Standing on a platform at the bow of his boat, Rick Hammond peered into the semi-clear water of Melvern Lake in Kansas and searched for the type of fish that could produce a strong tug.
When he spotted a brown shadow slowly moving through the shallows, he was ready to go fishing.
But he didn’t reach for a rod and reel. Instead, he pulled back on his bow and quickly came to full draw. He released an arrow, then watched as the water boiled.
Hammond tugged on the line attached to the arrow, and fought the fish for a few seconds, then pulled in his catch – an 8-pound buffalo.
“Some people would call something like this a trash fish,” Hammond said as he tossed the fish into a box. “Not us.
“This is what we’re looking for. Gar, carp, buffalo – the fish most rod and reel fishermen leave alone – those are the fish we want.”
And there’s no shortage of those fish in Kansas, Hammond will tell you. Reservoirs such as Melvern, Milford, Perry and La Cygne, and rivers such as the Marais des Cygne and Neosho are loaded with potential targets for bow fishermen.
If the water is halfway clear – giving an archer a chance to spot the fish – and the summer sun is shining, Hammond is in heaven.
His first love is bow hunting for trophy deer. But bow fishing would have to rank as a close second, he said.
How many fishermen do you know who have a likeness of a gar displayed on both sides of their boat?
“The gar is probably my favorite species to fish for,” said Hammond, who has a taxidermy business and a website at grandriveroutdoors.com. “At this time of the year, they’ll be in the rivers feeding on those balls of shad.
“Sometimes, they’re so thick, you hardly know which one to aim at. That’s when it can get fun.”
Hammond has shot gar as long as 56 inches. He also has taken a 44-pound grass carp and many big buffalo.
Looking to catch a fish so big that it will tow your boat when you hook it? That’s not a fish story to Hammond. He has had it happen.
Hammond was looking for a fish of those proportions when he and two friends, Kaleb Stein and Bob Griffin, headed out on Melvern Lake.
Stein, who lives in Neosho Rapids, Kan., owns a company that uses a unique process to put colorful graphics on bows. Griffin, who lives in Lebo, is the secretary-treasurer of the Kansas Bowhunters Association.
Both are avid bow fishermen and have some tales about the big ones that didn’t get away. For example, Stein remembers the day that he shot and landed a 6-foot, 2-inch gar on the Neosho River.
Like any other type of fishing, it takes a knowledge of the targeted species to find success. Gar are predators, Hammond said, and will often be found chasing minnows or other baitfish. Carp, on the other hand, will often be found in the shallows, feeding on the moss on rocks.
It also takes an ability to make a good shot under often adverse conditions. Hammond uses 50 feet of 250-pound test line, which is tied to the end of the arrow. Hitting a target can be more difficult than it looks.
“You have to allow for light refraction,” Hammond said. “I will usually try to aim for under the belly of the fish I am trying to hit.”
Hammond, Stein and Griffin hit eight fish, a combination of carp and gar, fishing in a light rain on this day. Not great, in their eyes, but still good enough to send them home with fish, some of which make surprisingly good table fare.
“These gray days aren’t good for bow fishing,” Hammond said. “You can’t see the fish as well as you can on a bright, sunny day.
“But that’s OK. I still love being out here. This bow fishing is addictive.
“I used to fish with rod and reel, but they get left at home now. This is the only way I fish now.”