Part one of this series began with a discussion about researching forums and blogs and state-level bowfishing regulations. Part two continued to discuss finding launch sites. Part three covered local regulations. Check them out if you missed them.
Weather and River Data
You only have to paddle into rough surf, a strong headwind, or a heavy current once to learn a hard lesson about why weather matters when kayaking. If you bowfish from a kayak or canoe, these factors affect you more than your powerboating brethren.
Everyone knows how to check the weather online, so that part is easy. Driving to City X to go bowfishing on the weekend? Look up the forecast for City X on the weekend. I personally use the National Weather Service because it lacks the sensationalist clickbait garbage that plagues most weather sites (I’m looking at you, weather.com!). Is a thunderstorm likely on the day I plan to bowfish? Then I’ll probably try to avoid that area.
Every paddler should also check wind speed and direction, and decide what they’re comfortable paddling in. My personal comfort zone for winds is below 10 mph. I’ll venture into winds up to 15 mph if I think I can find a sheltered area to bowfish. Any higher than that and it isn’t worth it to me. Everyone has a different threshold for wind speed they’re willing to paddle through, usually determined by their athletic endurance and what type of boat they have. Wind also kicks up surf in open bodies of water, which can turn a relaxing paddle into a punishing slog.
In my opinion, however, the biggest factor in kayaking safety is how the water is behaving. For this, I research what the weather is like upstream of where I want to paddle. Upstream rains or dam discharges won’t affect you much if you’re paddling in a bay or major lake, but they will absolutely change how you approach any flowing bodies of water.
The Fernleaf Interactive Watershed map is a really cool tool to help you find what “upstream” is for any area within the United States. When you hover your mouse over any watershed, it will turn yellow. Anything downstream is highlighted in blue, and upstream is highlighted in red. Click a watershed and the highlighting will freeze. If I’m hoping to bowfish on a Saturday, for example, I will open this map on Thursday or Friday. I’ll click the area I’m targeting, then look up the current weather for a city or two upstream. If Dallas, TX receives a heavy rain on a Friday, it’s unlikely I’ll be safe paddling the Trinity River outside of Houston, TX on a Saturday.
The United States Geological Survey also runs WaterWatch, an interactive tool for exploring current and predicted flow rates for major waterways in the United States. You can browse color-coded maps showing current streamflow and flood stages.
When you hover your mouse over a point plotted on the map, there is a popup showing more information from that monitoring station. Some even have a graph showing predicted flood stages and flow rates, so you can see what the water will be doing well in advance of going paddling.
In summary, while it’s important to know what the weather will do on the day you paddle, it’s also important to know what the water will do. Kayaker deaths are sadly becoming more common in the news, so do your research and stay safe when paddling.