When Adam Bearden and Nicki Greene are planning a date, there’s never any of the usual, “Well, what do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”
Picking the date activity is easy for this couple. They hop in the boat and go bowfishing for buffalo fish, members of the sucker family that are abundant in Alabama’s lakes and river systems, and carp, both common and grass carp.
One recent date night was special when Greene arrowed a state-record smallmouth buffalo that weighed almost as much as she does. The record fish hit the scales at 70.55 pounds.
On that record-setting night, Bearden said he steered the boat around a secondary point. He made a wide turn and came back past the point.
“As we were coming back in, that fish swam right across the side of the boat that Nicki was on,” Bearden said. “Nicki shot. Eric Pendergrass was with us that night and he shot about same time. Nicki’s arrow hit first and then his hit. We had two arrows in the fish back-to-back. They were fighting the fish and got it close enough for me to shoot the backup shot. You try to get as many arrows in the fish as possible because the arrows can pull out. If the fish gets down in the grass, you can’t tell where the fish is. If the line gets caught in the grass, it can pull the arrow out.”
With three arrows in it, the fish was soon in the bottom of the boat. And now it’s in the Bowfishing Association of America record book as the official Alabama bowfishing record for smallmouth buffalo. Bearden said sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between a smallmouth and black buffalo. Tissue samples have been sent to a lab to determine which species it is. The fish will be an Alabama record whether it’s determined to be a smallmouth or black buffalo.
Not bad for someone who only got serious about bowfishing 10 months ago when she and Bearden started dating.
“I had been bowfishing a couple of times with my brothers,” Nicki said. “I was talking to Adam, and he said he went all the time. I liked it when I went with my brothers, so I started going a lot more when I started dating Adam.”
Bearden said he got an early start with his bowfishing career, thanks to bowhunting legend Fred Bear.
“I started bowfishing before bowfishing became popular,” said Bearden, who has been bowfishing for about 14 years. “Some of my buddies and I got one of those Bear Archery kits that had a bow and spool for the line. We started bowfishing on a dam in a creek. The buffalos, between 10 and 15 pounds, would come up to the dam and we’d shoot them. ”
Bearden, who lives in Albertville, moved up to a bass boat with a trolling motor and started bowfishing with a spotlight on Lake Guntersville.
“We started shooting a lot more fish that way,” he said. “That’s when we started to find out better ways to do it. We got a 14-foot flat-bottom boat with a 5,500-watt generator that’s about as heavy as the boat. We mounted halogen shop lights all the way around it.”
Now he uses a light box with 20 LED lights on an 18-foot duck-hunting boat that is modified with a front deck and a bow rack. The boat sports a 90-horse main motor and a 25-horse kicker motor that is controlled from the front deck with a Powr-Tran electronic steering system.
Bearden said some bowfishermen use high-powered airboats that cost up to $70,000, but he insists that’s not necessary.
“You see these guys in the tournaments with the $50,000 to $70,000 airboats and people think that’s what you have to have,” he said. “Every tournament I get in, I fish the open division, the toughest division, in my 18-foot boat, and I finish in the top five in the Muzzy every year.
“You can buy a 14-foot boat with a 25-horse motor and put one of the forward steering units on it, and you would have a good chance to compete. It’s all about knowing where the fish are and how to fish for them. I want to get the message out that you don’t have to have all that stuff.”
Greene and Bearden, whose team name is the Scale Ignitors, shoot Oneida compound bows at relatively light draw weights of 35 and 45 pounds, respectively.
“We shoot 300-400 times a night so you don’t want something that will wear your arm out,” he said.
The Scale Ignitors compete in as many tournaments as possible, including the All-Out Carp out, Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open and Muzzy Broadheads bowfishing tournaments.
Obviously, competitors have to deal with the weather during the tournaments. When Greene and Bearden are going fun bowfishing, they pick their nights.
“The ideal weather is whatever is comfortable to you,” he said. “At different times of year, where we go depends on which fish are up and spawning. One night you can go and the weather conditions are right. That night you might fill the boat up and the next night they might not be there.
“It seems the bigger fish are out more in the wintertime. I think it has something to do with water temperature. Buffalo are pretty much a deep-water fish that like to stay in a certain temperature range. But the biggest thing is we don’t fish really shallow water much anymore. We fish open-water flats and humps more than back in the sloughs. Most people associate bowfishing with shallow-water sloughs, and that’s where a bunch of smaller fish are. That’s where you find most of the carp. But we’re looking for bigger fish.”
Water clarity has a lot to do with bowfishing tactics.
“Sometimes I’ve been able to see 15 feet down, and sometimes you may not be able to see but a foot,” Bearden said. “That’s one reason we use a kicker motor. Buffalo will usually run from that motor, and when it takes off it will come to the top of the water. Then we’ll chase them, running 6 to 7 miles per hour until we get a shot on top of the water.”
On the record-setting trip, Greene said she had no idea what to think when the big fish surfaced near her.
“I just shot,” she said. “And then I was focused on getting the fish in the boat. It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to think. I wanted to pick it up, but I couldn’t. Adam had to help me hold it.”
Greene, who lives in Douglas, said after shooting the bow several hundred times a night her arms are pretty worn out.
“I love it though,” she said. “When we go, Adam is usually the one who sees the fish first. He yells, ‘Shoot right there.’ Sometimes I see them, but most of the time I shoot wherever he points.”
Greene said they hit the water as long as it’s not too cold. They bowfished three nights during the Christmas holidays, but Greene does prefer warmer weather so they can go more often.
Greene admits the genesis of her relationship with Adam is not the norm for most couples, but their similarities made it a natural fit.
“One of the things that brought us together is we love to hunt and we love to fish,” she said. “With bowfishing, you do both. That makes it easy. We’re not arguing about what we want to do.”
David Rainer is public information manager and outdoor columnist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His column appears weekly in The West Alabama Watchman.