In recent years, bowfishing has seen a huge increase in popularity around Southwest Florida. While I see lots of anglers showing an interest in it, I’m not quite convinced it’s a good thing.
For starters, I’m a huge proponent of catch and release. That’s not to say I’m against people harvesting legal fish to eat — far from it. But what I don’t like is waste, in any form. And I see a lot of waste in the bowfishing world.
Some of the most popular targets — stingrays, big black drum, gar — are fish most people don’t eat. I believe the majority of ethical fishermen and hunters were raised to eat what they kill. Too often, it seems like bowfishing is killing just for the thrill of it. That’s waste, pure and simple.
Then there are folks who are targeting fish for the table. I should be OK with that, right? No waste there. But there are some pretty specific regulations that need to be adhered to, and using such a lethal method to take fish makes that difficult.
How can you distinguish the size of a fish underwater? Sheepshead, which have become popular bowfishing targets, have a minimum size of 12 inches. When I catch one, I measure it before popping it into the cooler. Sometimes I am surprised that it’s smaller than I thought it was, and I let it go. I’ll bet you’ve been surprised by that too.
But if you’re bowfishing, that sheepie has a hole punched through it. There’s no releasing it in that condition. As soon as your arrow hits it, that’s probably a dead fish swimming, no matter what you do. And a fish in the water often looks larger than it is. Ask anyone who sightfishes how many times they’ve been fooled by the size of a fish.
Eventually you can gauge sizes more accurately, but what about the undersize fish you’re probably shooting while you’re learning? Illegal fish are illegal, even if you thought they were legal when you released the arrow.
There are some fish you can shoot with an arrow and others you can’t. The list of can’t-shoots includes the most popular gamefish (snook, redfish, spotted trout, pompano and permit) plus sharks and tripletail. Of course, any fish that can’t be harvested can’t be shot, so tarpon, bonefish and Goliath grouper are off the list.
Really, the list doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I could understand if anything with a size limit was prohibited. That would make sense. But as it is it’s kind of a patchworked regulation, especially considering that two of those fish — the trout and redfish — can be legally taken by castnet. If we value them so highly as gamefish, that makes no sense.
I don’t believe it’s fair for me to have to share the pier with a bowfisherman. It’s not legal to spearfish within 100 yards of a fishing pier or jetty, so why is it that I have to have a guy bowfishing right next to me and my kid?
I hear from some bowfishermen that they enjoy the interaction, the act of sneaking up on a fish close enough to take the shot. OK, fair enough. That’s one of the things about bowhunting that really interests me.
Hunters who use bows are true hunters because they have to get within range without being detected by their prey. That requires an impressive level of skill. Taking out a deer at 400 yards is getting easier all the time with all the electronic aids available to the modern hunter, but stalking is only getting more and more difficult, and the folks who are able to do it regularly are amazing.
There are probably a lot more ethical bowfishermen out there than I’m really aware of. It just seems like it attracts a certain type of person who wants to kill things simply because they find killing things to be fun. And I just can’t abide people like that. If you’re going to take a bow out onto the water, try to be the exception and prove me wrong. Don’t drop your ethics when you pick up an arrow.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.