Knowing what is legal to bowfish for in your water is critical to keeping you on the right side of the law. I shoot water that has a reciprocal agreement with Georgia, and although I am an Alabama resident I have to obey Georgia laws. In Alabama I can shoot catfish, but in Georgia only certain species are legal - and only in certain bodies of water. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know the species that are legal to shoot and how to identify them in the water.
It is not difficult to tell the difference between a longnosed gar and a largemouth bass while they are swimming. Let that same bass lay still near the bottom with a sucker fish next to him, and you will need to know how to tell the difference. The sucker has bright white edges along his pectoral fins, and they stand out when it is laying on the bottom.
Watching and learning is an awesome part of bowfishing. I have learned a lot about “normal” fishing by observing with a bow in my hand. How fish relate to subtle changes in their environment or structure is a good thing to know, no matter how you are pursuing them.
For me, legal species are: shad, gar (longnosed, spotted, shortnose, and alligator), carp (grass, common, and mirror), bowfin, suckers, buffalo, and catfish. If I head south to the saltwater, I can add mullet, sharks, and rays. Any fish designated as “nongame” - as long as it not a protected species like sturgeon or paddlefish - is legal to chase in my water.
In waters north of me there are silver carp and bigheads that are supposed to be great bowfishing targets. Most folks have seen videos of archers shooting the jumping carp, and I would love to try that one day. Bowfishers in Louisiana can add redfish and sheepshead to their bag. Like I said, make doubly sure you know what is legal to shoot before you head out.
Large fish are always a challenge, as are some of the rarer species. One lake we shoot at has a population of koi that someone illegally released. It may look like I was shooting the pets at the local Chinese restaurant, but a big ol’ koi is a heck of a trophy to me. Mirror carp look like common carp but have weirdly sized and placed scales. They look like they were a project put together with left over parts. Mirrors are always a trophy when I get the chance to get one of them.
My “Moby Dick” is the grass carp, also known as white amur. This fish is large, powerful, and one of the fastest fish that swims in fresh water. I have shot at them and had the arrow hit where they “used” to be on many occasions. They can hit 80lbs in some lakes, but my biggest was 49lbs 14oz. When I see one on the flat, I get the same heart rush that a deer hunter does when they see a monster buck. I have had an arrow in a monster that dwarfed my biggest, but it pulled out. I keep scanning the horizon hoping one day to find my white whale.
This has been the “what” segment of our bowfishing how- to; stay tuned for the “when” segment.