EUFAULA, Ala. – A ghostly fog wafted across the water as we eased away from the dock on Eufaula Lake about 10 pm. With rock music blaring from speakers mounted around the boat, I first wondered what I was getting in to. But when the spotlights came on and the bows came out, I realized I might have been away from bowfishing too long. When I drew the Muzzy bow back, released, then watched as my arrow sliced the glassy surface and into a hefty carp, I KNEW I had been away too long.
I shot my first carp with a bow and arrow on Chickamauga Lake almost 50 years ago. For decades bowfishing was a passion, but the intensity waned with age — until that one night last week on Eufaula Lake while attending the 2015 Southeastern Outdoor Press Association Conference. I got an invite from the folks with Muzzy Broadheads to hit the lake for a bowfishing excursion. I jumped at the chance.
I first spied their boat in the light of day. It was a huge black and aluminum beast, custom painted and outfitted with massive halogen lights, a hefty outboard along with a huge fan-drive motor — which would allow the shallow draft boat, as big as it was, to scoot along in a mere eight inches of water.
Mark Land, Technical Support Manager for Feradyne Outdoors, the parent company of Muzzy, was our host. Land lives with a bow and arrow in his hand, whether pursuing big game or carp.
“Bowfishing is one of the most highly addictive sports I’ve ever been involved in,” said Land. “I’ve never taken anyone who didn’t want to go back.”
Fish that normally live in the depths in the daylight hours, often like to prowl the shallows under the cover of darkness. These days boats outfitted with lights routinely cruise the shallows as well, looking for fish to skewer. Bowfishermen are only allowed to shoot non-game species, most often carp and gar that biologists and anglers consider “trash fish” which need to be thinned out. Catfish can also be taken by bowfishermen, even though they are also a popular species for rod & reel anglers.
“You really need to learn to identify your target and know what you’re shooting at,” emphasizes Land. “If you don’t know what you’re shooting at, don’t shoot.”
Bowfishing has been around for decades, but only in the last ten years or so have more and more sportsman caught bowfishing fever. Land started working with Muzzy in 1998.
“We went from bowfishing being a tiny part of our business to it becoming a huge part of our business,” he said. “It was a tremendous amount of growth in a very short time. I’d say these days bowfishing equipment makes up about 25 percent of Muzzy’s sales.”
Our first fish of the night was a respectable blue catfish that fell victim to an arrow fired by Alabama outdoor writer Alan Clemons. Clemons is Editor for Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine. He knows that bowfishing is one way for archers to keep their skills sharp year round when regular hunting seasons are closed.
While boats outfitted like Land’s come with a huge price tag, it doesn’t take that much money to get your feet wet bowfishing. You can buy a complete Muzzy Addict Bowfishing Kit for $250. You are instantly ready to hit the shallows at night with any boat and a bright spotlight.
Many bowfishermen prefer to wade the shallows during daytime hours in the Spring. In our area the first part of April is the beginning of the best bowfishing. That’s when carp are spawning and often cruise weed beds and shallow sloughs on Chickamauga Lake. But Land says you can do it year-round and the cooler nighttime hours in the heat of summer can be outstanding.
It has become so popular that lakeshore homeowners often complain about the brightly-lit, noisy boats cruising the shoreline late at night. Even worse, some bowfishermen aren’t as courteous as they need to be about disposing of their fish.
“That’s sort of the curse of the growth of bowfishing,” said Land. “The more people you get bowfishing the more bad apples you’re going to get.”
He emphasizes that bowfishermen need to be courteous to lakeshore homeowners, and have a plan for what you will do with the fish you shoot.
“When someone dumps their fish at boat ramps or along the shoreline, the people who see that don’t know who did it,” said Land. “They just know it was a bowfisherman, so they blame all of us because of the actions of one person.”
Some fish, such as the catfish Clemons took, make excellent table fare.
Land says even the species that people may not want to eat, such as carp, “Make awesome fertilizer. We’ve had some of the best food plots [or gardens] we’ve ever had when we were dumping carp on them. They’re a natural fertilizer.”
The carp I shot fought and thrashed the water, but the barbed fish arrow held tight as the Muzzy reel and powerful line did their job.
Land asked, “Is that the first carp you’ve ever shot?”
With a smile I said, “No, not hardly. And it definitely won’t be my last.”
I may have thought I’d grown immune, but now I find I’ve got bowfishing fever all over again.