The popularity of bowfishing exploded so fast, and bowfishermen proved so skilled and successful, that in recent years it has created problems around some area boat ramps and docks.
Only rough fish can be taken by bowfishing, and since they are generally deemed inedible, piles of them were sometimes dumped out at the ramp and left to rot.
In warm months the stench, flies and flocks of flapping buzzards became so bad that some public ramps and docks – including those at Wilson County’s Misty Cove – were virtually unusable.
Some dead fish were also dumped at the Long Hunter Park launch ramp last spring. It wasn’t as bad as the Misty Cove mess, but bad enough. On one trip I discovered a dozen arrow-pierced carp strewn around the dock and parking lot. I smelled them before I saw them.
A flock of buzzards was working on clean-up detail. It wasn’t a pleasant way to start a day on the lake.
Awhile back while doing research for a magazine story about bowfishing, I interviewed an official with the Bowfishing Association of America, Jeff Nieball of Fayetteville, and he said he is aware of the concerns and working to address them.
Jeff said his association constantly reminds members about the importance of cleaning up after themselves, and is convinced that most of them do it. He said notices are posted on the association’s website and social media outlets, reminding bowfishemen not to dump their catches in public areas.
Fish that have been arrowed obviously can’t be released, and since the rough fish killed by bowfishermen are not considered fit for human consumption (although that could change), what can be done with a boat-load of carp, drum, gar and buffalo, some weighing as much as 80 pounds?
Jeff says he dumps his catch in the deepest part of the lake or in the river channel, where it is cleaned up by turtles and other scavengers. To keep the mass of dead fish from floating on the surface and drifting up to shore, he sinks them by puncturing the air bladders.
Frank Fiss, Chief of Fisheries for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, agrees that’s the best way to dispose of them. Fiss says there is no specific TWRA regulation prohibiting dumping dead rough fish; the only restriction is whatever local anti-littering or public sanitation ordinances might be in place.
He says complaints should be presented to local officials rather than the TWRA.
Fiss is aware of the problem with dead fish being dumped at public ramps and docks, and says the Agency may have to deal with the issue at some point. But he, like Nieball, believes the vast majority of bowfishermen are ethical and conscientious, and will self-police the problem.
Meanwhile, there is another potential solution to the disposal problem: instead of dumping them, eat them.
There is a commercial market for trash fish, but it is extremely limited. The TWRA is working to expand it, and also suggests sampling such dishes as carp cakes and baked buffalo. It wouldn’t hurt to give them a try.
It beats leaving them for the buzzards.
Larry Woody is The Mt. Juliet News’ outdoors writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.