May 12, 2015
Chalk bowfishing up to one of the pursuits that I don't want to watch on outdoor television. Granted, I will watch it if it's on, but I'd much rather bowfish myself than sit in a recliner and watch it happen. Just like turkey hunting, bowfishing doesn't translate well to television.
This is largely because bowfishing itself is pure fun, but doesn't really look that way on screen. It's also because in bowfishing, just like turkey hunting, there aren't really any true trophies. Or to put it a different way — they are all trophies of the same caliber.
Sure, there are behemoth carp or occasionally you'll see someone skewer a 150-year old giant of an alligator gar, but most of the time it's just normal-sized fish in a fairly milquetoast setting. And if someone shoots a hefty carp and declares it a trophy, who really cares but the bowfisherman and his buddies?
Another reason, perhaps the main reason I don't relish bowfishing television, is that it makes the whole pursuit tend to look so easy. Sort of like a big buck getting plunked on a food plot in a half-hour show doesn't really display the behind-the-scenes time, work and Benjamins that went into the hunt. Bowfishing can be challenging, and something that not everyone excels at.
If this sounds familiar, keep reading. Following are eight tips that will make you a better bowfishermen.
I know plenty of bowfishermen who will not go unless they are going to be in a boat. This is understandable, sort of. There are so many simple spots to bowfish from shore that writing it off entirely is a bad idea. You can work on your stalking game, while keeping things uncluttered.
If you've never tried to work along a cattail-lined ditch in search of a rooting carp, or tip-toed along a stream bank while looking for the telltale orange fins of a redhorse sucker, then you've missed out. Start looking around at local streams, ponds, small water and large. You'll find bank bowfishing opportunities that help you develop some serious skewering skills.
Okay, so you're hooked on a boat. I get that. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't slow down and creep along the water at a snail's pace. Almost every time we pick up a bow to hunt anything, we'd be better off going slowly. This goes for bucks, bulls and even dogfish. If you're night fishing, or going at it in the daylight, slow down.
Think of it like this: Have you ever been on a blood trail with someone who simply walks ahead of everyone else and stumbles around looking for a corpse? They miss the little drops of blood, or the scuffed up leaves indicating that the trail has made a 90-degree turn in a new direction. That's no different than going too fast in a boat. You'll miss fish and, consequently, shooting opportunities.
It's easy to get locked into a shallow bowfishing routine. This is because of several things, but the main reason is that it's easier to find fish in a foot of water versus 10 feet. That doesn't mean that there won't be fish surfacing over deeper water, or simply cruising over greater depths.
I've got a few bowfishing spots where big buff and gar hang out over deep water. They spend their time near the surface offering shots, but they don't seem to be relating to any type of cover or contour. They are, I'm sure, I just don't see it. But that doesn't matter, because I know occasionally I'll find them offshore, in places that most bowfishermen would never look.
Let's Get It On
The time of year when rough fish congregate shallow that makes them more rough fish to shoot varies by species and water temperature. The carp spawn is arguably the easiest to recognize because those golden scalies will be rolling, jumping and roiling in shallow bays. There are other times, though, that gar, suckers and dogfish make a major movement to spawning grounds and offer up target-rich environments.
The exact timing of the spawn will vary somewhat from year to year, but you can bet it will have an awful lot to do with water temperature and the amount of daylight. Learn to read both and how they affect spawning, and you'll dial into some killer days on the water.
I've got two three-year olds, so it's safe to say that I appreciate any quiet time I can get. My twins seem bent on making noise pretty much nonstop, and there are simply times when shrieking for the sake of shrieking is not a good idea. This concept also applies to bowfishing. It's easy to whoop it up because bowfishing is fun, but a stealthier approach is almost always better.
This goes for our voices of course, but also clunking bottom limbs on the side of the boat or stomping around in search of a fish. Water transmits sound well, and fish — especially fish that have been shot at before — will scoot out of your life or descend through the water column before you can get a shot if you make too much noise. Come to think of it, there aren't very many types of hunting where making unnecessary noise isn't deleterious to overall success.
Observe, Observe, Observe
The best deer hunters I know spend a ton of time watching deer. They don't shoot the first deer to walk past their stand, and their offseason is full of time spent peering through binoculars and spotting scopes. They study deer behavior and learn to understand what drives movement. Bowfishermen can take that strategy and boil it down.
I'm not advocating a scouting regimen for carp, but I'll say this — the next time you see a rough fish, slow down and watch to see what it is doing. Instead of moving right in and shooting, observe its behavior. You might suddenly notice that there are several other previously unseen fish there, or that it swims in a certain route. That information can help you when you move on to the next cove, or come back a few days later.
All of us believe in our hearts that there are a few products out there that will make us better bowhunters. In the deer world that might be a new grunt call, a decoy, a bottle of doe urine, or something else. Bowfishing is different, but there is one thing you can buy to get better - top-quality sunglasses
Polarized shades cut surface glare and give you an edge when looking for a finning rough. Cheap shades will work, but not very well. Spend a little extra dough on good sunglasses, which are designed to allow you to see in the water and you'll never regret it.
Read The Weather
As I've mentioned, I've got two three-year olds at home. This means that I'm not as excited about all-night bowfishing excursions. I'm much more of a bankers' hours bowfishermen these days. If you're a daytime bowfishermen as well, don't just look for bluebirds skies and warm temperatures to spend your days on the water.
Approaching fronts can bring out the rough fish just like they kickstart epic walleye and bass bites. Overcast skies seem to convince fish that they can't be easily spotted, and they often move shallow. A slight chop on the water will do this as well. Bowfish the lee side of cover and take advantage of this tendency. Some of the best bowfishing I've ever had has occurred during cloudy, windy days.