A Selfbow’s Maiden Voyage

Sunlight was barely peeking above the horizon when I arrived in Cove, TX. I couldn’t help waking up at 4:00 AM in a frenzied excitement, and the price was to stand helplessly at the boat ramp until dawn.

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Dawn breaks at the boat launch in Cove, TX.

My plan was simple enough. I would launch and paddle down the bayou to the south end of a marsh, then cut north into its only opening. I had a good idea of where I could find some gar, and the weather predictions said it would be sunny, cloudless, and 85°. Joining me for its maiden voyage into the flood was my new Osage selfbow, Catfish, which I finished building the day before.

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Marsh grass and scrub trees extend to the southern horizon, toward Trinity Bay.

At daybreak I launched, and found myself in a flooded, brackish channel with only bait fish disturbing the glassy surface. Marsh grass stretched to the southern horizon and rustled in the wakening breeze. Had I dropped anchor on the spot and spent the day in that moment, it would have been a day well spent.

The current picked up as I neared the bayou, and I questioned my plan to paddle almost a mile downstream to the spot where I intended to bowfish. I knew the nearby Trinity was scheduled to reach its maximum flood stage at noon that day after a record April rainfall, but I underestimated the effect it would have on my backwater haunt.

Before paddling down the bayou, I tested the current by trying to paddle upstream. Despite max effort, I was going backwards! Wisdom prevailed, and I turned back to calmer waters. I can’t pretend, however, that the ghost of my younger, more reckless self wasn’t tempted to chance it and continue downstream as planned.

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Gar lurk in the calm backwaters connected to the Trinity River.

Foregoing my longer route gave me more quality time with the areas of these waters I already knew well. The aforementioned flooding created more room to paddle than I was accustomed to. A wide, shallow, grassy flat opened from a usually narrow channel. I spent the morning around this flat trying to sneak up on the ghostly bait fish that danced just beneath the surface outside of a ten foot radius around my boat.

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An alcove is sheltered from the wind and offers female gar a calm area to lay eggs in the reeds.

Hidden behind some taller reeds was the small pond where I took my first small gar only a year before. I spent about five minutes there scanning underwater for ambushing gar before getting distracted with other wildlife. Singing birds would swoop down and land high in the reeds, which would sway all the way down to within inches of the water. Their songs continued while they foraged for nest-building materials.

It wasn’t only birds that entertained me. Thirty minutes into my watch I finally noticed a gar – all four inches of it! This little guy let me know that I was too late to enjoy the spawn. He took a lazy gulp of air, regarded me with an indifferent eye, then disappeared into the murky water.

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The sun was shining over Texas after a straight month of rain.

At midmorning I found myself slowly drifting down the middle of my favorite cut in Cove with the sun at my back. I couldn’t have asked for better conditions. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky to obscure my view into the water, and the wind funneled parallel to the cut. I sat my paddle down and was able to pay full attention to the water, flexing my virgin bow with both hands as I sailed along. Along the grassy edges of the cut I spied sticks – sticks everywhere! Sticks with moss, sticks wobbling in the wake, sticks with forks and knots, even a stick with fins. The stick with fins also had a slight sheen, a spotted tail, a flat snout… gar! Without wasting another second, I flung Catfish’s first arrow at the warily sinking fish and connected! It fought the arrow protruding from its side, but was barbed well and couldn’t escape. A familiar mixture of sadness and triumph washed over me as I regarded my slain quarry. After a short bout of reveling, I placed my meal on ice and began the paddle back to the ramp with my new favorite bow.

3 thoughts on “A Selfbow’s Maiden Voyage

  1. Pingback: A Selfbow Named Catfish – Field and Flood

  2. Pingback: Planning a Kayak Bowfishing Trip: Part Two – Field and Flood

  3. Pingback: Paddle Report: Hugo Point Launch, Cove, TX – Field and Flood

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