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Bowfishing - Opinion of a Multi-Species Enthusiast

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

By David Graham:

On the topic of the rod and reel pursuit of 'rough-fish' or 'non-game species', there seems to be a collective moan and groan over the very utterance of bowfishing.

The social circles of anglers who enjoy the pursuit of non-traditional species all seem to have strong opinions on that practice... to the point of supporting an outright ban on bowfishing all together.... It's understandable why, images of hundreds, even thousands of dead - fly covered and sun rotted carcasses filling the bottom of a boat, or a barrel, or even an industrial waste container elicit an emotional reaction from anyone who sees them. I have personally witnessed groups of bowfisherman shooting and dumping fish at public ramps or right back into the water. When the pile of dead fish is clearly beyond salvage or blatantly beyond what anyone could possibly utilize alone - that is tough to accept.

Industrial waste container loaded primarily with native buffalo and gar

Two bowfisherman with a massive haul of what is almost entirely native buffalo.

Almost all native buffalo and gar - were all of these fish used? I do not know... seems unlikely

I don't like forming an opinion, though, after seeing the most extreme side of an argument... no one should - it's irresponsible. I will state right now, I do not support the banning of the practice of bowfishing. I think the moment you start BANNING anything, you're really on a slippery slope. Any freedom loving American should share the same sentiment. At the end of the day, I will never question the method by which someone harvests game they intend to utilize in a lawful and practical manner... be it net, hook and line, traps, spears, arrows. jug lines etc. If I were alone and starving in the wild armed with a bow and arrow - you bet your ass I would shoot the hell out of every fish I saw.

The best we can do is to encourage the bowfishing community as a whole to police their own. And... if we are honest, there is probably 1o rod and reel anglers that would just as quickly toss an unwanted species on the bank to die for every bowfisherman wasting a kill... It is a problem of culture and ethics. A legitimate sportsman who values wildlife - and the taking of 'game' likely has the same resentment to those that 'muddy the water' of their beloved pastime. The same as rod and reel anglers who bash unwanted species over the head, overharvest, or toss their waste into the water. We have our own trash to take out.... We need to recognize that for every shit-head out there woefully wasting what they kill with total disregard, there are many more silently enjoying the pastime in its purest form...

a bowfisherman lines up his shot on a gar illuminated under lights

The issues I have with bowfishing are based on personal belief and opinion, and that can only carry so far. I think the moment bowfisherman justify their cause in the name of 'conservation'... things get a little weird. I've spent a lot of time talking to bowfisherman in person and online and you always end up in some revolving door of justifications. On one hand, bowfisherman often defend themselves by saying their pastime doesn't harm fish populations at all... particularly with native targets like gar. "I could shoot those fish all day long every day and they'll always be there!" and in the same breath they'll often make the argument that they are the ones keeping non native species in check... Afterall, rod and reel anglers are harvesting game species... but 'no one is keeping the trash fish in check'. You cant have it both ways... you either have the propensity to negatively impact fish populations or you don't. Vigilante conservationism that is totally unregulated is a ticking timebomb... period. Curiously - you ask a bowfisherman where his carp honeyhole is and you wont likely be given an answer... so are we trying to eliminate the unwanted invasive fish or not? Seems impractical to the cause to keep spots secret in that regard.

There is also the completely unacceptable practice of 'shoot and release'... this being the literal act of shooting fish, and shaking them off at boatside under the naïve idea that they will survive - or simply to avoid having to deal with the carcass. I think this is a ground on which honorable bowfisherman and anglers can stand together and mutually agree is wrong... there is no place for it - zero justification for shooting a fish and letting it go. Even the most superficial wounds then become extremely susceptible to mortal bacterial infections and only prolong death - and allow the fish to potentially carry disease around spreading to other fish.

Fish simply dumped to rot in a public lot

Maybe one of the most inconsiderate actions of bowfisherman is shooting and dumping. Dumping fish in public places out in the open where basically everyone becomes a victim of the mess, the odor, the possibility of disease and the attraction of pests. This is an action that stands to directly threaten the legality of bowfishing - and again... legitimate bowfisherman who enjoy the pastime should be the loudest voices of opposition to this practice. This is likely the quickest way to get bowfishing shut down in an area, a direct shot to ones own foot.

I firmly believe that the root cause and basis for bowfishing in the first place is because it is a damn good time. I have never done it myself... but you put MOST people behind a gun, or a bow, or anything that shoots - they quickly realize how fun it is. Putting anything on target, be it a dart to a bullseye, a bullet to steel targets, bowling a strike, a football into the hands of a wide receiver... there is something satisfying about hitting the target. I think as men, or human beings, there is a primal NEED for this that is deeply woven into our DNA. The ability to kill, hunt, gather, and conquer. There is an undeniably satisfying feeling in channeling that ancient-man inside of us. The first step a bowfisherman needs to take in any 'argument' or debate, is admitting that they do this for fun. And that is OK!

Still though, fun at the expense of something else's life is immoral if not coupled with a level of respect or practicality... - that's not the statement of a 'tree hugger' 'hippy' 'or 'liberal'. That is just logic that anyone with any grasp on the sense of right or wrong can take hold of. Any outdoorsman with any level of moral compass can agree.. When a life is taken, it should be honored in some respect - and by that I mean it should be USED. Consumed in moderation, mounted... whatever. NOT placed into a hole in the ground... left out for wild hogs (how ironic is that?)... or 'used as 'fertilizer'. Somehow, no bowfisherman I ever met struck me as the type that likes to manage his daffodils on the weekend but who knows.

Bowfishing is simply the means of harvesting a fish when you peel back all the layers. It is NOT inherently bad... It's a primitive pastime that has been enjoyed by man since the paleolithic period... and honestly that is pretty cool. It, like virtually everything else, has the propensity to be marred by bad actors... and is subject to mismanagement (or no management at all) There are bad apples in the clergy, law enforcement, politics (obviously), school systems and everywhere else. I think there is room for the bowfishing community to police its own, and room for common sense regulation and limits to be placed on our native fish species that honorable and legitimate bowfisherman and anglers alike can all agree upon. I do NOT however agree - that bowfishing in and of itself should be banned.

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