Spring Bowfishing: Tips to Success
Spring Bowfishing – I’ve long held a soft spot for bowfishing. After all, carp were my first bow trophies when I was still a kid and earning my bowhunting stripes. I had a path beaten down between our house and a muddy creek 3 miles away, using my mostly homemade and decidedly piecemeal bowfishing rig to send barbed arrows toward unsuspecting carp. It was a rare day that I killed more than three fish, as the limitations of my equipment resulted in more missed shots than not. I persisted only because I was incredibly stubborn and because I wanted to be like Fred Bear.
While there is no better way to get kids and beginners hooked on archery than bowfishing, nurturing that desire should include gear a step or two above my beginning rig with its homemade reel holding surveying cord and aluminum hunting arrow holding a field point with clothes hanger barb. Unlike the mid-1970s, when my bowfishing passions began to blossom, modern bowfishers have access to a plethora of effective and affordable gear. If you are interested in getting started, or helping someone else enjoy bowfishing, here is what you’ll need to be successful.
What bowfishing gear you choose depends first on budget, but also on the type of water you will be plying. The most affordable bowfishing gear includes a bow you don’t mind getting wet and muddy, perhaps a sturdy arrow rest, a reel to hold and pay out line, a special bowfishing arrow with barbed point, polarized sunglasses, and some ratty duds on their way to the trash bin.
The bowfishing bow need not be complicated, nor does it need to be especially powerful. I bought my first several examples at pawn shops, no-frills recurves with 40- to 45-pound pulls. In shallow waters I’ve seen many kids enjoying productive shooting with recurves as weak at 30 pounds. A traditional bow makes sense in most bowfishing settings because its smooth draw and lack of let-off makes snap shooting fleeing carp more natural. A compound isn’t verboten, in fact many bowfishers prefer them, especially in deeper waters. Several companies offer both recurves and compounds marketed especially for bowfishing, including PSE Archery, Muzzy Bowfishing, AMS Bowfishing, Fin-Finder, Cajun Archery, and others.
Spring Bowfishing – A recurve bow simplifies the shooting process by allowing arrows to be shot off the shelf, using something like synthetic Velcro backing to serve as a rest and strike plate. With a compound, or a metal-handle recurve with proper taps, a separate bowfishing rest will be required. This rest must be heavy duty to support the weight of a heavy fishing arrow, and usually includes brushes or rollers for smooth operation. One of my favorites is the Bowfishing Whisker Biscuit, which includes stiffer bristles than hunting models to support bowfishing arrows.
I’ve certainly shot spawning carp in shallow water with loose arrows, but in most situations a bowfishing reel is necessary to ensure you can retrieve your arrow after a shot. A bowfishing reel does nothing more than store line, feed smoothly during a shot, and allow retrieving your bowfishing arrow and fish after. The simplest are basic drum reels, usually made from spun aluminum or ABS plastic. They hold about 15 yards of tough line, and include a string clip to eliminate unspooling while wading or stalking. They are super affordable, but require hand winding line after the shot and hold a limited amount of line, eliminating longer shots. That said, they are all that is required while wading shallow waters—especially when carp or buffalo fish are spawning (April or May in most regions).
You can always use a drum reel to get started and purchase a more sophisticated system if you find you want to get serious. More advanced reel systems include closed-face spinning reels designed specifically to handle heavier line and set on a mount that screws into the stabilizer tap, or AMS Bowfishing’s bottle reel that mounts to sight taps. You’ll find serious bowfishermen prefer one style over the other. The open-face reel offers faster retrieval after a shot, but you must remember to push the “cast” button before every shot. The AMS bottle reel generally provides smoother feed and allows the use of heavier line for larger fish or to dislodge arrows buried into deep mud or roots. There are no bails to forget to release before every shot. No matter your reel choice, it should hold stout cord, 80 pounds minimum, though heavier is welcomed, especially if you find yourself pulling arrows from muddy/root-filled bottoms frequently.
Spring Bowfishing – Bowfishing arrows are by necessity much heavier than hunting arrows. Solid fiberglass shafts are most common, offering not only the heft necessary to penetrate highly resistant water, drive deep and still have enough umph to stick a fish, but proving incredibly durable in punishing bottoms. There is not a huge difference in quality, though predictably some companies make fancy carbon-infused or aluminum-sheathed models, generally used for specialty missions such as gator hunting or saltwater.
Arrows hold barbed points, which is where details matter. To make it practical, the bowfishing point must have a means of removing or reversing the barbs to slide skewered fish off the arrow after a hit. Economy heads are generally slower to de-barb and may have separate parts that are easily dropped or lost. Better bowfishing points have designs allowing barbs to be quickly reversed after a partial turn of the point, fish shucked off, and the point retightened instantly. All the names already mentioned in relation to bowfishing bows also offer bowfishing arrows and points.
If shooting a single-string traditional bow, rubber finger savers are a great addition, acting as a nocking point and finger padding in one. I’ve long used a plastic finger tab made by Saunders Archery, as I find it gives me greater accuracy. Finger shooting is, in my opinion, the best way to go while bowfishing, though there are no rules against using a release, especially in combination with a compound.
Polarized sunglasses are needed to cut surface glare to make it possible to see beneath its surface to locate submerged targets. Shooters must also remember to aim beneath submerged fish, as water refraction makes fish appear higher in the water column than reality. How low should you aim? That depends on depth, angle and distance, and is something you master only through repetitive experience.
Spring Bowfishing – The simplest way to enjoy bowfishing is afoot, finding the head of a muddy reservoir where water is shallow and wading right in, or stalking the banks of drainage or irrigation ditches, creeks and rivers, or ponds and lakes. Wading is especially productive when carp and buffalo fish are spawning, a time when they frolic lustfully in ankle-deep water, sometimes with backs showing. In larger and especially deeper waters a boat may be necessary—anything from a steady flat-bottomed Johnboat to a fully-rigged vessel assembled just for bowfishing, including nighttime lighting systems and shooting platforms.
The main objective is to have fun, as this is what bowfishing is all about, and the reason I always say there is no better way to introduce newcomers and kids to archery than super-engaging bowfishing.
Learn more on Spring Bowfishing at insidearchery.com