Last night I got to hit the river in a completely new way and pardon the pun, but; “I’m hooked”!
I got to go out on the New River at night with Dwayne and Will to have them show me their passion; bowfishing for carp! Now, I’ve heard of people doing it now and again and always heard how ridiculously difficult it is- I have to admit that it’s not easy, but Dwayne and Will have it down to a science.
The night started with me meeting up with them at dusk on their favorite stretch to hunt. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as far as the boat goes as I kept thinking about the grievous harm that an arrow could do to just about any boat. When I got there, I saw (and, no, I didn’t think to photograph it, but will soon!) an absolute beast of a boat. It’s not that it’s huge, but it is a very thick, heavy fiberglass rig- picture a fiberglass jon boat on steroids. It’s outfitted with 7 high pressure sodium lights around the front, a main outboard and a smaller kicker motor to do their trolling with. To run the lights there is a trusty honda generator, and once they are ready to troll along with the kicker, there is a custom control station up front on the shooting platform. There is a center console for the main outboard and in front of that, the platform is at gunwale height and is wide and sturdy.
Once I was aboard, the bows were readied and a quick 30 second lesson on the operation of the reel and things to watch out for set me up for the experience. As we moved out to the first stretch to cover, they gladly put up with the seemingly hundreds of questions I had for them and I got to see why they want to share their love of this niche sport and look at guiding others on these nighttime excursions. They’ve both been bowfishing a number of years and it fills the void between the end of one deer season and the start of the next. They fish tournaments, pulling their floating tank (it’s a really sturdy boat) as far as South Carolina to compete with other anglers with bows to see who can boat the most fish. The sport has been around for a long while, but is just now starting to gain popularity and be rediscovered.
Back to the trip though. As we slowed our pace a bit, Will cut the main engine off and tilted it up and out of the way and the trolling motor was trimmed down and the generator started up. Thankfully, the generator is pretty quiet and talking to each other is easy. The HPS lights come on and slowly grow brighter until I can see why it is they want to hunt at night- the lights allow you to see each individual fish out there much easier than the best sunglasses in the daylight. Shad of all sizes were suspended, we saw muskie, catfish, bluegill and the occasional walleye- all illegal to hunt with a bow in Virginia. We were looking for one of two species of carp to be found in the New River- grass carp and the common river carp, with the latter being the only fish legal to hunt for with a bow here. The grass carp are stocked here by VDGIF to help control, as their name implies, grass in the river and lake to keep it from choking everything out. The river carp on the other hand, are much larger and are bottom feeders that often prey on the spawning beds of other fish, like my beloved smallmouth bass. It’s not long before Dwayne shouts ‘There’s one! Right there!’ and I take my first shot. I bowhunt for deer in the winter and have the misguided hope that this will help me; it does as far as getting the arrow to hit the water, but from there I can see it’s going to be a learning curve. My first shot hits the water and, as expected, goes right over the fishes back. Fortunately, Dwayne is ready and he also takes a shot and hits the massive fish broadside and starts pulling it in to the boat:
And so the night went; I took many more shots than both Dwayne and Will combined, but I did hit 5 total by the nights end, including several that were so tough the arrow simply bounced off. At the end of it all, I am thinking that we need to offer this experience to our clients (with Dwayne and Will at the helm) and we will be adding this to the website soon. Just the experience of getting to see everything you get to witness at night with the lights is worth it! I am looking forward to getting out there again and seeing what we can stir up!