I could hardly see the muddy-orange fish in the corner of my eye as I began to retrieve my line as quickly as I could, hoping the fish would stay put.
As I nocked my arrow, the fish made a run for deeper water. I hoisted the bow, and in one smooth motion let the arrow fly. Well, maybe not a “smooth” motion, per se. Based on watching my bowfishing partner, Tom Rush, I probably looked more like someone attempting a bad version of The Robot.
As an archer, I certainly had no business shooting at a moving target 10 or 15 yards away. But after about two-hours of shooting at carp at Casey Pond, near Burbank, I learned two things about bowfishing: The arrow always comes back, and there are more fish.
Tom and I spent those two hours under the tutelage of Scott Estes, president of the Washington Bowfishing Association.
“There’s no reason not to try a shot,” Estes told us many times, possibly in the hope we might hit one or two fish.
By the time Tom and I arrived at the Casey Pond boat launch, Estes had his boat prepped and all our gear loaded. The boat itself was an impressive craft, with a large, raised platform on the front.
As we motored out, Estes walked us through the gear we would use: compound bows, each about 50 pounds of draw, with no let-off, equipped with AMS bottle reels and a heavy fiberglass arrow.
Estes showed us how to properly nock the arrow, which had a safety slide connected to a braided line, and explained how to retrieve the line after a missed shot. Tom and I had plenty of practice missing, despite the abundance of fish.
By the time Tom hit his first fish we had both taken about a dozen shots, encouraged by Estes to “just keep shooting, and aim low” to compensate for the refraction caused by the water.
As I kept missing -- and aiming lower, and lower -- Tom hit another fish. Then a third, each going into a large plastic barrel on his side of the boat. Finally, I got past the refraction, aimed low enough, and hit my first carp.
“That’s a mirror carp,” Estes said as I hauled the 20-pound fish over the side of the boat. He pointed out the irregular, larger-than-usual scale pattern on the fish, then dropped it into my bucket. The game was, as they say, afoot. Or maybe a-fin.
In either case, by the time we left the inlet for more open water, Tom had hit four fish and I had three of my own in my bucket. We kept count for the next two hours, at which time we decided we were having too much fun to care who shot the most fish.
By that time, we also managed to convince Estes we weren’t just city-folk, and possibly even had a latent redneck gene or two. In fact, we were feeling pretty good about our fish count, right up to the moment Estes climbed onto the boat platform with his Oneida competition bow and hit three out of four fish in about 5 minutes.
Estes, who won about $5,000 in prize money at bowfishing tournaments last year, said he has been interested in archery for many years, but only got into bowfishing seriously in the last five years.
“I started like most people do back in high school,” Estes said, adding that he and his friends only dabbled in bowfishing with limited equipment.
In 2010, however, Estes said he got involved in bowfishing competitively.
“I saw there’s another part of that world,” he said.
That same year, a group of bowfishers in Ellensburg started the Washington Bowfishing Association.
“At the end of 2013 they turned it over to us,” Estes said of a group of about six Tri-City-area bowfishers.
The young organization is growing rapidly. Estes said there are now about 85 members statewide, and the year-end tournament is expected to draw almost 50 boats, or close to 115 shooters.
“It’s actually a fairly new sport in the Northwest as far as organization,” Estes said, adding that bowfishing is hugely popular in the southern and eastern United States.
“What’s great about bowfishing is that you have a resource that’s overly plentiful,” Estes said, adding that in Washington the only fish legal to shoot with a bow are carp, considered an invasive species.
“These carp are detrimental to our waterways,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”
Estes also sees room to expand bowfishing in Washington to include other “detrimental” fish species.
“We’re pushing the state to give us some more opportunities with catfish,” Estes said. “It’s amazing how many catfish you can see at night.”
Proper bowfishing attire consists of anything your wife won’t wring your neck for getting all “fishy.”
In addition to working with the Washington Fish & Game Department, Estes consults with Martin Archery, developing a new line of bowfishing bows.
He also works Organix, a sustainable energy business in Walla Walla, to use the fish for methane production. Estes said local tournaments can net thousands of pounds of fish, much of which is donated to crawfishers in the Portland area.
Beyond tournament fishing, Estes said he hopes someday to travel to Texas and hunt alligator gar, a fish that can weigh more than 150 pounds, or even actual alligators in Louisiana.