On a warm spring night a few weeks back, Capt. Vic Davis, of Barefoot Charters based in Panacea, introduced a crew of outdoor writers to the primitive art of bowfishing in the waters of Apalachee Bay. Visit Natural North Florida had invited us to the Nature Coast for a few days of fishing, and at the last minute Vic offered us a bowfishing option. I was just frothing at the chance to test my reflexes and harvest fish in this primitive way.
Sue Cocking, Polly Dean, Jimmy Jacobs and I boarded Vic's 23-foot Explorer around 9 p.m at the Panacea Harbor Marina. The boat floats in inches of water, and a small generator powers lights that illuminate the bottom in a 180-degree arc off the bow. Vic had two bows rigged with simple reels, one a compound bow and one a recurve bow.
The nice thing about the compound bow is that once it's drawn it's easy to keep drawn. The nice thing about the recurve bow is that it's light and quick and made for instinct shooters like me. But to keep it drawn you have to maintain whatever draw you can muster. If you have the upper body strength to draw a recurve bow, it seemed easier to acquire the target with that weapon.
Ideally, we were looking for flounder, mullet and sheepshead, which are all great eating. But Capt. Vic was happy to have a stingray and a garfish – a staple for the Seminole Indians – for his crab pots.
As poorly as we shot at first I figured Vic would be buying crab bait. Then I got the lead figured. When the arrow hits the water there's considerable deflection. You have to hold at least three inches below the target, and swing on the target as it moves. I ended up harvesting a stingray and a longnose gar.
Back at the Wildwood Resort, it took a couple of hours for the adrenaline to wear off and get to sleep. I have since ordered a recurve bow and reel. You've got to try it. Here are a couple of tips:
1. Remember never to point the arrow any direction but down at the water.
2. Make sure the fish you're drawing on is legal to take with a bow. It's illegal to take gamefish such as red drum with a bow.
3. Put most of your weight on your front foot and pivot from the waist off the foot as you swing on the fish.
4. When you release the arrow, it should be pointing two to three inches below where you want it to penetrate.