When most people see bowfishing, they see something completely different than what I do. Usually, you see pictures of boats rigged with lights, easing along shorelines at night, with anglers taking fish staying stationary in the light. Well, that's about as different from my way as you can get. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with it, it's just different. I have developed a style of daytime stalking. We leave the boat behind, enter the water, and stalk out the fish on our feet. The goal is still the same; take a fish with a bow and arrow. Like a lot of things, it is not as easy as it sounds.
The first challenge is locating the fish. My target is the tilapia. Tilapia are considered an invasive species in Florida, brought over for fish farms. They escaped, like nature always seems to do and have made themselves quite at home throughout Florida. These fish are big and wary. When spring warms the water to right temperature, they begin spawning. Like many other freshwater fish, they make beds along the shorelines and grass reeds of the St John's River and the various lakes connected to the system. This is where we start our hunt. We begin looking for fish laid up in the beds. Despite knowing where they should be, it can still be extremely difficult seeing them. I have a few tricks I share with my customers, developed over the years, that help. Anglers must be stealthy, because the fish will run at the first feeling that something is out of place. Another challenge about locating them on the beds: they don't remain there all day. When not on their beds, they are either involved in the mating ritual or eating. Locating them mating or feeding can be a little easier. During mating they are usually lit up like an electric sign: white, gold, bright blue, or orange. They look like a glowing orb in the water. Mating takes place in deeper water, which offers a different challenge, discussed next. Feeding fish are found near the reeds, where they feed on various insects and vegetation. Here the difficulty is movement. Still, I've been doing this long enough to know where to locate the fish.
The next challenge is hitting the fish. Sure, it sounds easy enough; see a fish, shoot a fish. But, the angler must take several things into consideration: movement of the fish (whether or not to lead the fish), depth of the fish and calculating the refraction of the arrow based on the depth of the water, angle of the shot and distance of the shot. Refraction is the most difficult part to determine. it is effected by everything: wind, speed of the arrow, depth of the water, depth of the fish, glassy or choppy conditions, angle of the shot, and more. Yes, I also have tips to help new anglers with this. I have spent countless hours missing fish and developing techniques to help improve success.
The good news is that this is a team sport and I have plenty of experience to help anyone. The short video attached is a highlight from a trip this past Wednesday. The full length video is on the web site, feel free to check it out. It's an example of the action and fun associated with bowfishing. The goal in the end: a great day, enjoying a lot of laughs, seeing some of the most beautiful sights Florida has to offer, and getting enough fish for one hell of a fish dinner.
That reminds me! This isn't your farm-raised, store bought fish. Personally, I wouldn't eat anything farm raised in foreign countries. These fish are wild and the texture and taste of them is vastly different. The meat is firm, white and very mild. It is the perfect fish for a fish fry, baked fish, or even grilled. The fillets are big and thick, meaning it stays moist when cooked. So, don't be fooled by all of these "Never Eat Tilapia" postings you see on various social media sites. I promise, they have skeletons, scales, and are NOT genetically engineered.
If this adventure sounds like a good time to you, book your trip! Hope you enjoy the video and as always, I look forward to making your adventure come true!
-Captain John Tarr