OUTDOORS: Weather conditions affect fishing quality for local anglers

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 10, 2003


There’s little argument among saltwater anglers that February is the worst month for catching speckled trout and redfish. Late winter frontal systems that leave us with low, cold, muddy water make conditions pretty tough. Throw in having to bundle up to face the worst wind chill factors and it’s no wonder the last weeks of winter and beginning of spring finds a lot of fishermen visiting boat shows, cleaning out the tackle box or getting ready the rods and reels. As we open the door to March fisherman are always looking forward to warmer weather and improved saltwater fishing. But there is a method although not widely used, that can result in successful trips even when conditions aren’t the best for getting fish to actively feed.

Next to hand grabbing or spearing, bowfishing is probably the oldest form of fishing. Used by primitive man for subsistence, bowfishing today is for both food and sport. While a lot of bowfishing is done during daylight hours, it’s most effective to bowfish at night. This is especially true when it comes to saltwater bowfishing.

While the equipment necessary is usually pretty simple, a boat rigged up specifically for bowfishing can be pretty hit-tech as well as pricey. While a flatboat with a trolling motor and a handheld spotlight will work, the more elaborate the equipment, the easier the sport. Airboats designed to lift the craft over marsh grass, mud flats and logs without churning the water enough to spook fish are best. The brighter the lights, the easier it is to locate and shoot fish. A gas-powered generator is necessary to provide enough power to light up the bottom through a foot or two of water.

A modified deck on the bow, some with swivel, bass boat-type seats make it more comfortable and put shooters in prime position to make unobstructed shots. Few people are willing to make the investment for such a highly specialized rig. And even fewer people are willing to spend late nights searching for fish with a primitive weapon in a dark, sometimes freezing, sometimes bug-infested marsh. And that’s why small groups chartering the services of a handful of professional guides make the majority of south LA bowfishing trips. Brothers Darel and Dan Bryan of Marsh Masters Guide Service in Leeville just north of Grand Isle offer bowfishing along with their inshore and offshore rod and reel trips.

“We typically will bring four or five customers on each airboat for a night of bowfishing. That will allow them plenty of room to make their shots from the bow and side decks. We try to get a five fish limit per person limit of redfish but we also shoot plenty of sheepshead, black drum, some flounder and every once in a while some trout, but that’s pretty rare,” Darel said. “How well they do depends on how well they can shoot.”

Shooting fish with a bow is one of those things that look a lot easier than it is. Partly because you’re shooting at a moving target from a moving boat and partly due to a phenomenon known as “light refraction.”

Light refraction is the trick Mother Nature plays on human eyesight when looking through water. Water bends the light rays and distorts the actual location and angle of objects underwater as viewed by human eyes. This means that if you aim directly at a fish and your aim is true you will shoot over the fish every time.

“You have to shoot underneath the fish in order to be on target. You have to force yourself to shoot low every time and the deeper the water the lower you shoot. It takes a lot of practice to get really good at it,” he said.

There are several commercial and homemade bowfishing rigs to choose from. After trying most of them the Bryans have their favorite they use personally and provide for their customers.

“We use a simple, old-fashioned recurve bow. All the extra sights, overdraws, stabilizers and other options that make compound hunting bows so accurate for deer hunters aren’t really necessary and just get in the way of the line,” Darel said.

Most of the fish are shot at very short distances and it doesn’t take a lot of speed to penetrate, in fact a half pull is all that’s necessary and will keep your arrow from digging into the bottom too deeply.

The reels are simple “jug reels” attached to the bow and store the line within. The arrows are fiberglass with barbed, screw-in tips that can be loosed and turned to slide fish off.

Recently, the ancient practice of bowfishing has come under attack by some individuals who claim it is unethical and capable of “wiping out” fish populations. Obviously these people have never tried it or they would know that the same number of anglers with rods reels and shrimp under normal conditions, are much more efficient than shooting them with an arrow.

Currently taking fish with bows and arrows is just as legal as with a hooks and lines. Saltwater bowfishers must have both basic and saltwater licenses and must abide by minimum size and daily bag limits and all other fishing regulations.