Best Bowfishing Reels: Reviewed, Rated & Compared

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Mixing some archery in with your angling can add whole new levels of fun. Aiming is a new challenge, but the fight with the fish will still be there, requiring durable, high-quality reels to launch strong lines and best your targets to get them up out of the water.

Preview

Model

Mono/Braid Line Capacity

Gear Ratio

Check Price

AMS Retriever Pro - Right Hand

AMS Retriever Pro

200/25 Braid

2.8:1

Cajun Winch Pro Bowfishing Reel

Cajun Winch Pro

250/25 Mono

Unspecified

AMS Bowfishing Tournament Series Retriever...

AMS Tournament Series Retriever TNT

350/35 Braid

4.3:1

AMS Bowfishing Retriever Pro Combo Kit

AMS Bowfishing Retriever Pro Combo Kit

200/25 braid

2.8:1

Zebco 808HBOWHD, 200, BX3 808 Series Reel,...

Zebco 808HBOWHD

30/200 Mono

2.6:1

Zebco Big Cat XT Spincast Fishing Reel, 4...

Zebco Big Cat XT

110/25 Mono

2.6:1

Muzzy Bowfishing 1069 XD Pro Spin Style Reel...

Muzzy Bowfishing 1069 XD

150/150, 100/200

Unspecified


How Does Bowfishing Work?

Bowfishing is similar to regular angling in that a line and reel are still used. Essentially, the arrow is fired with a line attached. Barbs keep it in the fish, which can then be pulled in by hand or reeled in. Of course, you’ll also need a bow, arrows, and things like arrow guards, trigger guards, and a quiver to hold the arrow when it’s not in use.

The distortion of light by the surface of the water causes refraction, so you'll have to aim low to hit fish with an arrow. Bowfishing is usually forbidden for sportfishing and reserved for invasive species and other 'garbage fish' like carp, gar, and sheepshead. Try out bowfishing in fresh or saltwater from early spring to later summer when these species are out in droves to spawn!


Choosing High-Quality Bowfishing Reels

Reel Type

  • Drum/Hand Wrap Reel
    These are the most straightforward reels. The arrow is shot, and the angler has to use their hands to haul in line and wind it around a drum or similar line-holding instrument. They’re exclusively built for bowfishing and are very rudimentary, feeling much less like regular fishing but presenting their own challenging skill requirements.
  • Retriever Reels
    Arguably the most popular type of bowfishing reels, retrievers like the AMS line work almost like spinning reels but have no bail and gather the line back into a bottle. Usually, and especially on the AMS reels, these bottles are virtually indestructible, so if the line and arrow are too, then this is the kind you can really put through rough conditions without worrying. These are ideal for the most common style of river and lake bowfishing, and the occasional tournament bowfisher will use this style as well.
  • Spincast Reels
    Just like their counterparts in sport fishing, spincast and spinning reels used for bowfishing function by shooting out line and hauling in the fish attached to the hook using drag and have particular line capacities and gear ratios that make them either more or less effective. These are much more durable and likely to be more comfortable for anglers coming from sport fishing backgrounds. They can usually handle the largest targets as well, provided they can also handle super heavy 150 or 200-pound test.

Drag System

Pressure is put on the line to hold it in place by a weight system called drag. This is most common in baitcasting reels, although you can find it on spincasting reels for bowfishing as well. This is a tricky thing to master because it might seem like the heaviest drag is needed at all times, but it's best to have less drag when you shoot an arrow and be able to kick in fish-stopping power once the arrow is securely in your target.

Power & Durability

Bowfishing reels should be able to shoot arrows and reel them back in with as much strength as possible. However, there's usually a tradeoff between the two. Arrows fly faster on retriever reels, but they reel in more swiftly on spincast reels.

Reels should be built with sturdy machined aluminum or stainless steel at a minimum. Single-piece frames are ideal. Everything on the reel should be corrosion-resistant to make it usable in saltwater environments, which is the case for most bowfishing reels.

Gear Ratio, Speed & Smoothness

A great reel should spin smoothly. While having ball bearings inside at key points can help ensure a smooth-moving reel, that doesn’t mean every reel needs to have ten or more. Three high-quality, well-placed bearings can be better than nine cheap ones.

A gear ratio of 2.3:1 means the spool goes around 2.3 times when the handle is cranked once. But the size of the spool can change how much line actually goes back in one turn. Line retrieval rate, or inches per turn, is the true indicator of re-spooling speed.

Reel Seat/Reel Mount

The reel should fit snugly on any fishing rod or bowfishing bow. One of the best types of bowfishing reel mounts for reducing shakes and vibrations is the single-point mount found on many Muzzy bowfishing reels.

There are also bowfishing reels that simply bolt right onto the bow, usually spincasting reels. But other spincasting reels have very snug integrated reel mounts that give them staying power in fast-paced fish encounters.

Line Weight & Capacity

The larger the fish, the weightier the line that should be used. Big fish can snap thinner, weaker line, even with a barb in their side. Now, that doesn't mean you always need a heavy line. Average-sized targets and most bowfishing rigs are built to handle 30- to 45-pound test.

Heavy-duty rigs for bowfishing on the open ocean usually hold 100- or 200- pound test. The nice thing about bowfishing is that, unlike trolling, you won’t need a huge length of line. The line capacity of about 100 to 150 yards is more than enough for bowfishing.

Ease of Use

Some features for added convenience, like line holders and quivers, are built into the bow to make them easier to carry. There aren’t many bells and whistles to bowfishing reels, but one of the nicest performance boosters is the handle design.

A standard handle is simple—straight arms from the gear with some kind of cover. However, power handles that are bent for more torque or oversized for better grip can really improve an angler's odds during a fight with a strong fish.

Price & Warranty

There are inexpensive reels for under $100 or even under $50 and, even though you can try to make your own bowfishing reel, most of these models will save you the effort and work much better.

Warranties are unfortunately not very common when it comes to bowfishing reels, so if you find a reel with one, that's a huge plus. They will most likely only cover damage caused by faulty manufacturing, not damage during the course of regular use.


7 Best Bowfishing Reels Reviewed

1. AMS Retriever Pro

Our Top Pick!

Reel Type

Retriever

Reel Size Dimensions

Unspecified

Mono/Braid Line Capacity

200/25 Braid

Gear Ratio

2.8:1

Bearing Count

1 pinion bearing

Often touted as the best bowfishing reel, this AMS bowfishing reel is probably the most popular model on the market for good reason. It's dependable and designed to work without getting bogged down by line tangles or wasting lots of time getting a spent arrow back out of the water after a missed shot.

A line retainer above the arrow ensures the line stays in one place in between shots, and a trigger guard prevents snags there. With it’s 2.8:1 gear ratio and 17" retrieve rate, the AMS Retriever Pro can move an empty arrow back to the boat or shore quickly enough for bowfishing, even if it's still slower than a standard spinning reel.

The biggest drawback to this model is that it requires you to pull in the line by hand if you nail a larger target. There’s no drag at all, which gives arrows great flight but won’t help if you need to fight a big fish.

A tradeoff is that there is no button to press before firing, although there is an aluminum trigger to pull before reeling in that can also be lightly depressed to give a slight amount of drag. The bottle used to store line on this model is pretty much unbreakable, and the brass gear and pinion, composite housing, and stainless steel fasteners are plenty durable enough to handle years of bowfishing excursions.

Pros
  • No button to press
  • Arrows shoot faster
  • Prevents line tangles
  • Strong bottle line storage
  • Retrieve missed shots quickly
Cons
  • No drag

2. Cajun Winch Pro

Runner Up

Reel Type

Retriever

Reel Size Dimensions

8.5 x 2.5 Inches

Mono/Braid Line Capacity

250/25 Mono

Gear Ratio

Unspecified

Bearing Count

0

A hardy aluminum frame build makes this Cajun bowfishing reel one of the sturdiest available and ideal for pulling a big haul out of the water. It also has an anti-reverse feature common to most baitcasting reels that stops the handle from spinning backward. A wheel brake allows the angler to put pressure on the line while still continuing to retrieve line. That’s pretty handy to have when you’re fighting your quarry, especially if you’ve gone out to attempt pulling in larger targets.

Adding versatility to this bowfishing reel, mount adjustments can be made both horizontally and vertically, meaning this reel fits different bows quickly and easily. One of the coolest features of this bow is the unique one-handed operation. Aim like a professional killer and leave one hand free to pull in line if need be.

As far as your line is concerned, this reel can hold more than enough for the distance an arrow will go, and there's also a ceramic line guide to help keep the line in order and on target. Both left- and right-hand reversible and well-suited to freshwater and saltwater environments, this is an excellent reel whether you're chasing gar and catfish or black drum and flounder.

Pros
  • Ceramic line guide
  • One-handed operation
  • Built-in wheel brake
  • Freshwater & saltwater capable
  • Strong aluminum frame
Cons
  • Slower retrieval
  • Line may tangle

3. AMS Tournament Series Retriever TNT

Best Rated Bowfishing Reel

Reel Type

Retriever

Reel Size Dimensions

Unspecified

Mono/Braid Line Capacity

350/35 Braid

Gear Ratio

4.3:1

Bearing Count

1 pinion bearing

The upgraded performance of the tournament version of this AMS bowfishing reel is apparent as soon as you let an arrow loose from it. All of the advantages the AMS Pro model has on offer for newcomers to the sport and regular amateur and intermediate level archer-anglers is still there in the Tournament Series with the addition of some features that will likely only make a huge difference for pros.

What's mentioned most often about this best rated reel is how fast it is at pulling the line back into the bottle. Its ability to pull in twenty-seven inches of line for every crank of the handle is really impressive for a bowfishing reel that isn’t a reworked spinning reel or spincast model.

No-button operation makes this reel great for kids and beginners who might forget to press a release button before firing an arrow. Convenience features like a line holder and an integrated quiver to hold the arrow when it’s not in use make it simple to use and carry this reel around when it’s attached to a bow.

It’s also really lightweight and has an oversized opening to reduce contact and friction on the line to prevent interference when shooting or reeling in line. It may overperform for folks who don’t quite need a reel this fast, but it’s good enough for tournament bowfishers and certainly good enough for everyone else too.

Pros
  • Fast line retrieval
  • No buttons to press
  • Integrated quiver
  • Lightweight
  • Reduced line friction
Cons
  • Overkill for amateurs

4. AMS Bowfishing Retriever Pro Combo Kit

Best Bowfishing Reel Kit

Reel Type

Retriever

Reel Size Dimensions

Unspecified

Mono/Braid Line Capacity

200/25 braid

Gear Ratio

2.8:1

Bearing Count

1 pinion bearing

No need to shop around for small bits and pieces to make sure you can actually bowfish with this bowfishing reel kit. Everything from the line to the arrows is included with purchase. There's also an arrow rest that will keep the arrow from slipping or falling out while you’re aiming or scoping out targets. A safety slide to keep line on the arrow and the arrow from getting lost attaches easily to the shaft of the arrow. It’s simple to go from unboxing this kit to the water and get fishing in no time at all.

Cumbersome line snags are fairly rare on this combo kit, so long as the safety slide and the included trigger guard are put on correctly. If you're the type of angler who likes to mix and match, the reel on this combo is easy to install onto other bow styles, including many recurve or compound bows and bows from other manufacturers.

As with other AMS models, this one has a reel that puts absolutely no drag on the line unless you use the trigger on the back, which is designed more to straighten out the line when reeling it back in than for fighting fish. You'll still have to pull in the line by hand with this model, but as long as you aren't going after anything too large, it should be fine.

Pros
  • Everything included
  • Fast assembly
  • Reduced line snags
  • Reel suits many bow styles
  • No buttons to press
Cons
  • Must pull in fish by hand

5. Zebco 808HBOWHD

Best Spincast Bowfishing Reel

Reel Type

Spincast

Reel Size Dimensions

Unspecified

Mono/Braid Line Capacity

30/200 Mono

Gear Ratio

2.6:1

Bearing Count

0

Anglers familiar with the reels that fit with standard casting rods might be more comfortable with this spincaster. It’s pretty clear from Zebco 808 bowfishing reel reviews that this is one of the classic setups hardcore bowfishers prefer for themselves.

The design of this reel promises to prevent all tie-ups and knots in the line. Purchasing the HBOWHD ensures that you will have the 30 lb braided test already pre-wound on the spool when it arrives. Just make sure to wet the line before beginning a shooting session. This is a lightweight reel that'll do fine in saltwater or freshwater as long as you can keep the rear button pressed down to release the two pick-up pins before firing.

Anti-reverse is built-in to the Zebco 808 and so is a drag system, although it’s not powerful at all and the dial installed to operate the drag is a bit rudimentary by non-bowcasting standards. If the handle styles on other bowcasting reels were less than ideal for you, the oversized power handle on the 808 would probably suit you much better.

Pulling in 19 inches with each turn of the handle, this reel is definitely one of the fastest on the market and in this guide. All the internal gears are made of really durable metal. Between that and the heavy test pre-wound on it, this reel is a powerhouse for sure.

Pros
  • Oversized power handle
  • Pre-wound heavy braid test
  • No line knots or tie-ups
  • Durable metal gear construction
  • Freshwater & saltwater friendly
Cons
  • Must release pins before shooting
  • Basic drag system

6. Zebco Big Cat XT

Best Cheap Reel for Bowfishing

Reel Type

Spincast

Reel Size Dimensions

Unspecified

Mono/Braid Line Capacity

110/25 Mono

Gear Ratio

2.6:1

Bearing Count

3 + 1

Though it’s designed to catch big catfish, this bowfishing reel also works great for bass, walleye, and even saltwater species like striper. It has the same no-tangle design that other Zebco spincast reels have made so popular, but it also has the strength to handle those larger targets.

Bearing in mind that this is still a bowfishing reel and it isn't meant to have as much stopping power as a more robust fishing reel, the construction of the internal gears and the durable titanium-nitride casing of this reel is still nice and should last for many seasons with the right upkeep.

This reel comes with 25-pound test pre-spooled. That’s plenty heavy for bowfishing some pretty big targets, but in case you ever want to chase even larger ones, larger line up to about 45 pounds can fit onto this reel as well. The same 19-inch retrieve rate helps get spent arrows back out of the water quickly, but this reel also has several ball bearings inside it to make the overall operation super smooth. It’s also right- and left-hand reversible to suit any angler.

Pros
  • Pre-spooled line
  • Saltwater & freshwater friendly
  • Strong construction
  • Handles heavier test
  • Fast retrieve rate
Cons
  • Low drag power

7. Muzzy Bowfishing 1069 XD

Best Muzzy Bowfishing Reel for Big Fish

Reel Type

Spincast

Reel Size Dimensions

Unspecified

Mono/Braid Line Capacity

150/150, 100/200

Gear Ratio

Unspecified

Bearing Count

None

Large targets are much more attainable with this Muzzy bowfishing reel. Not only is it pre-spooled with a really strong 150-pound test, but it also has a steel mounting bracket integrated into the rest of the reel that keeps the whole thing solidly attached to the bow, even in fast-paced encounters with huge fish.

The design of this reel gives anglers the best of both worlds: there is no button on the back that needs to be pressed on the back, but rather a switch that engages and disengages the drag system. That way, the reel can be in free spool to shoot arrows, and the angler can quickly kick in drag when the fish is hit. 

One thing that’s really convenient about this reel is its one-bolt installation, which means it attaches to the bow with one secure connection that doesn't take too much time to get done. It has one pick up pin inside with space to install another one if you need to.

The 1069 XD Pro Reel is designed to catch massive fish, and if you want to do that, you have to learn how to let the fish swim after the hit before kicking in the drag and reeling them in. This is especially important with large saltwater targets that have soft skin, and there’s no better model suited to the task than this Muzzy reel.

Pros
  • Increased line capacity
  • Super heavy line
  • Engage drag with a handle
  • Minimal installation required
  • No buttons to press
Cons
  • Not great for smaller fish

Why Bowfishing Requires Specialized Reels

Even when they seem overly simple, reels designed specifically for bowfishing are going to be the most successful and cause the fewest headaches. Bowfishing anglers have to take into account how hard the fish scales are, how their barbs are placed, and when to jerk the drag just like catfish and northern pike anglers have to know when to set the hook. The right gear can help significantly in this regard.


Setting Up a Bowfishing Rig

So, how do you mount a bowfishing reel? The different types of reels mount in different ways.

Drum bowfishing reels mount simply and quickly, usually using a screw-on mount but sometimes using a tape mount if there’s no stabilizer slot.

Retriever reels mount with sight holes in the bow. If these aren’t already there and you aren’t confident you know how to drill the holes, it’s best to take it to a shop.

Spincaster bowfishing reels can mount with a single screw and washer on the mounting space of a bow. They’re usually paired with bows built for bowfishing and not refitted archery bows.

No matter what reel, the arrow is always strung up using safety slides that can have a string attached with simple overhand knots. There are more complicated ways to accomplish this, but the simplest way is the best.


Tips for Using a Bowfishing Reel

  1. 1
    Aim beneath where you see the fish. That means way lower than you see the fish. Refraction is going to play tricks on you, and it’s often worse the sharper the angle.
  2. 2
    Invest in a pair of polarized sunglasses to reduce glare and let you see your targets better.
  3. 3
    Snapbacks can be dangerous and even lethal. It's caused by line getting caught in your rig, which can make the arrow fly back at you. Reduce slack to ensure this doesn’t happen. Make sure all the line is taken up before you prepare to fire.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What are the best bowfishing reel brands?

There’s an ongoing debate between anglers who like AMS Retrievers and those who prefer spinning reels. Spinners from Zebco and Mazzy might feel more like fishing, but a Cajun bowfishing reel and AMS Retrievers often feel like they are shooting the arrow faster and with more power. AMS is the standard-bearer, but Mazzy, Cajun, and Zebco all have their fans.

Do I need to get a fishing license when bowfishing?

Typically, all you need is the same standard fishing license you would need to fish with a baitcaster or any other equipment. This can vary from place to place, so check in with the local parks or government office before you start out. Here’s the Texas bowfishing license page as an example.

What is the best bowfishing line?

Depending on the target species and environment, you might want the massively heavy 150-pound test, or you might want thinner smaller lines to get around cover and structure. The most common weights for bowfishing are 25-, 30-, and 45-pound test.

Do you use a release when bow fishing?

You certainly can shoot with a release, but it's going to be slow going, and it won't add much more comfort than gloves or finger savers would give. Bear in mind that gloves tend to get pretty messy with water, mud, and fish guts if you take them out bowfishing, which is why most folks just use their fingers and perhaps some finger savers.

How low do you aim when bow fishing?

Lower than you will probably think at first. It actually is pretty easy to get used to the more you practice, but that refraction is going to make the fish look like it's as much as a foot ahead of where you think it is. Hitting the fish is important, but so is hitting the fish in the right place. Always check where your shots are landing on fish when you pull them in at a safe distance.

Can you put a bowfishing reel on any bow?

There are plenty of people making alterations to their longbows, recurve bows, or compound bows to use them for bowfishing. If you’re handy enough and happen to find one lying around, go for it. There are also occasional finds at garage sales or cheap models to be found on the internet if you don’t want to spring for a full bowfishing reel kit.

Is it possible to make your own bowfishing reel?

It is possible to build a bowfishing reel on your own, but you have to be crafty, and it's not likely you'll be able to do it without purchasing some components such as hardware, fishing line, and the arrow. It's not much more expensive to invest in a factory-made version at that point, and most of them will last a surprisingly long time if you take care of them. If you’re anxious to try, there are plenty of how-to guides that show how to turn plastic bottles into bowfishing reels.

Is there any special maintenance that needs to be done to my bowfishing reel?

A good spray-down after each use, especially in salt water, will go a long way in keeping your bowfishing reel in good shape. You should also give the line a rinse and let it dry out - don't store it wadded up wet in the bottle, or it's not going to stay nice for long. Oil all the metal parts from time to time as well. Clean the inside of the bottle and clear it of seaweed and debris and store the whole outfit in a dry place, preferably on its side or on a hook. Leave the arrow in a quiver.

Where is the best place to find bowfishing reels for sale?

The widest variety with the best average sales prices and easiest comparison is going to be on Amazon or Cabelas. It’s hard to find a specialized shop for archery, let alone bowfishing, which remains more of a niche pursuit. You can probably find a few models at a local sporting goods shop or brands own websites, but unless you live somewhere where bowfishing is common like western Kentucky, where they love to bowfish for Asian Carp, then Amazon will most likely give you the most choices.


Conclusion

Bowfishing is a tremendous amount of fun and offers anglers the chance to engage with new species in a new way. It requires a bowfishing reel that is easy to operate for the majority of anglers who engage in bowfishing recreationally. The AMS Retriever Pro fits that bill exactly, which is what makes it the best bowfishing reel.