As a weapon of war and survival, the bow and arrow is one of the oldest, dating back to the Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon eras, 35,000 to 45,000 years ago, respectively. Today, in America alone, there are over 3.5 million bowhunters, based on records obtained through sales of hunting licenses across the country. Bowhunting has become a major facet of the sport of archery, out-performing competitive target archery as the most popular form of the sport.
Perhaps the least publicized and most underrated sector of recreational archer is bow fishing, an innovative and challenging adaptation of spear fishing. Though restricted to non- game and nuisance fish by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the most prolific species that is legally available to harvest is carp, both domestic and Asian, and considered by sportsfishermen as a major threat to the propagation of many varieties of game fish in lakes and rivers where they cohabitate.
Referred to as trash fish, the carp, sucker, gar and buffalo fish pose a real and present threat to any species of game fish where they co-exist by competing for feed and their rapid rate of procreation. The sporting angler welcomes the efforts of the bowfishermen as do state and federal officials for the removal and disposal of hundreds of thousands trash fish each year, turned over to the fertilizer processing plants as a usable byproduct.
As an incentive to recruit new participants into the sport of bowfishing, numerous bowfishing derbies have been established across the U.S. where competitors who pay an entrance fee can win thousands of dollars in prize money for the top ten winners of various categories, including the largest fish, most fish harvested and the heaviest combined weight taken in the allotted time of the tournament. Door prizes are often provided by sponsors as additional rewards for participants.
There are other species of fish that are legally available for harvesting, though less frequently publicized. These species are found in both fresh and saltwater and include alligator gar, paddle fish, any shark species not listed as endangered or threatened by CITES, stingray, mola mola, (giant ocean sunfish}, buffalo fish and red fish, (only available in Louisiana).
To raise the bar and encourage a greater interest in bowfishing, I recently introduced an even more challenging aspect of this sport by creating the Big Game Bow Fishing Association, BGBFA, with an annual award for any and all members who have legally harvested any five different species of any combination of either fresh or saltwater fish, minimum of 30 pounds in verified weight. This yearly award will be presented at the Archery Hall Of Fame Museum at Bass Pro Headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, along with a generous amount of bowfishing equipment donated by sponsors. Further rules, regulations, information and a list of the bowfishing guides across the country will be included in future columns.–Bob Markworth