Planning a Kayak Bowfishing Trip: Part Two

Part one of this series began with a discussion about researching forums and blogs and state-level bowfishing regulations.

Launch Sites

Kayaks and canoes have a few advantages over power boats, and the biggest one is the ability to launch almost anywhere that land meets water (though we’ll see that local regulations are a big impediment to that later in this series). Paddlers refer to these as “launch sites” and you can find a huge database of them mapped out at paddling.com.

Map of kayak and canoe launch points across North America on paddling.net.

Map of kayak and canoe launch points across North America on paddling.com.

Each pink dot on the launch site map on paddling.com is a clickable link cataloged by fellow paddlers. Paddlers fill in information like address, general description, available facilities, safety tips, and whether fees are required to park or launch. One major advantage is that you can access this map via an app on both Apple and Android devices. This helps tremendously when you arrive at a launch to find that something has thrown a wrench in your plans and you need to adjust while mobile.

Though you don’t need a proper boat ramp to launch a paddle craft, you can definitely use them. Most states provide public boat launch maps through their wildlife management program websites. The Florida Public Boat Ramp Finder is a great example. Other sources of launch sites include kayaking or canoeing discussion boards and kayak fishing forums (especially thanks to the sport’s growing popularity.

Map of boat ramps in Lee Country, Florida.

A map of boat ramps in Lee Country, Florida. Most states have a public boat ramp map – all you need to do is search around for them.

Once you’ve found a site you like, it’s time to break out Google Maps. It might be possible to launch somewhere, but is it worth it? I like to consider a few specific points when scouting a spot. See a worked example of my thought process below using a launch site in Cove, TX.

Kayak launch points in Cove, TX from paddling.net.

Find a spot you want to launch. Then ask yourself…

Does it look fishy?

Getting into the water and paddling around is the only real way to answer this, but satellite imagery can help. Depending on the type of fish you’re targeting, you can probably spot what looks like their preferred habitat from satellite view. Is the shore grassy or sandy? Is the water featureless, or is there a lot of visible structure? Does the surrounding area look like it will flood easily during the spring rains?

A fishy-looking area desirable for bowfishing.

Does it look fishy? The area outline in yellow here looks like it will hold fish to me.

How far do you have to paddle?

This is the one of the biggest differences if you’re paddling or boating to a bowfishing spot. Boaters measure plausible distances by the range of their gas tanks. A paddler’s gas tank is their stamina. You might find the fishiest spot 10 miles from the launch, but that also means you have to paddle 10 miles back. Respect your limitations. Which leads us to…

Example of a distance measurement on Google Maps.

How far do you have to paddle? Don’t outdo yourself – make sure you have the stamina to complete the trip. RIght-click an area on Google Maps and choose “Measure distance”, then click along a path to measure it.

Do you have to paddle upstream?

This is another big difference between scouting spots accessible by power boats or paddle crafts. A small current can make paddling a lot harder if you have to paddle against it, and a swift current can put you in danger. Before paddling downstream, test your ability to paddle against the current first. Paddle about 20 yards upstream and consider how much effort and how long it took. Even if you can out-paddle the current, it’s not worth going two miles downstream if you’re winded after paddling 50 yards upstream.

Another option is to use currents to your advantage. You may have a friend with their own vehicle, and can plan a take-out spot further down a river after leisurely paddling with the current. Or if the current is slight, you can begin your round trip by paddling upstream when you’re fresh and full of energy, then let the current supplement the return leg of your journey after you’ve been out all day or night.

Once I planned to launch and paddle downstream to a spot I found on Google Maps, only to realize as I turned down a cut that the current was faster than I could paddle back up it! If I hadn’t the sense to turn around and seek calmer water, there was no way I could have gotten back to the launch that day.

Pay attention to areas where current may affect your paddle.

Do you have to paddle upstream? Here the green path shows my downstream paddling with the current at the beginning of the day. That means that later in the day, when I am exhausted, I have to paddle back upstream against the current to complete my trip.

Is there wind cover?

Another enemy to the paddling bowfisher is the wind. Most kayak fisherman I’ve spoken to have a wind “threshold” of about 15 mph before they cancel their trip. Wind can turn a relaxing paddle into a brutal saga, and this is accentuated by lack of cover. If you’re hunting a meandering bayou through a cypress swamp the wind won’t affect you much, but if you’re scouting the shore of an open lake or marsh you’ll need to be careful to avoid a grueling paddle through choppy waters. Murphy’s Law also applies to wind when bowfishing – in my experience, it will most likely push you away from the fish or your desired drift line.

Areas along a kayaker's path where wind is likely to kick up.

Is there wind cover? Areas circled in yellow are open and give the wind space to gain momentum. Green stretches are sheltered, and red not as much.

Is it navigable?

Look for a route to your desired destination all the way from the launch. Smaller rivers can easily be made impassable by a log jam (personal experience) or fallen bridge (also personal experience). It isn’t always possible to see this from satellite imagery, but it helps to keep this in mind.

An example of a blockage in the path of a paddler that proves too much of a challenge to portage.

Is it navigable? Circled in red is an impassable area that makes my life a lot harder for this trip. Dense tree cover can also obscure log or debris jams on smaller waterways.

What do the surroundings look like?

Use street view to check out your launch spot and the surrounding neighborhood. Is the launch spot covered in trash? Is the neighborhood a place you would leave your vehicle unattended? If you see red flags, maybe it’s time to consider a different launch site, or at least prepare to arrive at the launch site with a vehicle emptied of valuables. I also personally like to check the distance from my desired fishing spot to local highways. I go into the flood for more than just bowfishing – solitude in nature is comforting to me. Nothing ruins that comfort quicker than a noisy highway droning 100 yards from my fishing hole.

A photo of Hugo Point in Cove, TX previously uploaded to Google Maps.

What do the surroundings look like? If it doesn’t look like a place you would want to leave your vehicle, perhaps you should consider another spot.

Part three is out now and covers with a discussion on researching local bowfishing regulations. Check it out, and if you like this post be sure to subscribe for more in the sidebar!

4 thoughts on “Planning a Kayak Bowfishing Trip: Part Two

  1. Pingback: Planning a Kayak Bowfishing Trip: Part One – Field and Flood

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

  3. Pingback: Planning a Kayak Bowfishing Trip: Part Four – Field and Flood

  4. Pingback: Planning a Kayak Bowfishing Trip: Part Zero – Field and Flood

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