Bowfishing Night On Lake Russell

For bowfishing fanatics Jason Evans and Jason Cathey, there are few things more fun than stalking a lake shoreline after dark hunting and fishing for carp.

Brad Bailey | June 15, 2007

The carp finning through the shallows of Lake Russell fairly glowed in the glare of floodlights lighting up the dark. The fish was in range. Jason Cathey drew his bow, aimed some- where under the moving fish and released his arrow. The white fiberglass shaft launched from the bow like a white Polaris missile, a thin, white line trailing the arrow like a vapor trail. The arrow hit the water 10 feet from the boat, flashing toward the fish now as a white torpedo — but too high, and the shaft and its bubble trail rocketed past the carp to stick in the mud.

Jason grinned and shrugged as he reeled the arrow back. Minutes later, another carp appeared in range, and he drew again, but the fish suddenly darted hard right — then to the left in a pretzel maneuver any dove over a dove field would have been proud of. No shot.

“He must have winded me,” joked Jason.

Finally, 20 minutes into our bowfishing trip on the upper end of Lake Russell we put a fish in the boat. Jason Evans spotted a 3-foot-long gar swimming away from the boat to his right. Jason leaned into the shot and released, and when the arrow torpedoed into the water the arrowed gar exploded to the surface like a tailwalking tarpon.

Bowfishing is a hoot! It has some of the aspects and excitement of hunting, some of the aspects of fishing and plenty of shooting opportunity.

On a mid-May night, I was on Lake Russell with two Jasons who are helping develop the interest in bowfishing in Georgia. Jason Evans of Hartwell is the president of the Georgia Bowfishing Association; Jason Cathey of Cleveland is the vice president. There are 30-something members in the association, who live mostly in the counties that surround Hartwell, Russell and Clarks Hill reservoirs. For both Jasons, bowhunting and bowfishing is a family affair. Both of their wives are bowfishers, too, and both have shot in tournaments.

“I started bowfishing from a jonboat about 12 years ago using a Q- Beam, and my wife Cortney was my spotter,” said Jason Evans.

Over the years, they have made some improvements in their equipment. We left the ramp in Jason Evan’s Diamond-back airboat — an 18-foot- long, 8-foot-wide shooting platform propelled by an 80-inch, three-bladed propeller spun by a 454 Chevy engine. Ear muffs are mandatory when the boat is up and running. On most Georgia lakes, there’s no advantage to the air-boat, but on grass-clogged lakes like Seminole or Guntersville the ability to slide over the greenery is a decided advantage.

On the front of the boat were nine 500-watt halogen floodlights, seven lights lining the shooting deck, and two under the driver’s seat to light the water to the side of the boat. A Kawasaki generator under the seat powers the light show.

Both Jasons shoot Oneida Osprey compound bows that are designed for bowfishing.

“They have the same characteristics of a recurve,” said Jason Cathey. “You can snap shoot but still have enough punch. If you had to pull a recurve all night, it would wear your arm out.”

He said his bow was set around 30 pounds draw-weight.

Their bowfishing reels — inexpensive Synergy reels — were spooled with Fast Flight 200-lb. braided line.

The heavy fiberglass arrows were tipped with Muzzy fish points, which have a reversible barb set behind the point. The barb can be flipped to make removing the fish easier.

Jason Cathey also owns his own airboat, and both men compete in tournaments across the Southeast.

Jason Evans’ 18-foot airboat with floodlights blazing illuminates a big swath of water.

At the eighth annual Muzzy Classic in April at Guntersville, Ala., Jason Evans and tournament partner Kevin Reed finished sixth among 81 boats.]

In Georgia, Lake Russell is a favorite destination for bowfishing because of the clear water, a high population of carp and little shoreline development.

“Russell is infested with carp,” said Jason Evans. “Because of the over-population, the fish are small, usually in the 1- to 2-lb. range. Five hundred pounds won the state championship in 2006 on Russell, but that was 200 fish (and included gar).

Bowfishing at night is an exciting ride. As the boat moves quickly along, fish appear in the glow of lighted water. You have to find the fish, judge the range, as well as the depth and usually a lead, and get a shot off quickly. Carp usually scatter in a hurry from the lights.

The best areas for carp are the shallow flats in the backs of the creeks and coves. Over the course of the evening we saw a couple hundred carp, a dozen or so bass, three huge turtles and two beavers that passed through the glow of light.

“There’s not a lot of form and technique in your shooting,’ said Jason Evans. “Mostly you are snap shooting.”

Misses are more common than hits, and refraction is the primary confounding issue. Because light traveling through a water surface bends, the fish aren’t where they appear to be. If you shoot directly at the fish, your arrow will zip harmlessly over the fish every time. To hit the fish, you must aim low — but the degree of low depends on the water depth and distance of the fish.

“You aim low, then aim lower,” said Jason Cathey.

It takes a little getting used to because your mind wants you to shoot directly at the target. The calculation is more complicated in clear-water lakes like Russell where the fish might be anywhere from 1 foot to 5 or 6 feet below the surface and the refraction angle changes with depth.

We passed down some banks without seeing a fish, then there would be a flurry of activity. In one cove Jason Cathey missed a carp that swam across in front of the boat — then Jason Evans fired and missed the same fish. Jason Cathey, meanwhile, hurriedly retrieved his arrow. When the fish reversed field and came back across the front of the boat, he launched a third shot at the same fish — and missed again. It’s not as easy as it looks.

In two hours, Jason and Jason shot 23 carp and one gar. They shot, by my guess, somewhere close to 200 times. That’s a lot of hunting and fishing, a lot of shooting and a lot of fun.

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