By Fred Eichler
This column is in two parts, because I had to give a little history on how it came to be that I would travel such a long distance to pursue my biggest fish with a bow.
I have been a bowfishing fan for about as long as I have been shooting a bow. I started out chasing frogs and carp. I had a blast, but I was always looking for new adventures and new species of fish to go after with my bow.
During the summer months, besides hogs and some small game, for me, bowfishing was where the action was. I was after anything and everything that swam and was legal. I was especially excited about the tastier fish. I know all fish are edible, and smoked carp is delicious, and I have even had stingray that tasted like scallops. But, if we are being honest, carp is not the main go-to in the fish department for amazing table fare. And at the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump, it is darn hard to beat a fried frog leg, fried catfish, fried gar strap, fried redfish, sheephead, black drum, or the myriad other fish that are way better than carp.
My bowfishing excursions took me to different places in search of different species. I wanted to experience it all, and because bowfishing is a relatively inexpensive sport, if I could afford gas money, a license, and sometimes even a bowfishing guide, I was constantly going somewhere.
When it came to bowfishing, I was living the adage, “jack of all trades, master of none.” I wanted to learn a little bit about every species of fish. Once I learned where to hunt it, how to hunt it, and what time of day or night to hunt it, I was ready to go. Once I shot and ate it. I was ready to move on to something else. I would often repeat the super-fun ones, the super-tasty ones, or the ones that the family and I could do together. But for the most part, after harvesting the species I was after, I was ready to move on to something else.
I became enthralled with big fish, and even alligators. I liked the challenges involved, as well as trying to figure out the right gear for the right species and situation. I often tested new Muzzy bowfishing equipment before it hit the market, and I gave my input on a lot of different gear. Over the years, I had developed a formula for what worked in my opinion based on what I was going after, and where I was going after it.
While talking with my friend, Ty Miller, who lives in Mexico, we discussed how cool it would be to bowfish for marlin. To me, a marlin would be the ultimate bowfishing challenge. Not just the challenge of luring one into bow range, but the challenge of how to handle a fish that powerful once it was hit with an arrow.
So, I began a multiyear quest. First, I started researching. I learned the main difficulty was figuring out where to legally do it. While I was discovering that there were limited places to even go, my friend Ty was in the process of getting the first permit ever given in Mexico to allow bowfishing for a marlin. I also realized in my research that there wasn’t any information out there on bowfishing marlin. The only thing I could find was an old Howard Hill video of him shooting a marlin with a bow, but the line then went to a rod and reel and he eventually brought the fish in with the rod. I wanted to do it without a rod and reel. Because I couldn’t find any other information on bowfishing marlin, I had to rely on my own past experiences, and those of friends who were spearfishermen, to help me figure out how to get it done.
Basically, I was on my own on this one…
Ty, of Blue Arrow Expeditions, had received the first permit to guide bowfishermen for billfish from Mexico’s equivalent of our Game and Fish Departments. The permit had taken years to obtain, and this was going to be an exploratory proof-of-concept trip.
I was joined by my good friend Larry Plunk, who was going to try to shoot a marlin with his Hoyt compound bow, and I was going to use my Hoyt Satori recurve. My wife, Michele, and our boys also came along for the fishing and the adventure.
While researching bowfishing for marlin, the biggest obstacle was the lack of information. The only person I could find who had ever shot a marlin with a bow was Howard Hill, and his arrow had a line that was attached to a rod and reel. I wanted to take one without fighting the fish on a rod and reel. Besides getting a marlin in bow range, I knew my biggest challenge would be retrieving the fish.
As the big day grew closer, my concerns about landing a marlin grew. Ty felt confident he could get a striped marlin into bow range by using live bait with a barbless hook to lure a marlin up to the back of the boat. It was the peak of the marlin season, and he felt getting a shot wouldn’t be a problem.
As I’ve done with alligators and sharks, I would need to use jugs to slow the marlin down and keep it in sight. I wasn’t sure how many jugs I’d need, and I also had concerns with the arrow pulling out and losing the fish. Too many jugs and the fish could just pull off of my Muzzy arrow. I also was worried about a shark attacking the struggling marlin before I could get it into the boat.
I got great advice from another friend, Michael Jensz, who is an avid spearfisherman and traditional bowhunter in Australia. He advised using a type of rubber bungee cord with two bullet-headed floats and the line running through the rubber. This aids spearfishermen when shooting large fish, because the stretch in the rubber prevents the spear from pulling out of the fish.
We were met at the airport in Loreto, Mexico, by one of Ty’s friends, and taken to a beautiful hotel on the beach, which was included in the price. Unfortunately, the weather was too rough to travel to our destination the next day, but the hotel, food, and our hosts made that a pretty easy delay to deal with.
Once the weather improved, we were driven to Adolpho Lopez Mateos, a small coastal town where we loaded into two small boats and ran to Magdalena Island, located off the Baja California Peninsula on the Pacific Ocean side. After beaching the boats, we jumped into two vehicles and drove over an hour on the beach at low tide (the only time you could drive that stretch) to a remote seasonal fishing camp. Just the drive along the beach was incredible; we saw whales, sea turtles, multiple coyotes, and an incredible sunset.
The small fishing camp was on a bluff overlooking the bay, and the view was amazing. The next day, we loaded up in two boats. My family was going fishing on one boat, while Larry and I were going after striped marlin in the other vessel. Unfortunately, the weather kicked up and huge swells forced us to retreat back to camp. We went out to a small estuary that was protected from the wind, and in the mangroves I managed to shoot a big mullet, which gave our guides confidence in our shooting abilities.
The next day, we went out again and had some close calls, but neither of us scored on a marlin. It was a learning experience for us, as well as for Ty and his crew. Despite our failure, Michele and the kids had a blast catching marlin and mahi mahi on rod and reel.
The following day, we saw tons of marlin but just couldn’t close the deal. Every time we got a marlin in close was a learning experience. We learned what they would tolerate, and what they wouldn’t. We both also missed a few shots when we were too anxious and shot when the fish was too deep, or too far away.
The misses and close calls taught us something every time. I learned that trying to shoot a marlin that is darting left and right and up and down and sometimes both in the blink of an eye is really difficult. Throw in a boat moving 10-15 miles per hour and rolling in swells, and you’ll understand why I was thinking I had possibly bitten off more than I could chew. I had to find my patience, and I told myself I was only going to take a shot that was perfect from that point on.
Ty and his crew put a few marlin right past me, but as I drew, the fish would either spot me or just break off from chasing the bait. Finally, a marlin came in hard and fast chasing the bait. His bill was slashing at the bait and I saw my chance. As soon as the Muzzy fishpoint hit, I could see it was completely through the seven-foot-plus marlin.
When the floats deployed smoothly, I was a basket case. Larry and Ty and the first mate, David, were all congratulating me, and we were all yelling in excitement. My marlin went a short distance, tugging the floats, but the fight was gone out of him. I was still nervous until we finally had the marlin on board the boat.
The perfect end to this adventure was when less than an hour after boating my marlin, my buddy Larry made a great shot and stoned a beautiful marlin. Two marlins hit, and two boated. In my opinion, it doesn’t get much better than that. As an added bonus, the meat was the best part of these trophies. We got to enjoy marlin fried, smoked, grilled, and even as sashimi.
Although we did kill and utilize the meat from these billfish, we had no more impact on the thriving marlin population than if they were caught on rod and reel and released.
Extensive tagging studies on released marlin have shown the mortality rate of fish within five days of being released at a minimum of 10 percent, and some studies have shown a high of 26 percent. Extremely limited bowfishing kills have no more impact than catch-and-release fishing on marlin numbers.
If you’re interested in your own marlin adventure, contact Ty Miller at bluearrowexpeditions.com. It’s $2,750 to go, and that includes food, lodging, boat, captain, and a mate. There is also a reasonable kill fee, which varies depending on how many species you take.