By Pat Lefemine
I admit it, I'm a bowfishing nut. But because I don't own a boat rigged with lights, and due to where we live (Northeast), my bowfishing has been limited to spawning carp. So when Mark Land, Bowfishing Product Manager for Muzzy Products invited me to do some hard-core night bowfishing down in Louisiana, I jumped at the chance. I had always wanted to bowfish with Mark, not to mention an opportunity to fish off of the Muzzy Bowfishing boat which was an amazing machine. In the weeks leading up to my flight to New Orleans, Mark kept emailing me with one concern - weather.
So the last weekend of March I caught a flight down to New Orleans where Mark met me at the airport. He looked tired and beat up, wearing his blue camo pants and his Muzzy "Gotta Bowfish" shirt - not very hard to pick out in the crowd. Typical of the hard-core bowfisherman, he had been up all night shooting fish and only got a few hours sleep that next day. I asked him if he was too beat up to fish that evening and he remarked - "No way!"
We had to make a few stops to buy my fishing license and get some gas for the boat. An hour later we pulled into the driveway of Captain Bobby Bryan's Marsh Masters Guide Service in Southern Louisiana. Bobby's sons, Darel and Dan are avid bowfisherman who guide on the marshes of southern Louisiana for a variety of salt-water fish including redfish, drum, sheepshead, rays and an occasional gator-gar. While we were staying at the Bryan' home, they were out fishing with other client's so Mark and I headed out on his boat alone.
The weather was fine, a little breezy and the water was muddy from recent rains, but before long we started to spot fish. This was a new experience for me. I had shot tons of carp in the Northeast, and even a few stingrays in Virginia, but I had never been in an area where there were so many different varieties of fish available to shoot.
Both Mark and I were shooting. Him on the left side of his platform, me on the right. He yelled out "redfish" and pointed at something. But I couldn't tell just what the heck he was looking at - at first. Then I began to see the line of the fish's back in the creamed-coffee colored salt water. We moved to look for some clearer water and when we found it, the fishing took on a whole new turn. A big redfish moved cautiously away from the boat. I pulled back my arrow and proceeded to miss it by a foot. After several shots, it was painfully obvious to me that I was not quite "dialed-in" to my bowfishing setup which consisted of a 60lb recurve, the new Muzzy carbon fish arrows with Muzzy fish point, and an AMS Retriever reel. Mark, on the other hand, nailed just about every fish he looked at.
It took me about an hour but I got on-track and started nailing fish. By the end of the evening I had shot my limit of redfish, a few drum and sheepshead, and one stingray. Mark had a similar evening - it was a blast. In fact, it was so much fun that when I finally looked at my watch it was darn near 5:00 AM! - I was expecting to see 1:30. We could have kept fishing but the wind picked up and the conditions deteriorated. We packed it in for the evening and went back to Bobby's place.
We slept as late as possible on Saturday and woke up to nasty weather. Winds were gusting at 40mph and it rained off and on most of the day. Mark and I spent the afternoon cleaning our fish and tuning my bow. My new carbon arrow was not spined correctly for my recurve so Mark swapped it for a longer shaft to improve arrow flight. We held out hope that the wind would lay down but by later afternoon we knew that Saturday night was not going to happen. We made the best of it. Darel Bryan got buckets of fresh crawfish and crabs for a traditional cajun feast. They pulled the tablecloths off and replaced them with newspapers. Using an old beer keg, he boiled hundreds of the 'miniature lobsters', then they would simply dump them on the table. Our job was to "dig-in". Despite the crappy weather - it was great food, and great to get to know such nice folks.
We woke the next morning to more of the same. The sun was out, but the winds were terrible. After breakfast, Mark and I decided to head upstate, Northeast of New Orleans. This was a spot Mark knew well. Unlike the wide-open coastal marsh where we hunted on Friday, this marsh was inland with spots protected from the wind. We said goodbye to the Bryan's and headed north until we arrived at our hotel and started fishing.
At first, the winds were terrible, but as the sun set, the wind died down. Mark headed to a warm-water outtake canal next to an electrical plant. He had fished here before for gator gar and given the cooler temperatures, it made perfect sense to try it.
Mark flipped on his lights, then his fish-finder, and began to slowly troll down the canal. We spotted several BIG fish on the finder, but the water visibility was 3 inches - making it difficult. We did see one smallish gar roll, but he quickly disappeared in the brown water. Mark suggested we try this spot later. We then zipped to another section of the marsh where the water was much clearer.
Within minutes Mark yelled "spotted gar." His arrow just missed the long thin fish. A few moments later, he shot at another one - this time he nailed it. I wanted to film so I asked him to go first. He shot fish after fish until he asked; "You
ready to shoot?"
"You bet"! I said. I Grabbed my bow and nocked my fish arrow.
Before long we found a spotted gar weaving slowly through the marsh grass. I pulled back and missed him by several inches to the right. A few minutes later, I did the same thing on a different gar. It was apparent that I had to dial my brain back into shooting these new arrows. At least twenty shots later, I nailed my first gar. From that point on, it was one fish after another until my arms were ready to fall off. It was great fun. Several hours had passed and Mark suggested we head back to the warm water canal to try for a gator.
Upon entering the canal, we both heard splashing and looked up just in time to catch the tail of a big gator gar. These prehistoric fish can get up to 7' and weigh nearly 200 lbs! Just seeing one was impressive. Despite the now calm winds, the water clarity remained terrible so we had to change tactics. It was more like jump-shooting ducks than bowfishing - but it was an absolute riot.
Mark would troll slowly down the canal using his fan motor. The gar were rolling all around us. Every so often one would roll within range of our fish arrows and bathed by the halogen flood lights. In one quick motion we would yell "There!!" and would both fling an arrow at the fleeting fish. I was on the edge. It never failed. Just when I put your bow down to stretch my tired arm, a gar would pop up and roll on my side of the boat. We did this for at least 90 minutes. Trolling back and forth along the canal. When one would roll, we'd launch our fish arrows at the commotion.
Mark was the lucky one, he looked down just in time to see a 40" gator gar just below the surface on his side of the boat. In one motion he pulled back and nailed it right behind the gills - nearly straight down. That would be the only gator gar we'd hit that evening - but to describe it as a "blast" would be an understatement.
Looking at our watches it was time to get back to the hotel. We had to drive back to Atlanta the next day and the long drive through four southern states required we got at least a few hours sleep. It was 4:00 AM when we got back to the hotel - exhausted but happy. It was a thrill for me and I'm looking forward to getting down there again. Between the Muzzy Boat, the fabulous bowfishing, and spending time with Mark - I can't think of a better way to enjoy the off-season.