Bowfishing in Florabama

Capt. Justin Lawrence (standing) and first mate Kyler Heckathorn as we head out at dusk for a nighttime bowfishing excursion on Perdido Bay. (Photo: Richard Simms)

GULF SHORES, Ala. – I like the ocean. I don’t like the beach. I already shared that a couple of days ago. So every time this Tennessee boy heads for the coast there pretty much has to be at least one excursion to catch or kill something. This excursion to the waters of Florabama (Florida/Alabama border) was a big break from the typical inshore redfish – sea trout excursion or an offshore fishing adventure. My girls and I hooked up with the folks at Fish-Kabob, a professional bowfishing charter company.

In recent years bowfishing has become the new black for outdoor types. It has grown in popularity in freshwater and saltwater. I play at bowfishing a lot in Tennessee on my own but to really do it right requires a serious investment in specialized boats and gear. The folks at Fish-Kabob have it. Their boats are fan driven, similar to airboats but not nearly as loud and provide easy, highly-maneuverable access to very shallow water. Bowfishing is often best done at night when fish and stingrays tend to hang out in shallower water. Good bowfishing boats include a bank of halogen lights that reveal a wide assortment of sea creatures swimming in Perdido Bay near Orange Beach, Fla.

A stingray scoots along the sandy bottom of Perdido Bay. (Photo: Richard Simms)

“Ray, ray, ray on the right,” yelled first mate Kyler Heckathorn.

The sharp-eyed young man had spotted a stingray off the starboard side. Capt. Justin Hawthorn swung the fan, spinning the boat right and gave pursuit as the stingray winged its way across the sandbar. My daughter Priscilla took aim, allowing for the deceiving refraction of a target under water, and let an arrow fly.

Priscilla Simms-Roberson shows off the first arrowed ray of the night. (Photo: Richard Simms)

“Ray on, ray on,” shouted Capt. Justin as the arrow hit home. For a few seconds the boat became a fire drill of sorts with Kyler swinging the arrowed ray aboard, making sure to keep the poisonous barb well away from everyone. He expertly removes the poisonous barbed tail for pictures.

Stingrays aren’t the only target. Bowfishermen can take (or try to take) saltwater catfish, mullet, flounder, black drum, sheepshead and various other off species. The main fish that are off-limits where we were fishing were redfish and sea trout. That means identifying targets is important, and often difficult for folks not accustomed to saltwater.

Capt. Justin was quick to help in identification but often the shot opportunities are fleeting. It’s always best to not shoot than shoot the wrong thing.

And even the right things are often hard to see. The smaller stingrays and flounder we saw blended into the sand like chameleons.

“He’s right there. Shoot him, shoot him,” said Capt. Justin at Tiffany, while pointing almost directly beneath the boat.

Tiffany let loose an arrow that merely buried into the sand.

“I never saw the [expletive deleted] thing,” exclaimed Tiffany.

Bowfishing is a challenge. Just shooting a bow can be difficult but the hardest part is learning to adjust your aim to compensate for the light refraction underwater. It goes against all logic to aim one place when your eyes are telling you the target is somewhere else. But that’s what you have to do.

Tifany Simms scores. Rays arrowed in the wings can be released alive. Their tails which hold the poisonous barbs are removed for safe handling in the boat, however Capt. Lawrence says they will regenerate after release. (Photo: Richard Simms)

With practice it all comes together. On this particular night we didn’t get a lot of practice. Targets were rather few and far between, and many were quite small. It is the nature of fishing or hunting. Sometimes it all comes together nicely. Other times it’s work. In three hours our group of four shot five or six stingrays, two saltwater catfish and a mullet… plus our share of embarrassing misses. Reviewing Fish-Kabob’s Facebook page it is clear that some groups have much better nights.

Regardless, prowling the inshore waters of Florabama in the cooler dark of night is a treat in itself. Like most Florida fishing charters, it comes with a hefty price tag compared to most area freshwater charters. But hey, you’re on vacation, right?

Learn about another saltwater bowfishing opportunity here.

Learn more about the saltwater species you can bowfish for here.

Learn more about freshwater bowfishing in our area here or here.

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