Winters are hard on the high desert of Idaho that I call home. Although I thoroughly enjoy living out in the vast Snake River Plain, the winters are long, cold, and windy. After the fall big game seasons are over, I pick up my shotgun and hunt birds out back, or waterfowl down at the reservoir, but those seasons had come and gone. The only thing open at the time was cottontail season, but I already had enough of them in the freezer and wanted desperately to find another adventure, preferably where the weather was warmer.
I was sitting at my desk, looking out over the snow-covered sagebrush and white-capped hills that surround my place out here, when I received an email from my friend Russell Lantier from Louisiana. He was putting together a group of PBS members and other friends for a two-day, traditional bowfishing trip and wanted to know if I might be interested in joining them. The quarry of this trip was gar, sheepshead and, to my delight, red drum, more commonly known as redfish, a beautiful and highly delectable saltwater fish. I stared out the window, realizing that the temperature down south in March is more to my liking. The offer was too good to pass up. I immediately wrote back and told Russell I was in.
In early March, I flew from Boise to Baton Rouge where Russell and Bill Terry met me at the airport. We headed back to Russell’s house where Ron Tandy and Kevin Bahr had just arrived. After we were shown our sleeping arrangements for the next day and a half, the five of us went out to Mike Anderson’s Seafood Restaurant for oysters and dinner. Quite honestly, the char-grilled oysters with butter, garlic, Romano and Parmesan cheese grilled
over an open flame were some of the best oysters I have ever eaten. Four dozen later, we were too full to eat the dinners we ordered, so we loaded up doggie bags and retired back to Russell’s place for drinks and conversation in his game room. The night was full and fun with old friends as we admired the collection of archery and bowhunting memorabilia Russell had acquired through a lifetime of travel.
The following day the rest of our group showed up and Russell and his wife Dot held an elaborate afternoon dinner party for our group and several other friends and family members. Russell even gave up his recipe for an outstanding mini crawfish pie, which we devoured with relish. The camaraderie and conversation lasted well into the night, and I quickly made friends with the rest of the group. It was true southern hospitality with lovely people.
The following morning we caravanned our way down toward Buras, slipping easily south of New Orleans, down Highway 39 deep into the Mississippi River delta. I was amazed to see the devastating effects of hurricane Katrina. Even now, ten years later, the destruction from that horrific event is still evident. The levees were fixed, but everywhere were destroyed and vacated homes, boats and ships scattered well inland from the delta, automobiles, trailers, and campers strewn everywhere…it was mind-boggling. All around us you could see peoples’ dreams destroyed, lives ruined, and billions of dollars wasted. The farther south we went, the more devastation we encountered. I sat in silence, staring out the windows.
“Pretty sad, isn’t it?” Kevin whispered to me.
“Yeah. A real mess,” I uttered.
We continued our way south, more quiet than before.
We arrived at our destination by early afternoon and met Captain Alan Yedor, who owns Southern Style Bowfishing. Alan has been an avid bowfisherman since he was first introduced to the sport at the age of thirteen. He is a two-time World Champion on the bowfishing circuit, and has been inducted into the Bowfishing Hall of Fame. To say that he understands bowfishing would be an understatement; the references on his operation speak volumes of his experience guiding bowfishing expeditions. After settling into our bunkrooms, we met Alan’s lovely wife, Angie, and a few of Alan’s deck hands. Alan discussed our plans for the night’s trip, how things would take place, and what we could expect. We would head out at dusk and bowfish until the early morning before heading back in.
Alan’s operation is professional, with a full kitchen, dining room, and lounge with a pool table, as well as two bunkrooms that hold six people, each with its own bathroom, coffee maker, and microwave. Breakfast is provided, but lunch and dinner are up to the clients.
After dinner we headed out in two airboats, five shooters on each, with a captain, and deck hand. The weather was beautiful, much more to my liking than the sub-freezing back home. Making our way out to the big water, the evening air started to get a little cool, so I reached into my pack and put on a light jacket. The water was clear, calm, and glassy. As soon as we hit open water, we donned protective earmuffs before Alan opened up the large block V-8 engine and moved the boat out into the delta toward grassy islands we would be hunting around. The other boat split off to a different area.
As darkness crept in, we all took positions around the fore and side decks. Alan turned on the light array that surrounds the boat on three sides and we slowly oozed our way around small delta islands. It took some time before the first fish was spotted, a decent sized redfish. Several arrows were released, but no one connected.
“You gotta aim low…under the fish!” Alan said as arrows were retrieved. The next fish spotted fell to a head shot from Bill. Now that the ice was broken, we proceeded to find our next fish. The standard procedure is once a fish is hit, the deck hand grabs your line, pulls in the fish, takes it off the line, hands over your arrow, and he tosses the fish into a cooler with crushed ice. Being one who likes to do these things myself, it took some time for me to get used to the system Alan has set up. Several times I would hit a fish, the deck hand would pull it in, and the fish would come off. I blamed the deck hand, as he seemed to yank the line in much too fast. Alan looked at my arrow and said it was the head, a Sting-A-Ree. “We’ve had problems with those on redfish with traditional bows. Use a head like a Muzzy or Fin-Finder.” So, I swapped out arrows and never lost another fish.
The shooting was fast and furious. At times, I would get so intense looking for fish that I had to sit back and take a break. I sat back, opened a bottle of water, and took in the scenery. All around us were low, grassy islands, and off in the distance I could see lights from small towns and boats. The water was clear and shallow, the salty air sweet. I shut my eyes and tried to absorb the entire experience when I heard a shot and Emile LeBlanc yelled, “Fish on!” It was time to get back to business.
It was obvious the best place to be was up front, as the fish were easier to spot than off to the side. They also would move farther out as the boat slipped by, making the shots longer and less accurate the farther back from the bow you were. But we all had lots of shooting, and by 1 a.m. I had shot my limit of five redfish, as well as several sheepshead. In all, we came back in with around twenty-two redfish and about a dozen sheepshead: a good night, for sure.
The bunkrooms were dark and quiet, so by the time I awoke it was after 10 a.m. After a late breakfast, and lots of coffee, Alan and his mates made quick work filleting the fish that had been kept on ice all night. The fillets were packed in Ziploc bags and placed in a freezer. It was entertaining to watch the bantering between Alan and the other boat’s captain over who boated the most fish. It’s all in good fun, but you could feel the competition between the two, and besides, Alan has that reputation to uphold!
It was time to reassess gear and get ready for our next outing later that evening. I was using a Zebco 808 bowfishing reel that was given to me many years ago, but had never been used until this trip. It was heavy and awkward, and several times I forgot to push the line release and, I’m embarrassed to admit, sent several brand new fish arrows off into the delta after snapping the line, never to be seen again. I honestly thought four arrows were too many; however, I was down to my last one. Thankfully, Bill Terry had a tube of arrows and said I could use whatever I needed. In return, I gave him the Zebco after our trip.
It was our last night, so after an early dinner we drove down to the boat launch and loaded up our gear for the night. As we slowly motored down a slough toward more open water, I glanced down and was surprised to see a nine- to ten-foot alligator lying just under the surface. As we slipped right over him, Alan yelled, “Can’t shoot that bad boy!” Too bad: that’s on my bucket list.
This night was much easier, as I now knew what to expect, had the right gear, and we worked out a system of rotating shooters to the front. You got one shot, then stepped back behind the last guy, and worked your way back up. It was much better, and we all had good shooting. I even managed to arrow an alligator gar, my first. Emile smiled at me. “That’s good eating, too,” he said. “Give it a quick brine, salt, pepper, garlic, and grill it!” I had to take his word, and the next morning he cut off a huge roast and gave it to me, but to this day it resides on the inside of my freezer door, staring at me. I guess I’m going to have to cook it and find out…
I shot another limit of redfish that night, finally getting the hang of this unusual and exciting type of “Southern Style” bowfishing. The best part is redfish and sheepshead make excellent table fare. We motored back with another ice chest full of fish.
The next morning was a repeat of the first: late breakfast, fillet fish, and pack on ice. We said our goodbyes to Alan and Angie and their crew and made our way back to Baton Rouge where the fish was evenly divided among all of us. I had to buy a cooler to get it back to Idaho, but it was well worth it; redfish is outstanding table fare, as are sheepshead.
That evening Russell and Dot treated us to an authentic Louisiana crawfish dinner. Laid out on a table on the patio were several trays with five pounds of fresh crawfish, corn, andouille sausage, and ice-cold beer. We dived in, relishing the food, the talk, and the camaraderie of good friends. The trip had been a welcome respite from the snow and ice I left back in Idaho, and I didn’t relish the fact I had to fly back; however, we made plans to get together again, every year, to share a bowhunting adventure together. After all, bowhunting—and bowfishing—with friends builds lasting memories as the years wind along.
Equipment Notes: I used a 56# Black Widow takedown longbow with a Great Northern Traditional Gadget Adapter to hold the Zebco 808 bowfishing reel. My arrows were Cajun fiberglass, and I used several types of heads until I settled on the Muzzy Quick Release fish head.