The Abbreviated Saga of Catfish the Selfbow

Catfish is an Osage selfbow. He originally pulled 43# at 27″, and was 67″ nock-to-nock. He was the first bow whose back I exposed from a stave. He taught me to pull the drawknife slowly or risk ruining the ring I’m chasing. He has proven himself as a successful bowfishing bow. He bears the burden of a beginner’s poor tiller like a champ. And he shines up well to boot.

But he’s also a bit of a butthead.

One day I met a neighbor bowfishing a drainage pond in our neighborhood. He invited me to join, so I went to fetch Catfish. “My new bow never misses!” I bragged, and it was true. At the time I had only taken two shots at fish, and both had connected. When I returned to the drainage pond I shot at four fish and missed them all, with my neighbor as a witness. He kept holding out his compound and laughing at me, telling me I could borrow his bow if I wanted to actually hit a fish. If bows could talk, Catfish would have ribbed me along with him.

There was also a time when Catfish took his name a little too literally. I was out paddling one morning with my uncle, enjoying the sunrise, when I heard a scraping on the gunwales of my NuCanoe, followed by a splash. Catfish went swimming! It took me thirty minutes of digging and wading through a marshy flat in knee-deep silt riddled with sharp sticks to finally find him. I think I invented bow noodling. To his credit, his soak didn’t affect Catfish at all. Even if water penetrated the four layers of polyurethane finish, Osage is a water-resistant wood.


Catfish earned his moniker by slipping off my kayak and going for a swim.

For the rest of the summer I bowfished with that bow and didn’t hit any more fish. All joking aside, it wasn’t the bow’s fault. I had simply built a bow too underpowered and inefficient for the heavy fiberglass arrow I was shooting. I originally aimed for 50# at 27″, but took off too much wood while tillering and ended up at 43#. I think the fat, snub-nosed tips also stole some energy that would have otherwise transferred to the arrow for a faster flight.

To fix this I piked the limbs by 1 1/2″ each, bringing the nock-to-nock length down to 64″ and the draw weight to 50#. I thinned the tips considerably to hopefully improve efficiency. I also thinned the sides of the upper limb at 2/3 of its length to ease a stiff spot in the tiller.


Here are the snub-nosed tips before and after thinning. The lines guided my cuts through the tips when I piked them.

It shoots like a new bow, but inspires the same old memories. I can’t wait to take it into the flood again this season and make some more.


The character in the upper limb made tillering tough for my novice skills, but luckily Osage is a forgiving wood.


2 thoughts on “The Abbreviated Saga of Catfish the Selfbow

  1. Thanks for the compliment! If it makes you feel better, Osage is really forgiving. The bow you see in this post actually has a pretty poor tiller but still shoots well enough. Go for it and write a post about it, I’d love to see it. I’ll be sure to visit again!


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