Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bowfishing the Slam

A popular pastime on the coast involves a camouflaged flat fish that is mostly deformed and nicknamed the ‘doormat’ and the ruling weapon of choice of King Neptune himself.  I had never been flounder gigging officially but it sure seemed like it would be fun.

To catch you up on this whole little expedition, I am currently writing a book with a working title of “Bowfishing the Slam.”  Over the next year I will be crossing the United States in search of 10 different species of aquatic targets while using my bow.  This particular trip, I was after the stingray.

You can follow the pursuit HERE

So why is flounder gigging the lead paragraph if I am after stingrays?  Well, in my research on the stingray and where to go, there doesn’t seem to be any ‘stingray authorities.’  No guides to call that specialize in rays, no stingray genius who is well known to have taken the biggest and baddest rays there are.  So I had to improvise.  Who could I contact that would know something about the rays and where and when to find them?

Flounder giggers.  They were my best answer I could come up with.  Find a flounder gigger that knows what he is doing and ask him when and where he comes across the creatures.  That brought me to Jason Shi, owner of Simple Life Charters.  Jason is a captain and commercial fisherman near Wrightsville Beach.  After a short interview, I was convinced that he would be able to put me in the right spot.  I also understood this is just like hunting; in fact it is hunting; hunting fish in water.  Since it is hunting, there are no guarantees, but you try to give yourself the best odds of success.

Jason and I looked at the tide tables and lunar cycles and decided on the best evening that would fit both of our schedules.  The night we choose would allow us about two and a half hours of ‘hunting’ time.  We had to wait for the sun to set so the lights would do their thing.

To explain the whole gigging process, we are on a boat with two 100 watt light bulbs partially submerged in the water.  As we poll the boat over the shallow flats just off the Inter-coastal Waterway, we search for fish on the bottom.  If things go correctly, a ray will take off in a flutter from the bottom and I would get a shot with the bow before it leaves the halo of the light.  As for gigging, it consists of a poll usually 8 to 14 feet long with several points on the end.  The gig poll is what Jason uses to push the boat around the flats.

Follow the quest on Facebook HERE

I explained to Jason that even though the target of the evening was the stingray, that basically anything legal I would like to attempt to harvest.

Bowfishing was new to Jason.  He routinely takes clients out several nights each week for gigging.  He expressed his concerns about the bow and arrow.  Would the arrow have enough penetration after passing through the water?  Would the barbed fish point (I used the Garpoon by Cajun Archery) be sufficient to hold the prey after a successful shot?  Did I know how to swim?  Ok, the last question wasn’t about the equipment, but still a valid concern. And yes, I do know how to swim.

After we set down the first shoal, Jason quickly spotted a flounder on the bottom.  The boat gently passed over the fish.  I never saw it.  Jason backed the boat up and pointed to a vague half football shape.  He motioned where the eyes were.  It still took a moment for my brain to process what I was looking at.  Then, thwack! Splash!  I released the arrow quickly and in a short moment I was reeling in my first flounder by archery equipment.  It surpassed the minimum legal size and weighed nearly 2 pounds.  Jason felt much more at ease after seeing what the bow could do as well.

We continued and spotted several small flounder, a few nice sized sheepshead, mullet, and a beautiful red drum that must have weighed over 30 pounds.  Again, as I have stated before, it is remarkable what you can see while outdoors.

The tide was coming in hard and the weekend boat traffic assisted in stirring the sand making many of our spots difficult to see.  Jason began having second thoughts on any luck with the rays as he usually would spot 5 or 6 each trip.  Hunting has a way of sneaking up on you though.  While heading to another flat, Jason spotted a ray several yards away escaping the light of the boat.  Just his quick shout of “RAY!” was enough to have me go from balancing myself on the front of a wobbly boat to fully drawn and finger on the release trigger.  Ten yards out the arrow cut into the saltwater and the line from my bow reel screamed.  Several minutes later, the target was in hand.  My first ray.

But the highlight of the evening was still to come.  We later spotted another flounder while making our way back to the Inter-coastal Waterway.  Again, Jason’s trained eyes quickly spotted what my untrained eyes quickly missed.  But after Jason’s expert imaging of the fish on the bottom I released the arrow.  What a fight!  The flounder had taken the line 25 yards out before I could set drag to slow it up.  After a good fight, I was able to bring in a superb specimen of a flounder.  Jason assisted the net, as he was worried we would lose it (it is not uncommon for the flounder to wiggle free from gigs).  But the Garpoon point held true and the flounder was on for good.

So, in a quest for the stingray which was a success, I was also true on the new North Carolina State Bowfishing Record Flounder, breaking the old record held by Amanda Carr by 4 ounces.  Nearly 2 feet in length, it was certainly a ‘doormat’ to be proud of.

Bill Howard with new NC State Bowfishing record flounder, weighing 4 lb 8 oz.


  1. You should check out the new LED flounder gigging lights that they have at

    They are really bright and totally do away with the need for a generator since they run on a 12 volt battery!

    It is so much more peaceful to gig without that doggone generator running the background!!

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