Informational Guide

How To Bow Fish

In this article, learn how to bow fish correctly & effectively, & garner some tips & tricks to get started & quickly master this exciting sport.

by Andrew

Informational Guide

How To Bow Fish

In this article, learn how to bow fish correctly & effectively, & garner some tips & tricks to get started & quickly master this exciting sport.

by Andrew

by Andrew

Combining the precision and discipline of archery with the patience and sport of fishing, bowfishing is a thrilling activity for new or experienced anglers.  In fact, you can bow fish even if you’ve never fished or hunted before in your life. 

In this article, learn how to bow fish correctly and effectively, and garner some tips and tricks to quickly master this exciting sport.  

What Is Bowfishing? (Overview + How It Works) 

Bowfishing is, essentially, the same thing as hunting with a bow: you’re just targeting fish in the water rather than game in the woods. 

This popular sport got its start thousands of years ago when aboriginal peoples and ancient Aztecs invented ways to project spears into the water—much farther and faster than humans were capable of doing on their own.  Bows, as we now know them, gradually replaced this method, moving from battlefields to the hunting arena as the centuries progressed. 

Today, of course, bowfishing is rarely (if ever) done for survival purposes like it was back then. Instead, it’s evolved into its own recreational sport, complete with rules, proper form and techniques, and federal and state laws to regulate the sport and make it safer.  

Man Bowfishing

Basic Bowfishing Equipment & Setup 

Bows 

New bow fishers can get by with very basic bows to start. A recurve or mechanical compound bow will work nicely; the former is preferred since it’s easier to handle. Don’t go for bulky, heavy bows, however. These have far too much draw weight (the force you need to draw the bow and shoot), and your arm will get tired pretty fast. 

A reel support and arrow rest are a must, but you can skip any extra bells and whistles when you’re still learning the sport.  

Reels 

When selecting the most effective bowfishing reel, consider each type’s advantages and disadvantages.  

Bottle reels consist of a housing and handle and require little more than drawing back and letting go. The main downside of bottle reels is that they aren’t ideal for distance shots.  

Another great option for beginners is a hand reel. Its drum-and-spool design is free from small components that can break or jam.  However, be aware that it’s called a “hand reel” for a reason: you have to manually reel in your line, requiring gloves—and extra work. 

Finally, you might opt for a spincast reel, virtually identically to those found on fishing rods. Retrieval is faster, but the price tag is heftier.  

AMS Bow Fishing Reel

Arrows 

Bowfishing arrow shafts can be made from carbon, fiberglass, or both. Carbon is strongest, which is helpful when you’re targeting large and powerful catches. Due to their price, however, you might want to grab fiberglass arrows instead. 

As for the points, remember the game you’re targeting.  The barbs on bowfishing arrow tips help keep your fish on the line as you reel in, but you don’t want it to go too deep (or not deep enough).

Bow Fishing Arrows

How To Bow Fish: Important Tips For Beginners  

While bowfishing isn’t terribly difficult to learn, there are some tips, tricks, safety precautions, and general guidelines to make the sport as effective and fun as possible.  

1. First Things First: Bowfishing Safety Rules 

  • Pay attention
    While there’s nothing wrong with having fun, proper aim and technique should always be a priority. 
  • Study your equipment
    A fishing bow in uneducated hands is just as dangerous as any weapon.  Take time to learn how to use your bow properly.
  • Make sure your bow has a safety slide
    This keeps your line in the front and stops it from tangling so that the arrow doesn’t project backwards and hurt anyone. 

2. How Do You Shoot A Fish With A Bow? 

When aiming your bow at a fish, account for the refraction of the water by aiming 6 inches lower than you think you should. More advanced bow anglers will aim using the 10-4 rule. 

Aim 4 inches below a fish that’s 10 feet away and 1 foot under the water’s surface. For a fish 10 feet away and 2 feet below, or 20 feet away and 1 foot below, aim 8 inches lower.  

3. How To Bow Fish At Night 

Night bowfishing is extremely popular because, like traditional angling, more fish are biting after sundown, and competition is less fierce. There’s also an extra element of excitement, shooting your bow at night. 

You’ll need a bowfishing boat rigged with downward-facing lights, which improve visibility (and safety). More fish will be swimming in the shallow waters due to decreased temps, so even large catches can turn up when the sun goes down.  

Bowfishing At Night

4. How To Bow Fish Carp 

  • 1
    Hit the shallows
    A common species to target when bowfishing, carp like the shallows, where this sport is typically done, especially if there’s lots of vegetation. 
  • 2
    Go at night
    Carp scare less easily at night, so consider hitting the water after sunset. 
  • 3
    Aim lower, but not too much
    Since carp stick close to the surface or at mid-level depths, you won’t need to adjust your shot more than a few inches (usually). 
  • 4
    Practice
    This is true when you’re targeting any fish, but taking a few practice shots down into the water can help you hone your accuracy for when the carp arrive. 

5. How To Bowfish From Shore 

  • Wade in slowly and quietly
    To avoid startling off your catches, enter your fishing spot gradually, making as little noise as possible. 
  • Choose the right weather
    Waters should be calm and clear, and the air should be warm but not too hot. Try bowfishing from the shore in early morning or dusk, or during overcast days. 
  • Be patient
    Bowfishing is a lot like hunting in the woods: too much movement will spook your prey. It’s far better to stay where you are for a while and wait for fish to come to you, rather than trudging through the water and scaring them off. 
  • Wear sunglasses
    Quality polarized lenses keep your vision protected and sharp. This is a must when you’re staring at reflective water for hours on end. 
  • Go where the boats can’t
    Try docks, weedy banks, fallen (but stable) trees, or rock groupings—places fish like to congregate and feed. 

6. How To Pick Bowfishing Hotspots 

  • Use Local Resources
    Your state’s fishing and wildlife department will tell you not only what kind of license you need to bow fish but also where you're allowed to practice this sport. 
  • Use Maps To Choose Ideal Fishing Environments
    It sounds overly simple, but checking out bodies of water from an aerial view—like that provided in a map—lets you stake out inlets, creeks, rock beds, and other areas where fish will gather. 
  • Know What You’re Targeting
    The species of fish you’re after also dictates where you should bow fish. It can even affect when you go. For example, knowing your target species is spawning would mean you need to fish in areas where that species is known to nest. 
  • Try Fishing From the Shore
    You don’t need a boat to go bowfishing. In fact, it can be a huge advantage, since you can go into areas boats can’t access. As long as the shores are on public land (or you have permission from the owners), you can fish from just about anywhere on the bank. 
  • Keep An Eye (And Ear) Out For Fish
    While you’ll be able to spot fish through the surface in a lot of shallow areas, there are subtler signs your next catch is nearby. These include rippling or V shapes at the surface, mud clouds rising from the bottom, or splashing when the fish eat insects and algae at the surface. 
  • Just Wait
    Above all else, bowfishing is a sport of patience. You should give a good fishing spot plenty of time to populate, at least 10 minutes, before wading elsewhere or moving down the bank. And the more you shoot, the more often you should move—fish are pretty intelligent, at least enough to avoid areas where arrows are raining down. 

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Do you need a special bow for bowfishing?  

Yes, you can bowfish with a normal bow, but it will have to be modified with a reel. Another factor to consider is your bow’s weight. While a heavy-duty, very powerful bow is a must for big land game, bowfishing targets are smaller and closer. That power and weight aren't necessary—and will tire you out considerably faster.  

What is the best draw weight for bowfishing? 

A draw weight between 25 and 40 pounds will suffice for most bowfishing, especially when you’re doing close-range shots in the shallows. Avoid draw weights exceeding 60 pounds since this can drive your arrow into the bottom and make retrieval too difficult.  

Do you need a sight for bowfishing? 

Most bow fishers skip sights in favor of their own two eyes. Bowfishing happens much more quickly than bow hunting on land. While a scope can help you spot a grazing deer or wandering turkey, a fish might be long gone by the time you’ve set your sight on it.  


Conclusion

Bowfishing is a lively sport that marries the patience and fun of traditional fishing with the excitement and power of bowhunting.  Best of all, you can bowfish even if you’ve never cast a line or drawn an arrow before. With practice and some basic equipment, bowfish novices can quickly become masters—and angling pros might just discover their new favorite way to fish.  

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