Many of our lakes and rivers are loaded with large, trophy-sized trash fish that no one really cares about fishing for because they are supposedly not that good to eat. Carp and gar are at the top of that list, and even if their taste and table quotient is questionable, they sure are sporting. Just ask Rodney Whitt, 48, of Hampton.
Rodney works for the Clayton County Water Authority, and he loves to go bow shooting for big fish every chance he can get to the water. He says bowfishing is loads of non-stop action and fun, and it gets him in shape for the upcoming archery deer season. Rodney also enjoys hunting big lakes and rivers for the fish.
Rodney got inspired to bow shoot fish back in 1993 when he saw an old picture of his father, Larry Whitt, with a big fish he had taken with bow. Soon after, he took up the sport with a Zebco 808 strapped to an old recurve bow and learned the sport with low-cost gear. That was many years ago, and he has since invested a lot of time and money in upgrading his bowfishing equipment. I recently joined up with Rodney and his bowfishing buddies, Daniel Salmons, of Stockbridge, who also works at the Clayton County Water Authority, and Scott Adams, of Locust Grove, who works at MARTA.
When I jumped into the boat at 3 p.m. on May 11, Rodney had already been warming up on the abundant fish and had several hundred pounds of carp and gar in a 100-gallon plastic tub in the boat.
We fished the upper end of West Point Lake out of Snake Creek near Franklin. We left the ramp to track down Daniel and Scott, who were stalking the shallow coves of the river on foot. We caught up with Daniel just as he put a fiberglass arrow through a large carp that exploded into the air with a burst of water spray. As we eased up to him in the boat, I could see that he had a large stringer of fish draping down from his pant’s belt loop. He was having a very successful day.
After Daniel was in the boat, we headed to find Scott, who was on the opposite side of the large cove, also wading among the shallow grasses for fish. His stringer was so heavy he could barely lift it in the air. It does not take many 5- to 10-lb. carp to add up quick. Both Daniel and Scott said they like to wade around quietly in the shallow grass, looking for fins sticking out of the water and carp moving through the grass. Carp spawn in May through most of Georgia and are easy to locate in the shallow flats of large rivers and lakes. Wading during the daylight hours was effective then, but with summer coming on, nighttime bow shooting becomes the best method of hammering the fish, says Rodney.
We fished from a 22-foot Weld built flat-bottom boat, pushed by a 150-horsepower Mercury motor. The boat had been modified for bowfishing with elevated shooting decks on the front and rear of the boat. The raised shooting positions help to spot fish in the water. The platforms aids the arrow in finding its target with a better shooting angle. When hunting during the day, polarized sunglasses are a must.
For night fishing, the boat is rigged with 10, 150-watt sodium lights to illuminate the water. The lights are powered by a quiet 3,000-watt Honda generator. Rodney says that carp glow with a golden color at night that is hard to visually miss. But to hit a fish with an arrow under the water is another matter.
To connect with a fish under the water, the archer must adjust to the refraction of the light and shoot under the fish to hit it, so some visual trickery comes into play. Shallow fish are not too hard to adjust for, but the farther the fish is away and the deeper they are, the harder it is to hit them, says Rodney. Most shots at fish are 10 to 20 feet, and for every foot a fish is under the water, the archer must shoot 6 inches under the fish, and that’s just a rough guess.
The draw of the arrow is done with fingers, since the action is quick. Bow shooting is totally instinctive shooting, and misses are more common than hits, says Rodney. Even with that said, these guys were great shooters and nailed a bunch of fish.
Bow shooting for these guys is a group project. Rodney handles the trolling motor while the other two spot and shoot fish. Many fish are seen, but all do not offer a shot. From the time the fish is spotted, the archer only has one to three seconds to draw, get a sight picture and release the arrow. When one of the archers wants a rest, Rodney moves into shooting position, and this routine provides hours of shooting excitement.
As evening approached, the low sun on the horizon made looking for fish very difficult, so it was time for a dinner break. Unfortunately as we ate, a bad thunderstorm moved in, and we got rained out from our planned night fishing. But with several hundred pounds of fish in the boat already, who could complain.
Rodney, Daniel and Scott all say they got started in the sport with less than $200 in equipment, and you can, too. They suggest a basic Muzzy Xtreme bowfishing reel that comes with 100 feet of 200-lb. test braided line. You will need a simple fiberglass arrow, with no vanes, loaded with a carp fish tip. It looks like a field point but has an angled heavy wire embedded in the tip to prevent the fish from coming off.
The reel comes alone, or you can get it with a complete kit, the arrow rest, etc. You can use your deer archery bow, but crank it down to 40 to 50 pounds, or the repeat shots will wear you out. Also, in the heat of the battle, make sure you don’t forget to push the reel line release button, or the arrow will come flying back at you. Many serious bow shooters like Rodney, Daniel and Scott have bow-shooting rigs that are light and short in length for quick shooting. For example, Daniel shoots an Oneida Osprey bow that is a fine shooting bow, and the quality is great for his strong interest in the sport.
Carp were introduced into the USA back in the 1800s as a food source for European and Asian taste buds, so they are an invasive species, but gar have always been with us. Both are today very abundant in all Georgia lakes and rivers. Bow shooters must have a fishing license, and only nongame fish, like carp and gar, may be taken. Check the regs for full details.
Region Four Fisheries Supervisor Steve Schleiger of the Fort Valley office says that nongame fish are overly abundant in our waters, fishing pressure on them is very low, and it probably helps to remove some of the fish to balance out game fish populations.
Although we fished in the Chattahoochee River above West Point, aspiring bow fishermen can find plenty of carp and gar in every major Georgia reservoir from Blue Ridge to Seminole, but warmer lakes are more productive for these large trash fish. But what do you do with hundreds of pounds of trash fish? Rodney gives some away to those who eat them, but most end up as fertilizer in a farmer’s field. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and some say carp, although boney, makes a great dip that tastes like chicken. This writer has tried carp dip, and it is good! In addition, the back straps out of a gar tastes like lobster.
Your mission, should you accept it, is to bow shoot some of these fish, have a lot of fun and conduct your own taste test.
Most carp stuck with an arrow find themselves rotting in a farmer’s field somewhere. However, there are some who say the meat is good to eat. If you’ve never tried carp, here’s a recipe to try. From Hovey Smith’s book “Practical Bowfishing,” the below recipe is one of 28 recipes for bowfishing species included in Hovey’s book. He’s even got one for carp grits.
This below recipe is called Carp Salad but also acts as a dip and can be eaten with chips or crackers.
2 1/2 cups baked, picked carp meat
2 cups finely chopped sweet relish
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dill weed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground or crushed black pepper
Mix in a large bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste. For decorative effect, I often take the washed large rib bones of the carp and spear olives with them and stick them into the formed carp salad.
This may be eaten freshly prepared but is best if allowed to be well chilled before serving. If covered and refrigerated, this will keep for several days if kept cool. This is excellent served on any fresh cold greens or with any bread.
Hovey Smith’s book was printed in 2004 and is out of print. However, it’s still available from Hovey from original packing boxes. The cost is $20 and can be ordered from through his website, www.hoveysmith.com. Hovey’s e-mail is email@example.com.
The book can be purchased in electronic and paperback forms on Amazon. Just search for “Practical Bowfishing.”