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Bowfishing: The Complete Guide On Getting Started

Bowfishing has increased over the past decade becoming a great sport for anglers of all abilities. Bowfishing can be enjoyed by all anglers, even those who have no angling experience making it a perfect fit as it isn’t intimidating and is fun to master.

Bowfishing is when fish are hunted using a bow and arrow. Combining fishing and archery into one activity, it can take a while to perfect your skills as it requires a lot of resilience and skill, however, the skills that you learn from bowfishing are completely to those you gain from regular fishing.

Three men fishing with bow and arrow in Missouri

Bowfishing targets are usually located a lot closer than bowhunting so there isn’t any need for the long range shooting skills. As the targets are so close in range, less specialized skills are needed than in archery meaning that you won’t need to splurge on special equipment.

It’s important to bear in mind that you are shooting at a moving creature underwater which presents challenges in itself. In this article, we take you through everything you need to know about bowfishing from what kind of fish you can catch to the gear and equipment needed and the techniques. 

Places to bowfish

Bowfishing can be held in any body of water that is shallow and transparent so you can have a clear point of view. This also means that you won’t lose your arrows or other equipment easily. Whether you wish to fish in lakes, rivers or streams, freshwater will give you the best results.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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However, you can fish in saltwater as well but this may be harder as it is more difficult to track targets. Ideal practicing spots are shallow flats and bays as you will be able to catch a variety of different fish.

In the US, some of the most popular spots are the Gulf of Louisiana and Florida but the Mississippi, Missouri and Trinity Rivers are also great locations for bowfishers. 

A great advantage of bowfishing is that you can choose to hunt for fish from the shore or in a kayak. If you are using a kayak or a boat, make sure that you are still venturing in shallow waters. This will ensure that you’re hunting among the best bowfishing grounds.

Some boats have even been designed with bowfishing in mind as they have specific platforms and downward facing lights for clear visibility. 

 

What can you find?

Bowfishing for certain species can be illegal in the majority of states so it’s important to do your research into the legalities of bowfishing before you start as it can vary depending on where you plan to bowfish.

In freshwater, one of the most common kinds of fish that you can find is a variety of types of carp. Carp are one of the best kinds of fish for newbies to try and find due to their size and popularity.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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They are invasive to freshwater so hunting them is environmentally responsible as they disrupt the freshwater ecosystem. Another popular freshwater species is Garfish which are legal to catch via bowfishing in the majority of states.

Other species that are popular targets for keen bowfishers are tilapia, catfish and flounder and among even more. Expert bowfishers even try to use their skills to hunt for sharks although this should only be attempted when you have really mastered your skills. 

 

Equipment for bowfishing

Whereas bowhunting gear is extremely costly due to the complexity in its features as it requires long distance shooting, bowfishing is the opposite due to the closeness of the target. Here are the most important pieces of equipment you should have in your repertoire if you are a newcomer to bowfishing:

Bow

The most essential piece of equipment that you will need is understandably the bow. For bowfishing, a recurve or compound bow is an ideal choice for newcomers. Both models have their advantages and disadvantages so it’s all dependent on which one you prefer.

For those who want a more traditional style bow, the recurve bow is the best option thanks to their curved tips that lean forwards for more power. They are also lighter but don’t have the same level of accuracy as the compound bow.

A lot of archers who are venturing into bowfishing use their professional gear for the activity which is too heavy duty. It’s important to make sure that you are using suitable equipment for the activity so as not to strain your muscles as well as ensuring that your bow isn’t too heavy.

There are even bows available that have been made with bowfishing in mind and have all the gear attached to them. 

Reel

The next item you need is the reel which will determine whether you are successful in your bowfishing venture. There are three different kinds of reel that you can choose from which are: the bottle reel, the hand reel and the spincast reel. 

The first reel and most popular is the bottle reel which is used by bowfishers of all abilities. Extremely reliable and durable, this reel helps you to house your line.

Bottle reels can handle heavier lines and boast a handle for easibility. The downside to bottle reels is that their accuracy suffers on longer shots.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The second reel to consider is the hand reel which has the simplest structure. Used by those who like to use more traditional gear, hand reels simply require you to grab the line which then rolls around the drum as you pull.

Due to its simplicity, it cannot break making it the most durable and standard reel for bowfishers. The downside is that the hand reel can only be used with heavier lines and due to the manual nature of the reel. It’s advised to wear gloves with this reel as it will leave a mark on your hands. 

The final reel to think about is a spincast reel which is the most powerful fishing reel you can buy. A lot of anglers find using this reel incredibly convenient and easy and once they start using it, they tend to stick with spincast reels.

They work with thinner lines so have the best accuracy no matter the distance but the main disadvantage is their price as they are the costliest option. Spincast reels are the best option for more professional and advanced bowfishers. 

Arrows

With the bow comes the arrows which can be made ready to shoot or handmade with ease. Made from three main components, arrows consist of the nock, the point and the shaft.

It’s important not to use hunting and archery bows as the fletching can cause them to go in the wrong direction when under the water.

The most important parts of the bowfishing arrow are the style of tip and shaft materials. With three different kinds of arrow shafts available, it’s important to pick the one that suits your shooting style best.

The shaft material can be made from either carbon, fiberglass and hybrid with carbon being best for larger fish although they can be costly. 

The arrow tip is dependent on what kind of fish you are wanting to hunt. Premade arrows tend to come with barbed tips which ensures that the arrow will remain intact as you are reeling the line in.

When bowfishing for larger fish such as carp, the point doesn’t have to come right out of the fish in order to set the barbs. This is because the arrow will barb inside the fish and be ready for reeling in.

For fish that have harder scales, sharper tips with a more precise point will help to indicate when the arrow has penetrated the skin. 

The other aspect of the arrow to consider is the rest which helps to stabilize the arrow as you are lining up your shot. With a variety of shapes and sizes available, it can take some experimentation to find out which one gives you the best results. 

Safety

Bowfishing requires a lot of health and safety points that you need to bear in mind. This will prevent any accidents or injuries from occurring, as well as ensuring that you have the most success and best results.

A handy piece of equipment you can purchase is a safety slide which prevents the arrow from snapping back and causing injury. The way they work is by moving down the shaft and positioning the line towards the front to avoid any tangles. 

How to bowfish

So now you know what to expect from bowfishing as well as what equipment you need, it’s time to learn how to actually bowfish successfully. The two many important factors that you will need to work on are aiming and stealth as these will improve your results.

Aiming

Aiming is something that will develop with time but you may find that you are natural. Because of the way that the light hits the water, the target is actually lower than what you think. Bowfishers have a general rule where they say to aim low and then aim a bit lower.

This is likely to bring you the success you want. If you are a newcomer, try to aim around 6 inches lower than where you see the target.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The more experienced you get with aiming, the more accurate you will become and soon enough, you will be able to accurately calculate how much lower you need to go depending on the fish.

It goes without saying that this can take a lot of time to fully master but it is the most important skill that comes with successful bowfishing. Soon enough, you’ll develop your own intuition and it will come naturally to you without even thinking about it.

Stealth

As well as aiming, stealth is the other important skill that you need to successfully bowfish. Since it is done at a close range in shallow waters, it’s important to remember that the fish will be easily spooked.

This means that being able to retain your position for a period of time is important so as not to scare the target away. Being able to sneak up on your target is important and again, will take some time to get used to but there are some tips to bear in mind:

If you are bowfishing from the shore, then be aware of any twigs and branches that may be on the ground as well as other people who are walking about who may be walking on them as well. This will scare the fish away.

If you are bowfishing on a kayak or boat then make sure you are not stirring the water too much and wait for the vessel to settle before you attempt to catch the fish.

General bowfishing tactics for either bowfishing environment is ensuring that you don’t cast a shadow over the fish as they will be scared and also approaching from upwind for higher accuracy. 

When should I bowfish?

As with any seasonal activity, there are certain times of the year that are better for bowfishing than others when there is more chance of success. The spring and summer months are the best times as fish can be caught most times of the day thanks to the warmer temperatures.

A lot of keen bowfishers will try their hand at hunting during the early morning and dusk which is when the fish are mainly active. It’s best to go when the waters are calm and still as it will be easy to track and target the fish as well as providing visibility of the water.

Other important elemental factors are clear skies and little to no wind which can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful hunt. 

A lot of bowfishers like to hunt during the night, especially if they have boats with downward facing lights to give a clear view as they illuminate the shallow waters so you can see through freshwater and saltwater. 

Conclusion

Bowfishing is incredibly easy to learn and practice with keen anglers located all over the country. With plenty of places to practice your skills, you’ll find yourself advancing your skills in no time. Just remember to have fun and do the best you can!

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