Bowfishing is gaining in popularity – thereporteronline

My awareness and understanding of bowfishing, a sport that pairs archery gear with fishing tackle, was heightened earlier this month when I was introduced to Nick Sampson at the annual conference of the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association. Sampson, of Halifax, Pa., Is an enthusiastic devotee of the sport of bowfishing, not just as a hobby but also as a business, and his company offers bowfishing charters in both fresh and salt water environs.

In fresh water, Sampson focuses on invasive species like the northern snakehead and Asian Carp when in Maryland where he also keeps a house in Ocean City. He says that interest in bowfishing really heated up when Asian carp, primarily bighead and silver carp, took hold on American waters.

Not only do these fish pose a threat to native species by out-competing them and harming the fishing industry, but the silver carp, famous for leaping high out of the water when a power boat passes by, represents serious safety threats for boaters on infested lakes and rivers with many reports of boaters being injured or even knocked out of their boats by leaping carp. While Asian Carp have become prevalent in the Midwest, especially in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, they’ve yet to gain a foothold here in the northeast.

Currently, bowfishing here in Pennsylvania is restricted to the taking of carp, suckers, and catfish. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission puts a 50-fish daily limit on those three species combined for bowfishermen but does not allow the taking of the invasive snakehead due to concerns that bowfishermen would not be able to accurately identify this species and might shoot the native bowfin by mistake.

On freshwater bodies of water in Sampson’s other favorite stomping ground, Maryland, you are permitted to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species but not game fish. I was surprised to learn that, according to Sampson, in Maryland saltwater you can bowfish for anything but shark and rockfish as long as you abide by the regulations that apply to traditional hook and line anglers.

“We shot a lot of stingrays when they were out on salt water,” said Sampson. “Other popular targets include skates, cow nosed rays, and flounder.”

Obviously when shooting straight down or at acute angles into the water, there’s really no “arch” in this version of archery. The trickiest part is compensating for refraction, a kind of optical illusion which makes underwater objects appear to be in places where they’re not.

“Refraction is a challenge and can make you shoot low and miss,” Sampson confessed. When I asked him the maximum depth a targeted fish could be, he explained that he would not take a shot at anything more than five feet deep.

And like the vast majority of bowfishermen, Sampson said that only about 20 percent of his trips take place during daylight hours while the other 80 percent are all nighttime adventures.

“Rays and carp are almost all nighttime events,” he said.

With darkness in mind, bowfishing boats are outfitted with all kinds of lights and generators to power those bright lights. They also have elevated platforms from which to spot and shoot at those finny targets.

While specialized bowfishing boats are designed with the sport in mind, the archery gear employed is also modified. While you can convert any bow into a bowfishing tool, Sampson prefers to use state-of-the-art equipment specifically designed for a sport that he says “was once a passion that has now become an obsession for me.”

First and foremost a bowfishing bow needs to be fitted with a reel with adjustable drag, line, a specialized rest that helps feed the line out, and heavy fiberglass arrows with barbed heads that can effectively penetrate water at depths up to five feet or more.

When I spoke with Sampson, it was on the eve of his taking delivery of a brand new state-of-the-art 26-foot bowfishing vessel and he was excited about the prospect of taking a cadre of outdoor writers (including yours truly). on a bowfishing outing in the near future. I’ll let you know how that goes if and when it actually happens.

Sampson, who competes in bowfishing tournaments all over the country, also publishes Bowfishing Magazine, a free digital publication you can find online at BowfishMagazine.com. For more information or to look into a bowfishing charter, give Sampson a call at 570-971-6948.

Tom Tatum is the outdoors columnist for the MediaNews Group. You can reach him at tatumt2@yahoo.com

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