipment for this evening of fun, but the great thing is that you don’t need the fully kitted boat to enjoy bowfishing. There are plenty of rough fish species that can be chased from the shoreline with a bowfishing rig. From carp to gar and even stingrays in saltwater, the boat is not a prerequisite. If you are a traditional bow hunter, this is great practice getting reps in on a moving target and shooting instinctually. If you are a compound bow hunter, you can replicate your hunting experience with a let-off bowfishing rig and get more reps in, especially shooting under pressure. If you have never shot a bow and think this still sounds like fun, I honestly believe that you will still love it.
Brayden Ware lands the shot and puts another on the board for the GoWild team
As with any kind of hunting or fishing, make sure you check the local regulations before getting out on the water chasing these fish and make sure you know the species that live around them that cannot be shot. I think I speak for our entire team that went, we will definitely be waiting at the boat ramp the next time we get invited bowfishing. The thrill was unlike anything I have done on the water before.