When they discovered Capt. John Verret, a full-blooded Houma Indian who would rather shoot a fish with a bow-and-arrow than land one with a hook-and-line, they packed up their trucks and drove to Bayou DuLarge.
The production crew got their unique footage, but "unique" may not be the best way to describe what Verret does because there are plenty of people who shoot fish with bows-and-arrows. It can't be called a common practice, but for Verret to be unique would mean that he is the only one doing it.
But perhaps the one word that best describes him and his passion is connected. He is connected to his past, he is connected to his environment and, when his arrow finds its mark, he is connected to the memory of his mother's redfish courtbillion.
He considers himself fortunate to have been born to older parents that in the 1940s still relied on what Verret called the "old ways." His father used to hunt alligators by grabbing them as they came out of their holes and cracking them over the head with a hatchet. The chairs in his house were made from tanned deer hides.
It's not like Verret had to shoot fish just to survive, though. In fact, this Houma Indian's foray into the world of bowfishing began rather dully.
"There was an old department store in Houma called Howard's that was going out of business in 1983 or '84," he said. "A friend of mine and I were interested in the archery equipment they had, and we bought two bows with some arrows thinking we would get into deer hunting."
The pair practiced shooting their bows all summer long in preparation for the approaching deer season, and they got pretty good at putting their arrows where they wanted them to go.
However, when the deer season opened that October, Verret found the woods full of humid air and hungry mosquitoes. His buddy didn't mind these nuisances, but Verret hung up his bow for almost 10 years.
"Then Hurricane Andrew hit," Verret recalled. "It brought in all that salt water and tore up the marsh where I used to do a lot of frogging. I noticed one night how many redfish, black drum and sheepshead there were in the ponds. I did a little research, and found out I could put that bow back into action."
Verret rigged up his little mudboat for bowfishing, and fished out of it for several years. He started hanging out with some veteran bowfishermen at the Louisiana Sportsmen's Show, which motivated him to check out the Houma Tourism Commission to see how many charter guides there were in Terrebonne Parish.
"There were 35 charter guides in 1997," he said, "but none of them were bowfishing guides. I figured it would be best not to cut in on anybody else's action, and I knew I wouldn't have any competition in this part of the state. I eventually went to captain school and got my charter license."
Verret realized that people would associate an Indian with a bow-and-arrow. Since there aren't many buffalo down Bayou DuLarge, Verret realized that a Native American bowfishing guide would be a natural fit. He went on to name is self-built airboat the Warpath.
"I always ask people if they've ever been on the warpath," Verret quipped. "Of course, they always say no, but when we get done fishing I always remind them they can tell people that they've now been on the Warpath."
Verret has attracted a regular group of customers since he began guiding, one of which is former Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Paul Hardy. This long-time public servant actually got started bowfishing several years ago after reading a story that Rusty Tardo wrote for Louisiana Sportsman about bowfishing with Hoss Mitchell.
Hardy says he was always more of a hunter than a fisherman. Therefore, when he decided to give fishing a try, he wanted to do it in a way that made it feel more like hunting.
"I actually tried spearfishing for a while," he said. "But it didn't give me the excitement I was after because the fish was dead as soon as you stuck it. I decided I wanted to try bow fishing after reading that story, and I've been doing it ever since."
Another of Verret's regular fishermen is New Iberia attorney David Groner. Hardy, a long-time friend and associate of Groner, introduced his former legislative assistant to bowfishing 12 years ago, and the two have been hot on the fish from Port Sulphur to Bayou DuLarge ever since.
Hardy and Groner met up with Lafayette archer and Bayouland Bowhunters owner Brandon Cormier and Verret recently at Jug's Landing at the end of Highway 315 south of Houma. The three bowfishing veterans were gracious enough to let me tag along to get a first-hand look at what gets them so excited.
The sound of Verret's droning airboat was doing everything it could to slip into my earmuffs as we scooted south down Bayou DuLarge. The sun had already set to the west, and the bayou was awash with an amazing mixture of colors from the bluish-purple sky to the specular highlights of the spotlights surrounding the front deck.
Verret guided the Warpath toward one of the shorelines of Mud Lake just as the last remnants of light faded from the sky. The marsh grass growing on the edges of the lake glowed eerily under the intense scrutiny of the spotlights, and a lone redfish seemed not to even notice our presence.
"They're here," Cormier shouted over the hum of the giant fan. "And they're not very spooky in this muddy water. This one isn't even swimming away."
As any thinking person could predict, that fish wasn't anywhere to be found once we all got our bows ready. But to say it darted off wouldn't be accurate — ambled off would be more like it.
As Verret piloted the Warpath down the shoreline, a synchronized display of baitfish, mullet and shrimp erupted like fireworks above the water's surface. The performance was so hypnotizing that I didn't even notice that Groner was already hand-lining a redfish toward the boat.
"That's the first lesson of the night," Verret said as he assisted Groner in bringing the fish into the boat. "If it's so muddy you can hardly see, stay in shallow water. That way, they can't get so deep that you can't see them. These fish are in 8 inches to a foot of water, and it would have to be extremely muddy to keep us from seeing them that shallow."
After making several moves across Mud Lake in an effort to find clearer water, Verret eventually decided to make a run to a lake called Lake Caillou on most maps, although it's locally referred to as Sister Lake.
We made our way into a cove off Sister Lake, and Verret could tell we were about to be thick in redfish by the wakes he saw on the surface. The fish were already laying up in 8 inches of water because of all the bait in that cove, and when the Warpath cut off their escape to deeper water, it was like they knew they had to try to escape but just didn't want to.
"They've got to be thinking they're sitting at the dinner table because of all this bait," Verret said. "And even though we're interrupting them, they don't want to leave. Why try to get away when they know what they've got right here. I guess they think they'll just put up with us until we leave."
Needless to say, that wasn't the best decision those redfish had ever made. Hardy, Groner and Cormier were frantically shooting at redfish that were aggressively coming out of the water in what looked like an effort to drive off the giant intruder.
As the three bow-fishing veterans were tied up with their own fish, I noticed a fish that was trying to sneak around the back of the boat. For some unknown reason, that fish decided to turn at the last moment and actually swam right down the side of the Warpath toward me. I figured this was my best chance, and let my arrow fly.
Unlike most of the arrows I shot up to this point, this arrow didn't disappear in a cloud of mud. Rather, it froze with the nock end sticking up out of the water. The water erupted in a violent boil, and my arrow started shaking before it streaked toward the back of the boat.
"I got one! I got one!" I screamed in disbelief.
Verret's ice chest eventually got to the point of overflowing around 2:30 in the morning, and we decided to call it quits. Granted, most of those fish came aboard courtesy of Hardy, Groner and Cormier, but this newbie actually put three of his own in the box. Apparently, people who are really bad at duck hunting turn out to be natural bowfishermen because of the necessity to shoot below the fish.
Verret had shown me an interesting painting of a redfish on the deck of the Warpath before we left the ramp earlier that evening. The diagram had a circled cross about 5 inches below the gills and cross with no circle in the center of the fish.
"The mechanics of shooting fish in the water is based primarily on shooter judgment," he said. "As fast as you see a fish, you have to decide how far and how much under the fish you have to aim. Since the fish is in the water, it's actually much deeper than what it appears. The general rule of thumb is to shoot 4 inches below the fish for every foot of water depth. Then you have to take into consideration how fast the fish is swimming and how far in front you should lead it."
According to Hardy, there's a way to tell how experienced a shooter is.
"You got to see some good shooting tonight," said Hardy as we were unloading our fish back at Jug's. "Almost every time David and Brandon missed, they missed too low. That's the sign of a good bowfisherman — they err on the side of shooting too low rather than too high."
I reminded Verret and Hardy that I shot one of my fish without shooting below or above it. I recalled aiming directly at the fish because it looked to me like the fish's back was actually coming out of the water.
"That's correct," Verret said. "The only time you want to shoot right at a fish is when its fin is breaking the surface of the water, and that's because that's the only time a fish in the water actually is where you see him.
"Have you ever put a pencil in a glass of water and looked at it from the side. That distorted view is because of refraction, and understanding that refraction means the fish you see in the water really aren't where you see them will help you become a better shot."
One of the biggest hang-ups some people have with bowfishing is the safety factor. There have been documented cases of archers getting injured or even dying due to an equipment malfunction or unsafe shooting styles.
The best advancement in bow fishing gear has been the sliding ring to which the fishing line is attached. This ring means the line is a direct connection from the reel to the front of the arrow. The old way of hooking the line to the nock end of the arrow has been the culprit behind many accidents because it can so easily get entangled with the bowstrings.
Some of the advanced equipment that isn't safety related doesn't get much of Verret's attention, though. Rather than use fishing reels with lots of gears and tiny parts, he fabricates his own simple spool reel because it doesn't have any mechanical parts that can fail in a saltwater environment.
"I make the one I use out of 3-inch PVC that I mold into this spool pattern with a jig," he said. "I can't be on the deck working on a reel in the middle of the night. This is just a spool reel with a string that you wind with your hand when you shoot a fish. It doesn't get any simpler than that."
As Hardy and Groner loaded their ice chest with their cut of the redfish, Hardy made a point that he wanted to pass along.
"I want to stress that because of all the factors involved, there is a high degree of difficulty associated with bowfishing," he said. "I think a novice who tries to go out and do it on his own is making a big mistake. I would highly recommend going with an experienced guide like John to show you how to do it. It will make a huge difference in your learning curve."
For more information or booking a trip, call Airboat Charters at 985-872-0989. Anglers may also want to contact Marsh Masters Bowfishing at 985-637-7392 for trips in the Leeville area.