Photo by Rick Adair
If barbless hooks aren’t your thing, hitch your boat for an epic bowfishing road trip through the Mississippi River drainage. You’ll have a good chance at all the species listed here, but they’re just a sampling of the rough fish you’re likely to encounter. With any luck, your hull will have a nice, thick glaze of fish slime and gore once the journey is complete.
First Stop: Venice, La.
Coastal Louisiana is the best redfishing spot in the world, and bowfishermen have a five-redfish limit, which includes no more than one red exceeding 27 inches. Stock up on blackened seasoning before the trip, then hit the flats at night with a light and slip in close to reds feeding in the shallows.
Second Stop: Vicksburg, Miss.
Oxbows in this area teem with a variety of gar species. The best time to shoot gar is in late May to early June, when spawning fish congregate around shallow vegetation and other flooded cover. Numerous smaller male fish will swim alongside large females just under the surface, and you can see them tailing from a distance. Getting a shot is simply a matter of getting ahead of them. Gar backstraps taste similar to shrimp when cubed and deep-fried. Just avoid the eggs, because they’re toxic.
Third Stop: Cairo, Ill.
Run eastward from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for the country’s best shooting at bighead carp. The best days for bigheads are hot, sunny, and still—conditions that bring the fish closer to the surface to feed, where their cavernous white mouths give them away to anyone wearing polarized sunglasses. Look for schools holding just downstream of logjams and other current breaks.
Fourth Stop: Peoria, Ill.
To get in touch with your inner Howard Hill, set aside a couple of days for shooting leaping silver carp on the Illinois River. Trim your outboard up and cruise through the shallows just fast enough to throw a wake. If there are carp in the area, you’ll know it when they start jumping. Time your lead accordingly and let the arrows fly.
Last Stop: Prairie du Chien, Wis.
There’s a wildlife management area just west of here called Bloody Run. I only point that out because a “bloody run” is exactly what you’ll make. Grass flats abound in miles of shallow backwaters, and as summer sets in you can load the boat with common carp, day or night. When you’re done, drive on up to Stratford, home of AMS Bowfishing, to restock on gear.
Map by Haisam Hussein