Dark arrows — Top tactics for coastal bowfishing

If you think bowfishing isn’t sporting, you probably have never given it a try. These die-hard bowfishermen share their tips for success and explain why it’s not as easy as it looks.

It wasn’t like shooting fish in a barrel. I thought they would be just kind of sitting there, hovering helplessly in gin-clear water, hypnotized by the boat’s bright lights.


Easy pickin’s.

Instead, it was like duck hunting — take your shot, take your shot, factor in your angle and lead.

Dang, he’s gone.

I can‘t say Graylin Schultheis Jr. didn’t warn me. I first talked to the bowfishing guide (After Hours Bowfishing, 504-382-5564) at the Louisiana Sportsman’s Show in Gonzales.

He had hauled his big rig indoors onto the floor of the show. It was a bizarre sight sitting on its trailer: It had a big tower amidships, a light rail that doubled as a shooting platform studded with lights girdled the entire bow area and two red electrical generators were mounted like saddlebags near the stern.

Sticking out of the stern were two angular surface drive engines.

The whole rig was painted in fish skeletons. It looked like something created by steampunk engineers; Schultheis designed everything and built a lot of it.

We met in Belle Chasse in late afternoon for the short trip to Port Sulphur, where Schultheis bowhunts on leased property, as well as private property on which he has permission to hunt.

Four others were joining Schultheis for the night’s hunt, starting with his vivacious wife Lindsay, who books trips for the guide service.

“She’s my ‘in-a-crunch’ deckhand, too,” her husband explained.

Roy Lally IV, Schultheis’ regular deckhand and relief captain, was there, too. The 24-year-old bowfishing fanatic (he has the After Hours logo of an arrow through a redfish skeleton tattooed on his forearm) has been bowfishing since he was 14.

“It’s a mixture of fishing and hunting. I love fishing, and I’m a bow hunter. I grew up in the outdoors,” Lally explained.

Just as avid as Lally is David Lastrapes, owner of a drywall supply company and a previous customer of the Schultheis’. Lastrapes has purchased a boat even larger than Schultheis’ 20-foot machine. On top of that, he bought a camp in Golden Meadow strictly for use in bowfishing.

“We are hooked,” he said.

Rounding out the night’s team was Chris Wilken, another former customer and a friend and business associate of Lastrapes.

Wilken’s story is even odder. He never hunts; he never fishes; he only bowfishes.

“It’s the excitement, the exhilaration,” he explained.

The gang hit the Port Sulphur boat ramp at just the right time. The western horizon was dimly lighted peachy-pink by the dying sun. Soon it would be dark.

The guys were really wired. Wilken paced the landing and vigorously rubbed his hands together; he was almost drooling.

On the ride down, Lastrapes asked with a loaded voice what I expected.

It made me nervous about what I was getting into. Catching my discomfort, he explained unconvincingly that most people are really excited after their first trip.

They started the night with Schultheis at the controls up on the tower with the other four on deck doing the shooting.

The marsh was beautiful at night. The grasses glowed golden-green 4 feet high on either side of the boat as he piloted the craft through the broken marsh.

A fecund, sulfurous smell assaulted one’s nose as the boat moved through the rich wetland.

After reaching our destination, it didn’t take long for the action to start.

Lastrapes arrowed a big black drum. The fish went wild in the shallows and took off, pulling the arrow out.

While he retrieved his arrow and re-nocked, Schultheis somehow circled the boat to corral the big fish as it made its own circle.

Lindsay nailed it at close range this time. The 42-incher bucked violently, throwing water everywhere.

Lastrapes scored next, with a slightly smaller but still good black drum.

Then Lindsay connected on a sheepshead.

Lally was next up, with a snap shot taken straight down beside the boat on an 18-inch redfish.

From then on, there was always activity. Shrimp, mullet, and other baitfish by the hundreds skipped on the surface.

Surprisingly, the fish didn’t seem to spook from motor noise, even when the aluminum hull of the boat scraped loudly over oyster shells.

Sometimes, from his perch up in the tower, Schultheis piloted the boat to stalk individual fish, but a lot of shots were passing snap shots.

In spite of knowing to aim low, many of the shots were instinctive and swiftly taken.

At 9:30 p.m., Lally and Schultheis swapped spots, putting the latter on deck with a bow in his hand. Lally continued Schultheis’ tactics of cruising the edges of the ponds rather than hunting the centers.

“The water is clearer there than in the middle, although the bigger fish are in the middle,” Schultheis explained. “When the water is clearer we’ll often fish the middle of the ponds.

I rapidly concluded that nighttime bowfishing is well-organized chaos. Shooters pointed out fish they spotted to the skipper by pointing their arms; the captain, in turn, shouted to the archers the locations of fish he spotted from his high perch

Arrows flew in all directions from the boat.

By 11 p.m., the group declared victory.

The final tally was 14 redfish, two black drum and two sheepshead.

What couldn’t be put in the ice chest was the excitement of the hunt.

Lestrapes, in particular, was still jangling in exhilaration and could barely stand still long enough for the obligatory group photograph.

The ride back to the landing still didn’t wipe the grin off of his face.

About Jerald Horst 959 Articles
Jerald Horst is a retired Louisiana State University professor of fisheries. He is an active writer, book author and outdoorsman.