A monster fish that local archery guru Scott Darnell and angling friends thought could be a state record big mouth buffalo has been identified as a black buffalo that eclipses the previous Arizona mark by more than nine pounds.
When Darnell and bowfishing partner Jimmy Ridge shot the 40-pound, 5-ounce lunker in mid-June at Apache Lake, the two rushed to have the fish certified as a possible state record big mouth.
The Arizona record for the big mouth buffalo is about 37 pounds.
Upon further examination of the fish, it was determined to be from the black buffalo species. The state standard for that type of fish was about 31 pounds.
All that remains for the fishing partners to own a state record is for the Arizona Game and Fish Department to officially recognize the fish's weight.
The fish was taken by Darnell and Ridge while the two were bowfishing with two other friends at Apache Lake. The foursome spotted the fish bottom feeding in the lake's murky waters.
"When it swam by the boat in the mud, we saw how big it was," Darnell said.
It took two shots, the first from Darnell and the second by Ridge, to eventually boat the record-breaking fish.
Edging into the record book was a thrill for Darnell, but he says his real archery-fishing passion is for tilapia. He describes the fish as "very good eating, much like crappie."
When he and friends are bowfishing at Roosevelt or Apache, tilapia is usually the game of choice.
Bowfishing as a sport
Payson Roundup fishing columnist and local guide Clifford Pirch is not among those who wonder what the attraction of an unusual sport like bowfishing is.
"It looks like it would be a lot of fun. They even have tournaments," Pirch said.
To participate in the sport, Darnell has outfitted his pontoon boat with a platform where the archers can stand, search for and shoot their prey.
The front of the boat is outfitted with 1,200-watt halogen lights for night fishing.
The anglers fishing bows are outfitted with Shakespeare reels that unleash Berkley Whip Lash 150-pound test line.
The bows commonly have a 52- to 53-pound pull, and the arrows used also are specially made for archery fishing.
When a bow angler spots his prey, Darnell said, "the rule of thumb is for every foot he is away from you, aim three inches below the fish."
Darnell was introduced to bowfishing as a child, but only in the past year has he taken up the sport more seriously.
He credits Ridge for reintroducing him to bow fishing and serving as his teacher while he acquires the techniques it takes to be successful.
"He's my mentor," Darnell said.
In Arizona, any non-game fish like carp can be bowfished legally.