Bowfishing Tips – My first bow “trophies” were carp, skewered from local waters with primitive homemade equipment while only 11 or 12 years old. My bow was a garage-sale fiberglass longbow pulling just 30 pounds, a drum reel fashioned from a bulk fishing line spool salvaged from the trash can of the local sporting good store, a drilled field point accepting a coat-hanger barb and standard aluminum hunting arrow. This simple outfit supplied endless days of stalking and shooting excitement long before I was old enough to tackle serious big-game.
Some 40 years later I’m still like a kid when it comes to bowfishing fun, though my equipment has certainly come of age! Today’s marketplace makes it easier than ever to wade into exciting spring and summer bowfishing, with a modest investment in basic gear, or a more substantial outlay for those who want to take the sport more seriously.
Odds are you have access to bowfishing waters near home. Heck, I’ve lived in the desert most of my life and still managed to find plenty of shooting, often within walking distance of home. The most common targets are non-native and highly invasive Asian carp. I’ve found them in irrigation ditches, storm runoff drains, cow ponds, and lakes and rivers large and small. They are a hardy species that demands little of their habitat. In other locations archers are lucky enough to have access to buffalo-fish (northern and eastern waters), drum (Southeast), various gar (southern Texas through the Deep South), bowfin (northern waters) or suckers. Check fishing regulations carefully in your state to see what is legal to shoot, some states even allowing some species of game fish, such as catfish, to be shot with bows. Ocean bowfishing is also heavily regulated, though species such as stingrays and sheephead are often legal (Louisiana being the big exception, though game-fish size limits still apply). Bowfishing bullfrogs can also net some tasty dinners. A little research is sure to reveal a local target of opportunity.
Bowfishing Tips – Getting in on the fun is usually no more complicated than donning some ratty togs and polarized sunglasses to help cut through water’s surface glare and better see submerged targets, slathering on some sunscreen and wading right into shallow waters or stalking watery shores. This is actually my preferred approach, especially during spring months when carp frolic in shallows during annual spawning rituals and become highly vulnerable. Of course, a boat makes access to wider areas and deeper waters possible.
You’ll also need some basic equipment. An old bow you don’t mind getting wet and slimy is paramount. I’ve always used recurve bows, as they allow more instinctive point-and-shoot reactions to moving or suddenly-encountered fish. An old compound serves as well, usually turned down to 45 or 50 pounds for easier all-day drawing, snap shooting and safety. Pawn shops often offer such bows, as you really don’t want to get your expensive hunting bow involved in this wet sport. Many companies now also offer bowfishing-specific bow models, including Cajun Bowfishing, Muzzy, PSE Archery, Fin-Finder/Kinsey’s and others.
You’ll obviously need a bowfishing arrow and barbed fishing point (and spare). A bowfishing arrow is by necessity much heavier than standard-issue hunting arrows, typically made of solid fiberglass to penetrate highly-resistant water and boney, heavily-scaled fish discovered well beneath the surface. Muzzy, Cajun Bowfishing, Innerloc H2O, Fin-Finder/Kinsey’s, TRUGLO, Carbon Express and others offer appropriate shafts. A barbed fishing point should offer several features. It must be heavy duty to withstand rocky bottoms and hard stumps, include barbs to prevent skewered fish from slipping off the arrow during retrieval and easily-reversed barbs to allow removing fish from the arrow after a hit. There are too many options to relate here, from basic and affordable, to more sophisticated designs that cost as much as a quality broadhead. I prefer something with a replaceable/screw-on tip to keep heads in service after a couple forays on rocky-bottomed waters, and something with folding barbs that lay flat against the shaft while penetrating water and fish, but then hinging open to hold fish fast. Points frequently come as a package with the bowfishing shafts already mentioned.
To shoot an arrow into deep or treacherous waters and get it back without wading or swimming, and especially to haul in fish after connecting, you’ll need bowfishing line that is stored and pays out smoothly during the shot from a bowfishing reel. Basic drum reels served me for years and are fine for most circumstances. They also cost much less than more advanced reel models. These are offered in tape-on models, which work best with older traditional bows without screw taps, and screw-in models that attach to standard stabilizer taps on modern bows. Line must be wound my hand onto the drum. Woven survey cord works well for bowfishing, though most companies offer specialized lines that are strong enough to dislodge arrows from mucky bottoms or haul in the largest fish.
A safety slide (Muzzy, AMS, Cajun) or ring (Innerloc) with stop is highly recommended. These slides/rings carry the bowfishing line along the arrow’s length, so at full draw line remains safely in front of the bow riser to make tangles and a dangerous arrow bounce-back less likely. They’re cheap insurance against an accident, or at least a lost arrow should line break.
More sophisticated reel models offer more efficient retrieval capabilities, faster follow-up shots and simply less effort. One of the most popular are oversized closed-face spinning reels designed specifically for bowfishing. These generally mount onto a stabilizer-mounted reel seat, some even including short rods to help better fight fish. They offer the fastest retrieval possible, but you must remember to push a release button before each shot. Muzzy makes one of the best, with other models available. Bottle reels are preferred by some, as they generally introduce less arrow/line drag, and do not require pushing a release button before every shot. The AMS Retriever reel is the original, but Cajun Bowfishing, Muzzy and Fin-Finder offer their own versions. This has been my reel of choice for at least 30 years, as they also allow use of heavier line (I’ve even used them to shoot a 12-foot, 6-inch alligator using 600-pound-test Kevlar line). They require a bow riser with standard sight taps for mounting; eliminating older recurves unless you’re willing to drill holes and apply wood screws.
Bowfishing Tips – One of the reasons I prefer simple recurves is they allow me to shoot off the shelf. With recurves including rest taps, or any compound, you’ll need a bowfishing rest. These must be waterproof and sturdy enough to hold 2,000- to 2,500-grain bowfishing arrows. Some include total-containment qualities (Trophy Ridge Bowfishing Whisker Biscuit, TRUGLO, Fin-Finder, as examples), others including heavy rollers the arrow rides atop. If shooting bare fingers, also consider rubber “finger savers” like those from Pine Ridge Archery or other bowfishing suppliers.
The best part of bowfishing is you can make it as simple or involved as you wish. Ultimately it’s all about fun under the sun, and is absolutely the best way to introduce kids to archery. Targets are usually plentiful and shooting action wide open, keeping young minds occupied and engaged. It is one of the best activities possible to keep archers occupied during the so-called off season!
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