Bow fishing Strikes Balance of Fun and Conservation

Upstate Outdoors
June 17, 2017 - 8:00 am

Phillip Gentry

With fishing season winding down and hunting season not yet cranked up, many outdoorsmen are chomping at the bit for something to do, preferably something where they can avoid the throngs of summer vacationers who are behind every bush and jet skiing in every cove. Even waiting till after dark to find some action is preferable.  

Regardless of whether you like to hunt or fish, one nocturnal activity lends itself to both camps– bow fishing.  The art of bow fishing blends the skills of archery, the savvy of fishing, and the excitement of hunting into a sport that’s found a big following in the Palmetto state.

Like most outdoor pursuits, bow fishing can be done at the simplest level like walking ponds edges with a bow and a flashlight or in the extreme using specially designed airboats to access the hearts of a deep swamp illuminated by sodium lights powered by noisy generators.

However, in today’s “green” environment, bow fishing gets a bad rap as a sport simply for the sake of killing. Legal fish for bow fishing are basically any fish that is not listed as a gamefish species or otherwise protected from harvest. The most popular include carp, gar, shad, and bowfin, otherwise known as mudfish.

To put things into perspective from an ecological point of view, bow fishing helps to balance the footprint of recreational game fishing.  Here’s how.

Any body of water will only support a certain amount of biomass, which includes both gamefish and non-gamefish species. 

Problems ensue with any non-gamefish species that gets too big to be eaten by other fish. Typically predators like birds, mammals and reptiles prey on larger specimens, but when you factor in human harvest, things get skewed from the norm.

To understand, think of the biomass of fish in a body of water like a big bag of trail mix. Everyone loves the peanuts, the chocolate pieces, and the cashews. These pieces represent the typically harvested gamefish. 

Nobody like the raisins. You grab a handful of trail mix, first thing you do is start picking out the raisins. Raisins represent the non-gamefish species like carp, gar, and bowfin. If you eat all the good stuff and avoid the raisins, pretty soon you end up with a bag of just raisins.

That’s where bow fishing comes in to play. By harvesting the undesirables, these sportsmen actually help balance the desired mix of biomass in the body of water. However, there is some credence to disdain for harvesting and wasting any natural resource – raisin or not.

Typically, carp, gar and the so called “rough fish” rarely see the dinner plate. Most consider the taste unpalatable, though a few folks do eat all or portions of these fish. Another alternative might be turning rough fish into organic garden fertilizer. It is easier to do than it sounds.

In order to turn a fish or parts of a fish into fertilizer, it has to be emulsified. The first step is accepting that fertilizer is going to smell like fertilizer. The second step is to get a big barrel to make it in. A plastic 55 gallon drum with lid works well. After adding the fish, in this case carcasses of bowfished species, to the barrel, add carbon. Carbon can be in the form of wood chips, paper, sawdust or the like. 

This begins the anaerobic composting process where micro-organisms break down the material. To continue the process, add sugar, which is also carbon, and also feeds the micro-organisms. Livestock molasses is fairly cheap and can be bought in bulk or bagged cane sugar can be used.

Next add water. This will kick the fermentation, and the smell, into high gear. Occasional stirring every few days will speed up the process, but it will get there either way. In time the fetid material will turn from canned nightmare to a rich, earthy fermented brew that no longer makes you want to hurl.

Plants, whether they be garden vegetables, lawns or food plots for deer, love this stuff and many professional gardeners swear it beats commercially made fertilizer hands down and without the chemicals.

Final advice is to understand that home-made organic fish fertilizer is highly concentrated so make sure you water it down significantly to avoid over-fertilization. 


Phillip Gentry is the host of "Upstate Outdoors," noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week's guest on the show will be Adam Ruonala from Palmetto State Armory. Contact Gentry at [email protected].


Bow fishing is a growing sport across South Carolina that suffers needlessly with the reputation as a sport only for the sake of killing. Photo by Phillip Gentry.

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