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