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Bowfishing success on the Ohio River

June 8, 2009
By Larry Claypool, OV Times Editor
Got an old bow around? Do you like to fish? Are you seeking a way to hone your archery skills in the ‘off’ months? Bowfishing. That’s the answer.

Recently I was invited to photograph a bowfishing hunt by three Pro Staff members of Extreme Outdoor Productions. The hunt (fishing) took place during a beautiful day in late May on the Ohio River. We put in near Newell, WV and covered a good part of both shores downriver for about six miles in the New Cumberland Pool.

Our guide for the day was EOP Staffer Doug Wade of Newell. Bowfishing for the first time was Wade’s wife, Nicole, and Jerry Saas, both EOP Pro Staff members. Nicole Wade, a Sales Executive at OV Times, is fairly new to bowhunting. Saas is a veteran archer and outdoorsman but also was also making his first trip bowfishing.

Doug Wade was a perfect guide for this trip. He’s been bowfishing for 16 years. Many of his hours fishing with a bow have come on the Ohio River. Experience is a key to success in this sport. Wade knew where to find the fish, knew what speed to push the boat and how to set up the equipment. He’s great a spotting carp in the water too.

“I started doing this in high school with my friends,” said Wade. “We’d get dropped off at the dam (New Cumberland) and we’d work our way up, shooting carp with our bows.”

Wade said he and his friends would bowfish “all summer long”, averaging about 15 trips per summer. “Sometimes we’d each get 30-40 fish a day,” he said. Many of his fishing trips were spent with his friend, Mike Scherer, also of Newell.

Wade said it takes considerable practice to be a successful bowfisher. But it also helps hone your bowhunting skills for the fall. “It helps you perfect your skills, and your hunting. It takes time to learn. It’s an acquired skill,” said Wade. “It helps to practice (on land), get familiar with your bow, the line, arrow and setup.”

Wade uses one of his older compound bows, a PSE with a 55-lb draw, set up with a Zebco 808 reel and Muzzy arrows and tips. The Zebco 808 Bowfishing reel sells for around $30-$35. It comes stocked with 80-lb line. A Muzzy Classic Fish Arrow (with a carp point) sells for $12.95.

Since this was Nicole’s first bowfishing experience she wanted first crack at spearing a fish. It didn’t take her long. About 30 minutes into the trip her husband spotted a nice fish near the shore. From the bow of the bass boat Nicole quickly drew back her 40-lb Darton bow and fired the pin directly into a large drum, which was set up about a foot under water, 18 yards away. The fight was on. Not really knowing what to do, Doug instructed Nicole to “reel it in”. She did. The fight lasted about 90 seconds.

Nicole’s 10-12-pound fish ended up being the largest ‘catch’ of the day. She was credited with two other carp during the day, and several other misses. “That was great! I can’t wait to do it again,” she later said.

Our experienced guide for the day, Doug, finished with six fish. Some with decent size. Jerry managed one carp, but spent much of the day trying to find a sweet spot to hit the moving targets.

A good rule of thumb, according to several Websites on bowfishing, is to aim about four inches under the fish for every foot the target is under the surface. Scientist call it, light refraction (the bending of a ray of light as it passes on a slant into a medium of a different density, as from air into water).

“Aim low, think big” is a popular phrase used by bowfishermen.

In West Virginia it’s legal to bowfish with either a fishing or hunting license. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, a fishing license is required. Also, in most states only non-game fish (carp, drum and gar) can be taken with a bow. Some states also allow suckers and catfish to be taken. Check state regulations in your area to be sure. Most of the regulations are available on DNR Websites.

The carp, also known as ‘rough fish’ or ‘junk fish’, are very expendable catches for most fisherman. Some people desire to eat carp, others say there’s no way they’d eat the ‘bottom feeders’.

The sport of bowfishing has been around for a long time, but recently more archers are rigging lines attached to arrows to fish. Also two companies, Muzzy and AMS, have taken the lead in providing products for the bowfishing industry. Contact Muzzy online at: and AMS at:

A few other resourceful Websites on bowfishing include: www.Bowfishing Association of; and

Article Photos

Nicole Wade reacts after catching a nice-size drum. The fish was the largest 'catch' of the day at 10-12-lb.

Fact Box

In West Virginia it’s legal to bowfish with either a fishing or hunting license. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, a fishing license is required.

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