Hunting for the Ghost of the Water


Bowfishing for tilapia

Tilapia the “Ghost of the Water”

Bowfishing for tilapia is among one of my favorite outdoor pursuits. It is comparable to turkey hunting in that tilapia can see very well and will bust you if they catch you even slightly moving before you make your shot. This is why I call tilapia the “Ghost of the Water”. They are there one minute and gone the next.

Tilapia are usually found in the southern United States and Central and South America where the climate is warm. Since they tend to thrive in warmer bodies of water, power plant cooling lakes are among the best places to find tilapia in the USA. We have several of these lakes in Texas such as Lake Calaveras, Lake Brauning, Gibbons Creek, Lake Fairfield and the list goes on. The paradox regarding tilapia is that they are an invasive species in many lakes but they are also a fine table-fare fish, served in many fine restaurants across the world.

Most bowfishers would tell you the daytime is the best time to go hunting after these fish. On clear water rivers and lakes they are relatively easy to see but you can see even better with the aid of a good pair of polarized sunglasses. The only issue with clear bodies of water is that, though you can see them easier, they can see you too!

You can bowfish for these fish by trolling around the edges of the lake 2-7 feet of water, much like bowfishing for other fish. My main strategy for bowfishing is to pull up into a patch of aquatic vegetation and find an area where there is a clearing and relatively calm and clear water. Anchor your boat and wait with you bow in hand. Tilapia are a curious fish and their curiosity usually leads to their demise. You can put dozens of fish in your ice chest if you can beat them at their own game. These fish will typically peek out of the vegetation to look at you. The minute you see one come close to the surface for a look, shoot! One of the biggest mistakes you can make, and I am thoroughly guilty of this, is to point out the fish to your bowfishing partners before you shoot. Remember, they can easily sense movement. When they do, expect to see a cloud of mud as they dart back into the cover of vegetation. Poof! Just like a ghost!

If you don’t have a boat and only bank access to a body of water, try wade fishing around flooded or aquatic vegetation. Again, look for calm and clear water where you can get a clean shot. Then wait and ambush the curious fish as they come up for a look at you. For wade fishing, I have heard of some bowfishers going as far as to bring a tripod hunting stand with them and, when and where allowed, wade it out in the water. They then climb up to it, sit down, and wait for the action to start. Bowfishing like this closely resembles bowhunting on land!

However you choose to approach bowfishing for tilapia, you are most certainly going to have fun doing it. I assure you that the adventure is well worth the trip if you have tilapia near where you live or can travel to a place that has them. Aim low, think big, and have fun out there!

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