The Secrets of Record-Setting Bowfishing
May 1994
Dan Martinez

First, find a category that no one ever bothered submitting an entry for! Your faithful club secretary now holds the state record for "Non-Hook-and-Line, Colorado River Waters" carp.

There are 4 major categories under which Arizona's state record fish are classified: Inland Waters, Hook & Line; Inland Waters, Non-Hook & Line; Colorado River Waters, Hook & Line; and Colorado River Waters, Non-Hook & Line. Two years ago, I noticed that no one had established the record for Colorado River Waters, Non-Hook & Line carp.

I mentioned this fact in my very first newsletter, back in January of 1993. I never got a chance in 1993 to do any bow-carping, and was frankly surprised when the 1994 fish regs came out and the title remained unclaimed.

The spring spawn is the best time of year for bow-carping, as they hang around at the surface, doing whatever carp do in the spring. I decided that this year, I was going to make a real effort to get out to the River and get my carp . . . after all, any carp will do!

I made my first trip to the river in late March, to Lake Havasu. Now, I had never before done any fishing on the River, so I really had no idea of where to go. As it turns out, I saw plenty of carp jumping, but never got into a position where I could shoot.

When an unusual mid-April cold front came through the state, dropping snow in the high country, I postponed my planned turkey hunt and went back to the River. This time I turned south from I-10 and eventually found myself at Cibola lake on the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge.

Cibola lake is a backwater of the Colorado with no boat access from-or-to the channelized river. But it's only separated from the river by a vehicle-wide rip-rap dike.

I normally bowfish from a canoe. My current boat is a 14' Old Town Discovery 146K. Its equipped with a 27 lb.-thrust Minn Kota electric motor -- plenty of power for a canoe. It hangs off the side of the boat on a home-made motor mount which is secured across the rear gunwales by bolts and wing-nuts.

Bowfishing requires standing, both to provide a wider targeting field, and because the view into the water is a lot better from a higher angle. I usually bow-fish on still water, so a canoe with a wide, flat bottom is ideal. But hey, it's still a canoe, so one always has to be careful when standing. So far, I've never been dunked.

My bowfishing rig is a 35 pound draw-weight Bear Mini-Magnum compound. At 35 lbs., the draw weight is too low for big game hunting here in Arizona, but I find its compact overall size and low draw weight ideal for canoe bowfishing.

I was lucky enough to once find a bowfishing "pole" made by Bohning, though I couldn't tell you where to find one today. I used to have a piece of electrical conduit strapped to the front of my bow with hose clamps for that purpose. The bowfishing pole screws into the stabilizer/accessory hole on the front of the bow.

I use an old-fashioned Mitchell-Garcia 302 open-face salt water spinning reel strung with (I think) 80 lb.-test braided Dacron. Fishing arrows are solid fiberglass -- heavy, therefore slow, but very strong, and packing a heck of a wallop when they hit.

The figure below is an illustration of a typical bowfishing arrow-head. Two wire barbs extend back from the tip. I use a black-anodized salt water locking snap (no swivel) to attach the line to the back end of the arrow. Some folks attach their line to the front of the arrow because when drawing, a line attached to the back of the arrow will often foul on the reel, or whatever, upon release. I feel that a line attached at the front of the arrow will negatively impact arrow accuracy, so I devised a little trick to have my cake and eat it too.

I put a rubber O-ring around the arrow and bring the string forward from the back, and tuck a little loop of the string underneath the O-ring at the arrow head. While drawing, the string remains out of the way, but the velocity of the arrow release yanks the loop of string out from under the O-ring, so while in flight, the string trails from the arrow's rear.

So anyways, I put into the water at Cibola Lake, and cruised away from the put-in. I don't bowfish under power -- you can't go slow enough. The technique I use is to power upwind of where I expect fish, then let nature drift me over. When drifting, I only use the motor as a maneuvering thruster, a short blip at a time, to keep the boat drifting sideways.

If I don't know where to expect fish, I just let nature drift me where it will, until I find some. I let the wind drift me along the south edge of a long, narrow finger of the lake. I was blown into the tules at the tip of the finger without seeing any fish, and was ready to motor out, when I spotted this wide, brown, scaly thing up against the reeds. Carp! I nearly dumped the canoe as I tried to twist my body in the proper direction. In doing so, I sat down hard, and all the commotion scared him off.

As I impulsed the boat toward the spot where I had seen him, I noticed subtle surface disturbances every 20 yards for about 100 yards up the north edge of the finger. Paydirt! . . . Uh, water. First I tried waiting around to see if any fish was gonna come back, but the seduction of watching all those carp broaching up the shore, cut my vigil short.

I motored around up-wind of them and drifted back down the north shore. This became a regular circuit. I must have made a total of about 25 shots over the afternoon, but I connected on only 1 and 1/2. Early in my circuit running, I hit one, but apparently not too solidly, because he managed to wiggle off before I could haul him into the boat.

For those who have never tasted this sport, a very basic difficulty is dealing with the refraction of light at the water to air interface. The fish are not where you see them! When watching the arrow enter the water, it looks like the arrow takes a sudden turn in the direction parallel to the surface as it enters. It doesn't. The bottom line is that you must aim for a spot below where you see the fish. The trick is in calibrating your eye and mind to the correct amount of "lead" to use depending on the depth of the target. I can't count the number of times I watched the arrow go over a fish's back.

It must have been around shot number 18 of 25 when I finally connected to my record-setter. It was a hard shot through the vitals. Anyone who knows anything about carp knows that they get BIG! The existing Arizona carp records are 37 lbs., 33 lbs., and 42 lbs. My record fish was 2 lb, 6oz. He was 18" long.

No, I don't think that my record will stand very long. It may not last to the end of the year. Hell, I just told you guys all my secrets! It would be nice if it held long enough to be published in the 1995 fishing regulations. My one moment of fame.

Honeywell Sportsman Club. All rights reserved.


Back to Articles