As we all know and learn early on, it's possible to stack up hundreds of pounds of fish in just one night of bowfishing. One of the biggest impediments to beginning bowfishing is lack of information, like not knowing what to do with the fish once they have been shot.
I am an avid hiker and was always taught to leave an area better than I found it. ‘Leave no trace’ and ‘pack it in, pack it out’ are always at the forefront of my mind. When I learned that some archer-anglers leave their fish on banks, loading areas and docks, it didn't sit right with me.
So we've put together some ways to use the fish after your bowfishing outings. While this may not be an exhaustive list, we at Loxley Bowfishing hope that it starts a conversation that helps to educate and create better sportsmen in order to grow participation in this great sport.
Please pass this knowledge along, so that we can better utilize the fish that we shoot and teach others how to do the same.
Eat and End Fish Prejudice
The fish that can be eaten, should be eaten. Many of the fish we target as bowfishermen are, in general, deemed “trash fish” or “rough fish.” Too often, they are tossed on the bank with no regard for their flavor qualities. This is unfortunate. Common perception is that all rough fish have an unpleasant taste. In reality, the right preparation and cooking method can turn these fish into regular table fare that will leave you wondering why you disposed of them in the past. We’ve found recipes for all sorts of species, including but not limited to: Carp, Lionfish, Ray, Sheepshead (freshwater drum), gar, sucker, and buffalo. My perspective on these fish has changed greatly, and I find myself even more excited to bowfish when I know I can fill up my freezer at the same time.
We challenge you to step outside your comfort zone and try one of the recipes over at Honest Food. Hank Shaw is widely known for utilizing meats and veggies that people don’t eat much of anymore in his recipes. The Loxley Team believes anything is worth trying once, but the recipes below are worth trying over and over again!
Bat Ray with Brown Butter Recipe from Honest Food
In Loxley’s home state of Michigan, the DNR prepared an “Eat Safe Fish Guide” to help identify which fish you can eat and the maximum amount you should eat to avoid ingesting too many chemicals. The most popular fish to shoot here (Common Carp) is labeled as “Do not eat” in most bodies of water. Interestingly, a carp taken in clean water will not taste muddy and will have safe levels of chemicals for human consumption.
When all else fails, get the deep fryer ready, invite some friends over, and have a fish fry. Share your recipes in the comments below or over on our Facebook page!
Fish make a great fertilizer. For smaller quantities of fish, you can easily chop them up into pieces and bury them about a foot beneath the surface in your garden. This is similar to how Native Americans used to garden. Adding excess fish to a compost pile is an easy alternative to chopping them up.
For those of you who like to get a bit more involved, you can create a homemade fish emulsion which will provide a quick nitrogen boost to your plants or garden. There are numerous “recipes” but here is one that we like.
For larger quantities, consider reaching out to a local farm to see if they could use the fish in their fields.
While we are on the topic of local farms, some will take your fish to use for feed for their livestock. Many zoos and wildlife sanctuaries will also take the fish for feed.
If you’re in an area with catfish, carp and other species of catfish make for great cutbait. To learn more about how to make your own cutbait for catfish check out this link.
Many boat launches have designated fish disposal dumpsters. Make sure to use those instead of the general dumpsters when they are provided.
Deep Water Disposal (Slit and Sink)
For many suburbanites, it’s just not possible to dispose of fish in their own fields, and we all know that it's possible to bring in much more fish than can be reasonably eaten/composted. In these cases, channel your inner sailor and take your fish out to sea for deep water disposal and let nature take its course; aquatic life will eat the fish. Using a sharp knife, cut open the stomach of the fish (this ensures that the fish will sink to the bottom), and toss them overboard when you are in deep water.
Note: This is only legal in some states and sometimes only legal for certain species. The theory is that there could still be eggs inside a female fish and throwing back an invasive species could proliferate the spread. You’ll need to do a bit of research to determine if this is in line with your local regulations. When in doubt, make a quick call to your local DNR office.
Don’t leave the fish, it gives us a bad name as bowfishermen. In order to be good sportsmen we should all have a plan for the fish we shoot BEFORE we draw the bow. Hopefully, this article has given you some ideas to utilize the fish that you take and make you a better sportsman.
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