Capt. Joel’s Fishin’ Holes

By: Capt. Joel Brandenburg

By Florida law, any fish that can be taken with a spear gun can also be taken with a bow. Snapper, grouper, wahoo, mackerel, tile fish, jacks, tuna for example can be harvested with a speargun, but not likely to be harvested with a bow because of how deep they dwell. Fish that are targeted with a bow are typically fish that school at the top of the water such as mahi and cobia or fish in the flats that can be shinned at night such as Sheepshead, black drum, mullet, porgy, ladyfish and flounder.

Here are some fish that are off limits for spearfishing or bow fishing in Florida, Tripletail, shark, manta Ray, Spotted Eagle Ray, Tarpon, snook, redfish, sea trout, permit, pompano, african pompano, trigger fish, stone crab, lobster, parrot fish, trumpet fish, sea horse, Angel fish, porcupine fish, pipe fish, puffers, billfish and probably many other fish not listed. Spearfishing and bow fishing is strictly illegal in Florida’s fresh waters. Only legal in Florida’s saltwater.

My favorite fish to target with a bow is by far cobia. The only season for cobia is salt n pepper, in other words cobia have no season they are open year-round. The limit is one per person and no more than two per vessel. Cobia must be 36 inches or bigger measured from the fork of the tail to the bottom lip measured down the lateral line of the fish. Cobia bow fishing is very complicated, unpredictable, random and spontaneous at the same time. Kind of like bow hunting for deer. Complicated because the number one rule of bow fishing is safety first. It can be a very dangerous sport or a safe sport. Always know what’s in front of the tip of the arrow whether your bow is drawn or not. Also, when you gaff the cobia and land it in your vessel, you normally have a cobia going wild swinging an arrow around.

The set-up is complicated too. If your set up is wrong and your line gets connected to the back of your arrow or gets hung around the reel, rod or bow, it’s likely that upon your release the arrow could spring back and hit the shooter or someone else (believe me I’m talking from experience unfortunately.) Remember the knock of the arrow is sharp too. The reason cobia bow fishing is unpredictable, spontaneous and random is because they are very hard to find on the surface. The best bet of having a cobia encounter is over a wreck in the Gulf of Mexico on the coldest day of the year and on the hottest day of the year.

One of the best opportunities to arrow a cobia is while you are bringing up a cobia or shark on rod n reel and a cobia sometimes multiple cobia come up with the cobia or shark that you’re fighting. You can find the daisy chaining under floating objects, big rays, manatees and whale sharks. An archer should be in position to make a safe and ethical shot when this opportunity arises.

The bow, arrow, rod and reel set up can be done dozens of ways (just Google it.) My favorite set up is with a rod and reel in the rod holder. Bail open drag light. Your main line is coming out of the eyes like normal. Take your main line from the top eye and tie it to your arrow where the metal point meets fiberglass on the top of the arrow. When you draw your bow, the main line from the tip of your rod goes to the tip of your arrow and sags clear of your bow and bow string. I like to shoot for the top of the head of the cobia right behind its eyes and between it gills. If you make a direct head shot many times it kills the cobia instantly, most ethical and makes the fight easier. If you shoot the cobia anywhere else get ready for a fight. Once your arrow has penetrated the cobia, immediately drop your bow and grab the rod, flip the bail, rod tip up, adjust the drag and fight it traditionally like you would with a hooked fight. Just use more finesse because the chances of the arrow pulling out of the fish is more likely than a hook.

The arrow tip does have a barb. I like the three barb arrows. Some bow fishing set ups have a mini rod n reel screwed into the bow and you fight the fish with the bow in your hand. I find that technique awkward, strenuous and loses fish to many times, plus I’d rather fight the fish traditionally with a spinning rod n reel. It not only works the best for the archer/angler, but the fish too.

— For a charter with Captain Joel or Jojo Brandenburg of Ana Banana Fishing Company in Marathon Florida Keys call cell 813-267-4401 or office 305-395-4212 or visit or visit us in person at Ana Banana Marina located at 11699 Overseas Hwy Marathon Florida Keys. Look for the big yellow Ana Banana sign with antlers around it.