Extreme Bowfishing

Mike Bommer and Dan Scherer, both of O'Fallon, Mo., brought 60 pounds of walleye fillets to fry for the opening night social at the 10th annual Muzzy Classic and Alabama Bowfishing Championship. The fish didn't last long, and guests also put a hurting on fried pickles, potatoes and morels.
Bowfishermen are pretty loyal to their favorite organizations and companies, displaying decals of conservation groups or archery businesses on trucks and boats. Many bowfishermen are deer hunters or former deer hunters, with a love of archery that carries on after the winter hunting seasons give way to thoughts of fishing.
You can wade in shallow creeks or in parts of lakes, but serious bowfishermen have boats outfitted with generator-powered fans or giant engines such as this one. Most engine sizes on the big airboats are 450 hp and up. They can be loud but will push a boat around in skinny water with ease.
Improvisation on the tailgate often is a necessity. New barbed arrow tips get pinned with a small metal insert along with a whack from a hatchet to help imbed the metal into the arrow shaft. It may not be necessary but it helps this bowfisherman have more confidence.
Aaron Kelly of Russellville, Ark., shows off his self-designed tattoo. "I love archery and bowfishing, and we fish at night, so that was pretty easy," he said. "I drew up the design and had it done." He is a member of the Bowfishers of Arkansas and a diehard bowfisherman. At night he can be found on Lake Dardanelle or other Arkansas waters, unless he's competing with his partners Jason Gibson of Russellville and Bryan Hardin of Hensley, Ark., in a tournament.
Studying maps is critical for visitors to a new lake, as were many in the 10th annual Muzzy Classic and Alabama Bowfishing Championship on Guntersville Lake. The reservoir is more than 65 miles long and has numerous feeder creeks where carp, gar and buffalo are targeted by the bowfishermen.
Mark Land of Muzzy Corp. does a little pre-shooting maintenance with some Reel Magic spray, which he said lubricates the line and reel gears to help them operate smoothly. Bowfishing is rough on equipment, with brutish fish that put up a fight and stress the equipment. You'll also shoot numerous times in a night, maybe several hundred if you're not being picky, so your gear needs all the love and attention it can get.
Blake Lawson of New Market, Alabama, is all smiles after a great shot during a few hours on the water before the event. He wasn't competing and was just enjoying a night with friends. At 18 years old, he's part of the future of the sport and hunting or fishing in general.
You might think a bow and arrow would pass through a fish, but the muscular, bony bodies of rough fish such as gar, buffalo and this nice common carp are tough on arrows. The barbed point helps hold the arrow in and 150-pound test line is stout, but they still put on quite a show unti you can get them released.
Jaron Willmon of Grant, Ala., loves bowfishing and goes every chance he gets. "I can't help grinning because it's just so fun," he said. He's been bowfishing for a couple of years and isn't shy about taking a shot at a thin gizzard shad or a big carp or gar. After all, shooting builds confidence.
Back at the ramp on Guntersville Lake, the feelings are a mixture of elation and exhaustion after a long night on a noisy boat in search of big fish. In the "Big 20" category at the Muzzy Classic and Alabama Bowfishing Championship, competitors may weigh their biggest 20 fish to get a total weight. Other categories included prizes for grass carp, gar and buffalo; catfish were off limits this year.
Hey, after a night out on the lake shooting big slimy fish, there's nothing like a little warmth and morning sunlight to help shake away the cobwebs ... and a super-cool hat, too. Competitors were met at the ramp with smiles, hot coffee and dozens of boxes of sugary glazed donuts to get their engines running again.
Carp are the money-makers, with grass carp exhibiting a silver sheen and wide tail that is easily distinguished from the smaller, more golden common carp. Both eat vegetation and can thrive in waterways such as the Tennessee River with the ample vegetation they have to consume.
Mark Land of Muzzy Corp. checks every plastic bucket to make sure the tare weight is the same before the Muzzy Classic and Alabama Bowfishing Championship weigh-in begins. Once the fish are put on the scale, he checks closely to make sure of the final weight because ounces can make a difference in winning or finishing second.
Giant grass carp -- known as "grassies" by competitors -- are what everyone wants to have as the kicker fish for the weigh-in. Three grassies including this 74-pounder were between 72 and 79 pounds. Two others topped the 60-pound mark. One of the first things anyone asks back at the ramp is whether you shot a grass carp. The second question always is, "How big?"
Unlike other sports, spotlights and widespread media coverage aren't bestowed upon the Bowfishing Association of America's world champions. Some money, a few prizes and the pride of knowing you were the best bowfisherman are enough for the competitors. And, well, a bug-splattered car tag that lets folks know you were the best.
Bowfishing tournaments aren't just about shooting fish, but also are events where people make new friends and renew acquaintances. Occasionally there may be a side bet or two on a big fish. Ron Willett of Evansville, Indiana, pays off his bet -- a crisp dollar bill, autographed and dated -- to Paula Boudra of Sheridan, Arkansas, after the weigh-in at Guntersville Lake.
Even the smaller gar such as this longnose have rows of needle-sharp teeth that can rip a hand or arm open. Gar are tough, too, and you don't want to stick your hand around one in the boat. You never know when that sucker might get his last revenge with a nip or slash.
The decal says it all for bowfishermen. They're hunting and fishing at night, looking at every possible inch of water instead of specific spots. No worms allowed.
When everyone's back at the ramp for the weigh-in, it's time to relax for a bit after a long night on the water. Hot coffee, taking stock of what's in your boat, finding out how your friends did and then loading up to go home are all part of the deal.
Wade Meeker of Stevenson, Alabama, takes a quick break while unloading the night's efforts at the weigh-in scale. He's been bowfishing for 20 years and his "Team Lethal Injection" partners, Chase Higdon of Flat Rock, Alabama, and Matthew McCarry of Stevenson, have been getting after it for about 10. "We finally got a full-blown airboat this year," Meeker said. "This is our third or fourth Muzzy Classic ... it's a workout, but it's a lot of fun."

Combine archery and fish and what do you get? Bowfishing! Outdoor Life is on the scene at the10th annual Muzzy Classic and Alabama Bowfishing Championship.