I stood motionless yet again as Michele Musacchia-Eichler and the aptly-named Harold Speed made snap shots on fish I hadn't seen.
If we'd been deer hunting, I would have found it frustrating. But we were fish hunting, and somehow it was so ridiculously funny. I didn't feel that same pressure to get my deer, and that was the first thing I liked about bowfishing. No pressure, just pure fun. Shoot, splash, fish, over and over again, as they spotted the fish and zipped arrows through them. Meanwhile, I stood on the deck at the front of Harold's airboat, posed at the ready with my bow and arrow set up, about as useful as some ornament mounted on the hood of a car.
By the second evening, I was doing a little better, well, there was nowhere to go but up, because just trying a shot was an improvement! When big, solitary drops announced the slowest rain I'd even seen, the fish started zipping and jumping.
Spotlights For Night Fishing
Speed's big airboat was outfitted with spotlights, mounted like stage lights, to shine out into the water. With the fish moving, my eyes started to pick out the parts that without the breakup of the waving weeds would connect to form the horizontal body of a fish.
Finally, I got one. And that was the second thing I liked about bowfishing.
It was so much fun to zip an arrow through a fish and reel it into the boat. OK, so my fish was approximately the size of the big round pencils we all used in kindergarten. I proudly held up the fish for Speed and Musacchia-Eichler, explaining how the little ones are so much harder to hit.
Then Musacchia-Eichler shot an alligator gar that made my fish look like bait. Her fish slipped under a swamp mat of vegetation that rolled like a giant shaken rug in the forward wake from the stopped airboat. Speed got another arrow into it, and Max Koch, the son of lodge owner Terry Koch, hacked away at the vegetation as the three of us hauled the prehistoric-looking heavy fish out and into the boat.
We shared a great weekend in Louisiana, shooting alligator gar, redfish, spotted gar, and buffalo carp. Sharing a room, Musacchia-Eichler and I had laughing jags that approached hysteria, since we did most of the bowfishing at night and were sleep deprived. Early one morning, as one of the airboats returned and rocked the lodge with its powerful engine, Musacchia-Eichler called out from her bunk.
Hey, she drawled, sure of the power of her punch line. Did you sneak over here and put a quarter in my bed.
A Fun Activity
But it wasn't sleep-deprivation that made bowfishing so much fun, it is so much fun. Miss one? No problem, just reel in your arrow and try again. Pick nameless muck and tangles of weeds from your arrow, and endure the teasing of your friends. They will surely miss sometime, too, and you can turn the tables.
Speed is a classic example of how easy the bowfishing addiction takes hold. Convinced by friends, he gave bowfishing a try, and then went for 29 straight nights.
During the weekend, I learned how easy and inexpensive it is to get into bowfishing. I already had a Mathews Genesis bow, which I'd brought along. The Genesis is the company's introductory model, great for teaching archery to groups because it has a self-adjusting draw length. Musacchia-Eichler shot the Mathews Sportsman model, which the company created with bowfishing in mind.
Because it can be fired at any time during the draw, my Genesis adapted nicely to the recurve bow snap-shot style of shooting for bowfishing. Musacchia-Eichler mounted a reel on the bow, swapped my flipper arm for a roller-style rest, attached the special arrow, and I was good to go.
An Inexpensive Outing
The total cost, including the Mathews Genesis, would be less than $200, but you could get into bowfishing for less if you have a light-poundage recurve bow gathering dust and in need of a second life. I like the Genesis though, because you can outfit just one bow and then take turns. Because of the adjustable draw length, everyone in the family, kids to adults, will be able to shoot it.
I arrived back in Pennsylvania with just enough time before archery season to blab about my new vice. My hunting buddies are interested, to put it mildly. Bowfishing is something they can do with their families, day or night, with plenty of places to go.
It's a long summer, with nothing to hunt. 3-D shoots are fun, but those targets just stand around. Fish, twiddling their fins in the weeds, are infinitely more interesting. As the season approaches, I can't wait to give it a try here in Pennsylvania.
I might even get one of those Fish Fear Me hats. This spring, there won't be a carp safe in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.