If you’re like me, as a little girl you heard stories about Robin Hood and William Tell, and you thought of archery as a noble, even gallant, art. Then you met an outdoorsman. Oh sure, he may have courted you with his prowess in putting an arrow into a distant target. But his bow didn’t look elegant like Sir Robin’s. (No, the outdoorsman’s bow was a cobweb of strings, pulleys, and bendy arms, more like some as-seen-on-TV exercise gadget for perkier boobs.) And then he went bowhunting one day and came back with a bloody carcass. Suddenly archery had a grisly side.
Fishing, too, has a noble quality — the stately fly-fisherman in a hat and vest with his dainty rod and precision casting across a sparkling clear stream. The delicate dance of playing the trout as you reel him in, scooping him from the water in a polished, wood-handled net. The careful removal of the hook and gentle release of the trout.
Well, forget all that.
Bowfishing is more like combining Rambo’s exploding arrowheads with a splash-filled romp through a swamp writhing in monster fish. And the results look like something out of one of those chainsaw massacre movies, but with more blood and gore. Some of it even comes from the fish.
Seriously, my camo guy always comes back from bowfishing covered head to toe in mud, pond scum, fish guts, and someone’s plasma. Somehow he manages to get sunburned, too. You’d think an inch-thick slather of fish slime would have a higher SPF factor.
So the basic idea behind bowfishing is that you pack as many buddies and as much beer as you can into a small, open boat without sinking it. Then you rip across the lake, skimming right by all the best deep-water fishing holes, and pull up in the foulest-smelling, swampiest, muckiest little cove. Next, everyone grabs a bow, nocks an arrow, and starts shooting at anything that moves. See, this isn’t like normal fishing, where you pretend the fish are really smart and can sense you from a mile away so you have to sneak up on them and fake them out with museum-quality reproductions of grasshoppers and tsetse flies. Nope. Bowfishermen don’t mess around. To them, fish are pea-brained, bottom-feeding, slime-balloons just waiting to be popped. Knowing they’re going to get slimed, they wear cutoff shorts, old running shoes, and nothing else. Some of them go barefoot. They jump right into the murky water and start raining arrows into the muck.
If an arrow accidentally hits a fish, the poor thing thrashes like crazy, sending muck and fish guts flying. A sane person would run the other way, but noooo, our bowfisherman has planned for this moment. See, the arrow has a line tied to it, connected to a reel on the bow, so the guy can crank that reel and bring the slimy, gore-splashing fish right up close. You might as well stand in a wind tunnel and throw a bucket of shark-bait chum into the fan.
At this point, I know what you’re thinking. Disgusting! And it can’t possibly get any more disgusting, right?
Well, I’m here to warn you. You see, I went along on one of these bowfishing cruises once—and only once. I thought, “What could be better? A day on the water surrounded by hunky men in skimpy shorts, cold beer, working on my bikini tan.” Of course, things went downhill pretty quick when the “fishing” started. I gagged and then ran for the far end of the boat. As bad as it was, I figured each of the guys would get a fish or run out of arrows, and then we’d head back. But I wasn’t thinking straight. Remember: the arrow is tethered to the bow with a line. They keep using the same arrow, over and over. Which means they can fish all . . . day . . . long.
So there we were, anchored in this stinky, toxic stew, hour after hour. And I realized something. Bowfishing isn’t about catch-and-release. Hell no. That fish just had a half-inch hole blasted through his belly from a high-velocity arrow — there’s no “gentle release” and quick swim back to the wife and kids. So every fish gets hauled out and thrown into the boat. Where they flop, gasping, in the hot sun. Until they don’t flop or gasp anymore. Piles of dead fish. Covered in slime. In the hot sun.
Did I mention that these are carp?
If you’re not familiar with this particular species, then you should know that carp are the ugliest, dirtiest, smelliest, grossest fish on the planet. And that’s when they’re alive. Imagine a full boatload of disgusting, bloody, reeking dead carp. There are no words.
Which is how I found myself out of the boat, waist-deep in the muck, wading away from the boat. Now you would think that a cute girl in a bikini would have no problem catching the eye of a hunky man. That such a man would never mistake such a bathing beauty for something as utterly nauseating as a carp. That there is no possible way her lithesome foot feeling its way through the greasy mud oozing through her toes could be misperceived as an escaping fish. Yes, even the emergency room doctor — who’s seen everything — found it hard to believe.
This excerpt is from Confessions of a Camo Queen: Living with an Outdoorsman, published by Farcountry Press, 2015.