To shoot or not to shoot red fish?

That is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The barbs and hooks of outrageous treble,
Or to take arms against SB573
And, by opposing, end the insanity. . .

Shakespeare was just about as hard to understand as the reasoning behind Louisiana SB573, which would ban the taking of red drum with bow and arrow.  The sport is called bow fishing, enjoyed in both fresh and salt water by men and women alike.  So why, you might ask, is this such a big deal?

The bill changes the wording of a current law that allows the taking of said gamefish by bow and arrow, as follows:

To amend and reenact R.S. 56:320(A)(2) and (C)(1), relative to methods of taking  freshwater or saltwater fish;  to prohibit the taking of red drum by certain methods;  to prohibit the taking of red drum by using a bow and arrow or by skin divers using certain equipment; and to provide for related matters.

Seems simple enough, right?  Where things start to get sketchy are in false statements made by those who support the ban on taking red fish with arrows.  One of those falsehoods involves blinding the fish.

Bow fishing at night is typically done from a shallow draft boat, with lights positioned across the lower front deck, shining down on the water.  The misinformed would have you convinced that when the boat glides near the fish, they freeze “like deer in the headlights”.  Such is not the case and is actually not even close.  The reds are not helplessly paralyzed by the lights, nor are they stupefied; rather, they are disturbed by the lights, flee quickly, and the challenge to take the red fish through the turbidity is on.

Another myth that keeps cropping up in this ongoing online debate, is the one about shooting undersized fish.  The legal limit for a small red is sixteen inches.  Do you have any clue how much skill it takes to shoot a legal sized red, much less an undersized one?  Big reds are hard enough to shoot on the run, let alone hitting an accidental small fish.  It’s just not done.  In eighteen years of bow fishing, Capt. John Verret has only seen two undersized fish hit, which he says “is like shooting a duck with a BB gun!  It’s almost impossible to do.”

While it is true that an undersized fish would be returned to the water and hopefully recover from its wound, there is never a guarantee that any undersized game fish caught with rod and reel will recover and not die.

Then there is the fallacy that bow fishing destroys the resource.  There is no validity to this claim, either.  Local red fish ponds are rod and reel fished successfully in the daylight after having been bow fished the night before.  Further, bow fishing makes up only about 2% of the sport fishing in Louisiana.  Any one of those bow fishermen could go out to the same spot with a rod and reel and catch limits of reds in half the time it would take to bow fish them.  Oftentimes, bow fishermen do not limit out while bow fishing due to the challenge of the sport.   We can safely say that bow fishing does not deplete the resource; if anything, it has less of an impact on the resource than traditional pole fishing.

Finally, and my favorite, is the stance stated emphatically over and over by proponents of the bill that they are only protecting the “red drum” in its “gamefish status”.  Understandably, giving the coveted reds gamefish status took them from being a “commercial fish” that is no longer bartered, sold, or traded.   However, last time I looked at the Louisiana fishing regulations, bow fishing was considered recreational, not commercial, fishing.

Remember in school, the reasoning questions:  If this, then what?  Let’s play that game now.  If you went bow fishing and shot a legal-sized red drum with your bow and arrow, would that change the status of the fish from “game” to “commercial”.  If so, then how?  Do you see how utterly ridiculous that is?

One has to wonder why the lawmaker behind this bill continues to claim that the bill is all about “protecting the gamefish status of the red drum”.  No matter how you word it, the taking of this fish with bow and arrow does not change its status.  Bow fishing is NOT a commercial means of harvesting any fish.  If it were, the shelves in the fish markets would be nearly empty, because I can tell you from first-hand experience, there ain’t nothing easy about it.  So, the proponents get their last leg knocked out from under them on this flimsy argument by deductive reasoning.

Nothing appears as it is in bow fishing.  There is the refractory element of aiming accurately at a fish through the water, which one must instantly account for before letting go the bow string.  Nothing like shooting fish in a barrel, as some would have you believe.

In the same token, nothing is as it appears by those who support SB573.  When asked recently on a live radio show if he had ever been bow fishing, the senator who penned the legislation replied, “No, I have not . . .”

Just as turbid as a red drum makes the water while jetting away from the lights, so do the proponents of SB573 muddy the waters surrounding the real intent and purpose of the bill.  It is the hope of those who enjoy bow fishing responsibly that lawmakers will ask the relevant questions and get crystal clear answers, resulting in non passage of this bill.

This is an interactive blog with an outstanding readership.  Your opinion is welcome.  Please keep it respectful and civil, and I will be glad to respond to your comments, answer your questions, and press the DELETE key as necessary.


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  1. Never been Bowfishing, don’t care to go either. BUT, I do think an undersized red has a much better chance of survival having a hook in its’ mouth than an arrow through its’ body. Personally, I wish the Lawmakers would leave this law as is, and concentrate on changing WHERE we can fish. We’ve been run out of unmarked canals by people who said we were on their “land”. STUPID LAW, and the only one like it in the U.S.

    1. Stephanie, yes it would, but there are other things we do to small fish when we catch them, like foul hook them in the eye or gills. Assuming that the shooter could hit the fish well enough to fully penetrate it, it might not make it. However, Captain John has caught redfish that look like they were once cut in half (gator bit) and had healed up and lived. One LDWF marine biologist told us that red fish would be the fish that would survive a nuclear attack! I know the arguments could go on forever on both sides, and I appreciate your input about the private waters issue. The CCA would not take a stand on that issue, if you recall, but they have been leading the pack on this bill. I just don’t get it. They were just starting to make progress with the locals, and this set them back at least 15 years (since the gill net ban). BW

  2. Bow fishing is like playing poker, chances are unless you are Richard Head it’s a sport like golf and not like fishing. We did a little Garfish bow fishing, we lost a dozen arrows stuck in the mud way below the surface and the gar seemed to be smiling back at us.

    I do have an easy solution that should make everyone happy. Why not require a tag or a special license to bow fish. Use that elitist status to pull more in, that way the state and wildlife could make some small money. They could also see the size of the market for bow fishing as well as get some solid fish data. Personally I believe it to be a very specialized sport, like hand gliding, its just not for just everyone.

    Oh and did I mention it’s not cheap either, multiple types of specialized fish arrow heads, bow attached reel, line, and all used in a wet environment. Then there is the boats, or in some cases wadders.

    Sounds to me like those objecting should be taken out, armed and shown how easy it is to spear/arrow a fish.

    1. Here, here, Goldie! And without thinking about it, I sort of like the idea of making it more specialized. One of their complaints is that the sport is not easily monitored because it is done at night. Hmmmm.

      1. That sounds like a good “common sense” solution to me. But, do we have any politicians that would listen to something so simple.

        1. Go talk to Norby in Houma. Isn’t this an election year? He’s young you’ll like him.

          1. Heck, get him out there with cold beer, and a bow fishing, then lead him to the topic so he can think of it himself.

  3. Bow fishing is not easy! My family has done it for years and I can guarantee that you get more fish with a hook or lure!!
    Wonder who was the volunteer that did the scuba diving and recorded the “frozen in the lights” fish?? Sounds like something a green horn would make up or spout off the top of their head to me.
    Did I understand you to say that red fish are considered game fish? To a hunter and fisherman/woman, adding the word “game” to anything, be it fish, fowl, wild life, etc., means “food to hunt or fish for” to us.
    As far as calling it “commercial fishing” when using a bow and arrow, no way! You are right stating the shelves would be empty. I don’t/didn’t consider it commercial fishing when we shot a good fish. I considered it feeding my kids a decent meal.
    I wish all of you the best in defeating this bill. They need to try that method of fishing before speaking so they will know what they are talking about!

  4. OK. Here’s your giggle re: the topic. I’m so uninformed and inexperienced that when I saw your title, I had an image of some guys with – what? shotguns? semi-automatics? – going after the fish. I’m relieved to find it’s bows and arrows.

    What did stop me was Steffi’s comment about being run out of unmarked channels. Aren’t navigable waters considered public? For example, on the shores of Galveston bay, or up the creeks, you can’t fish off the docks extending into the water – those are private. But toss over an anchor six inches away? Sure.

    1. The private waterways issue is a very big one in coastal Louisiana and sometimes misunderstood. We are one of the few places in the world that has allowed big companies to own our wetlands. They are not state or federally owned for obvious reasons–the main one being petroleum. Huge land companies own about 80% of the wetlands and have the right to deny access to others. For example, someone goes down a man-made canal that leads to my hunting/fishing lease. I pay XXX amount of $$$ per year for the privilege of hunting and fishing that lease. In so doing, I have the right to ride in that canal to my lease, and the right to fish that canal if I want, but someone passed up a sign at the mouth of that canal that said “private property”. Signs keep nobody out, which results in having to put up gates to keep people out. THAT is what makes people so angry. Now, if there is a naturally occurring waterway through an area, it should not be blocked. Anyone should be allowed to fish that waterway. Where the debate comes in is when that natural waterway flows up to and connects with a man-made canal to a hunting and fishing camp, the landowner or lease holder then considers that people are trespassing and catching his fish. I know it’s crazy, but you know human nature. There is nothing to stop people from then landing their boats, getting out, walking around, and next thing you know, they’re hunting there without permission. So, it’s a big vicious cycle with a few Catch 22’s thrown in. Make sense?

      1. We LOOK for posted signs when fishing, and we stay out of those canals. We certainly don’t want to get arrested (Hubby would lose his job) , “written” up, or shot at. I still think it’s a stupid law…the Land/lease owners don’t own the WATER or the FISH, the STATE DOES! Just another way for “big business” to earn more money. I can understand (a little) the hunting issue (liability) but not fishing. It just burns my Butt that ANYONE has to buy a lease which is accessed only by State owned water. Sorry that’s all…I’ll read but won’t comment again on this topic unless I’m asked a question. Not that I’d have anymore answers than the politicians have b .

    2. Hi Ronnie and welcome to Bayou Dularge! NO I am not a CCA member and I was not involved in making this a gamefish. Why do you ask? Are you a CCA member and do you support the bill? BW

      1. Thanks for the welcome,I am a commercial fisherman from Fla who enjoyed life as a gillnetter before the CCA led the fight to take them away in 94.No I would not support that bill,we have bow fishermen and women here and I have no problem with them.
        The reason I asked was because over the last couple of years I am starting to run into a lot of charter boat “Captains” guides and recreational fishermen who have in the past worked hard for the CCA to get most commercial fishing banned or curtailed to the point that you can’t make a decent living at most of it anymore and this bunch is screaming now that the CCA has thrown them under the bus so to speak,I think it is justice being done that the entire southeast offshore coast charter boat fleet is sitting idle right now.
        It reminds me of a poem.

        “THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
        and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

        THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
        and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

        THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
        and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

        THEN THEY CAME for the Catholics,
        and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

        THEN THEY CAME for me
        and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

        1. Ronnie, the gentlemen featured in my post was once a gillnetter and would NEVER NEVER NEVER throw a commercial fisherman under the bus. His goal is to make CCA members see that before long, if they’re not careful, even recreational guides will be considered “commercial fishermen”. BE careful what you fight for. Thanks for our comments. BW

  5. I’ve seen bow fishing and it looks very hard, I would say the rod and reel would be more destructive to a populations numbers than the bow. That’s just common sense, however, the lawmakers are usually fairly short on that ability to reason through issues.

    Is noodling big there? I’ve noticed up here more and more people are getting into noodling for catfish. My husband and his cousins all love it. I for one have no desire to have my own arm used as bait for a fish that could outweigh me!

    1. There are places where people noodle, but not right here, and it used to be done more than it is now. I think bayou people have a little more sense that to stick their arm in the mouth of a huge catfish LOL!! That is just creepy!

  6. Keep talking sister 🙂 You make sense from nonsense. As a person who has bow fished I would stand against any mob to defend your statements!

  7. I stuck my mouth in a couple of “disgustions” might have continued but I stop if reply is a personal attack.

    Anywho my sneaky feeling I have they are actually targeting the same group they targeted with gill net ban. I bowfish for carp it ain’t shooting fish in a barrel.

    Gonna be a stormy night up here.

    1. “targeting the same group” would suggest that those who gill netted for a living are all now bow fishing reds for a living? Please remember that gill netters = commercial fishermen charter guides = sportfishermen and ne’er the twain shall meet. This one you will have to explain, Blu, and not in code either.

  8. It seems to me that a group that calls itself a “coastal conservation” group would have a lot more important things to occupy their time with than a sport that accounts for only 1% of the redfish taken.

    Like, how about, let’s see, what could they focus on? Mmm, well, could it be the Louisiana COAST????