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Just went bowfishing in Western Michigan with two guys from my high school, Jesse Singleton and the outdoor writer Tracy Breen. I’m about the worst bowfisherman on the planet, which has long plagued me. That’s because, as far as I’m concerned, it’s impossible to be a total badass outdoorsman without being able to hit a fish with an arrow on a consistent basis. So I’ve been practicing lately and tampering with new gear in order to figure things out. After studying refraction and shooting at various leaves and busted clam shells on the bottom of lakes and ponds, I figured I was ready for some serious action. I suggested that we target gar pike. I had three reasons for this: one, I’d never gotten one with a bow; two, they’re good to eat (more on that later); and three, they’re so damn skinny that hitting a couple of them rules out luck in a way that hitting dog-sized carp does not. Here are some photos:

That’s a Mathews Genesis Pro. What makes the bow good for bowfishing, even though it’s not marketed as a bowfishing bow,  is that you can shoot it at any stage in the draw cycle. It’s like a recurve in that way, except that it has the size and feel of a compound. Makes it perfect for snap shooting at quick moving fish when you don’t have time to come to full draw and find your anchor point. The draw weight if very light as well, as you don’t need a lot of poundage to puncture most fish. And a light draw weight is also good when you might be shooting a lot of arrows (which means of lot of pulling back), or shooting arrows into backdrops that include rocks and submerged logs that either damage or detain arrows.

Here’s my first gar. He was about 12 feet off the bow of the boat, a foot beneath the surface, and moving. I was pretty pleased with myself. That fish arrow is made by Cajun Archery.

Now for cleaning. Step one is to have a dead gar lying on the ground. (From here on out, the photo quality really starts to plummet because we’re going from Tracy’s very nice photos to my trashy cell phone pictures.)

The gar’s usable meat occurs as two loins, or backstraps, along each side of the spine. To begin removing them, use heavy duty kitchen shears or sheet metal shears to cut through the gar’s armor plating of thick scales and skin. Start at the dorsal fine and, following the backbone, move all the way up to the base of the head.

Once the main incision is made up the spine, extend the cut down each side of the fish and begin peeling back the skin. Then remove the strip by making a second incision through the armor along the fish’s flank. It’s like removing a peel from a banana, if bananas were made from sheet metal. The goal is to remove enough armor to expose the delicate flesh beneath, which can be removed like peeling the backstrap off a deer.

Here’s the gar with the two peels of armor removed and one loin removed. Once the other loin is stripped out, it’s time to get cooking. Now get off your ass and get fishing!