Bowfishing Gear & How-to Basics

Bow hunters begin limbering up for the whitetail deer season in summer by taking aim at practice targets in their backyards. That can get downright boring while sweltering in the summer heat when the season is months away.

There is a better sporting alternative that goes beyond shooting at a foam target. The sport is bowfishing and the good news is it can extend the archery season. What’s so cool about bowfishing is hunters get a longer season, while anglers can enjoy a new, challenging means of fishing.

Getting started is easier than you might think. Like any outdoors sport, you can make bowfishing as simple or technical as you like. What’s more, bowfishing events are growing in popularity. The competition and camaraderie combine to make the sport even better, as participants share ideas about tactics and gear.

If you want to give it a try, this helpful guide will get you started.

Bowfishing Bows

What matters the most is comfort. You will be drawing multiple times, far more than from the treestand, and most productively from a boat. Bowfishing is an instinctive sport with only seconds allowed to draw, aim and shoot at the target. Do that a dozen times in the summer heat—day or night—and you will quickly become worn out if the bow isn’t comfortable.

A traditional compound bow for deer hunting will work, just keep in mind that bowfishing is a rugged sport. You will want to rethink the idea of using your finely tuned, prized whitetail outfit. You risk the bow getting banged up on a boat ride, someone stepping on it in the dark and other hazards you don’t encounter when deer hunting.

You also don’t need all the features, such as bow release aids and sights. That’s because shots are made by eye-balling the target at close range, and you only need somewhere between 25—50 pounds of draw weight.

Archery Bowfish Kit

A great idea is to bring an old compound bow out of retirement or buy one at a garage sale. Then, all it you have to do to get it rigged and ready is a conversion kit.

Recurve Bowfish kit

Kits and packages are available too, and those take away the guesswork of putting together a balanced outfit. All you will need are the arrows to complete your bowfishing arsenal. 

Bowfishing Reels

What obviously sets apart bowfishing from archery hunting is the need for a reel. Choose wisely. Sure, you can use an old beat up spinning or casting reel from your fishing tackle stash. Just keep in mind that after the shot the reel is the connection between you and the fish. Big carp and drum can strip the drag of a cheap reel when a big fish makes a strong run, especially near the boat.

Spinecast reel

For average size fish, a spincaster will suffice. Those reels are inexpensive and the closed-face mostly eliminates the chances of a line backlash.

Pro Bowfishing reel

Bowfishing reels are designed to be mounted on the bow and are easy to retrieve a big catch. Those models are the best all-around choice, so you won’t miss the chance at a trophy fish.

Bowfishing Arrows

Arrows and points are budget friendly, unlike the expensive broadheads used for big game archery hunting. The all-around standard for bowfishing is the white fiberglass arrow. There is no need to overspend on carbon or aluminum arrows—save those for the deer hunting budget.

Fish arrows

Your broadheads are best reserved for your whitetail hunts. You will need to substitute them for bowfishing points that are designed with a barb below the tip to hold the arrow in place. Complete sets are available and like the bow kits, remove the guesswork from matching point to arrow.

 

The Rest

Arrowwest

Not just what else you need, but the likes of a V-shaped rest like you use when ground hunting for whitetail deer. For bowfishing, you will use the rest to hold the arrow in place while scanning the surface for a fish.

Now for the rest—you will need these items. 

Bowfish Line

The reel indeed is your final connection with the fish, but it’s only as good as the line. Prior to the season spool fresh line on the reel. You can use fishing braids, but make sure those lines will spool on the reel. Don’t go light—lines sold by bowfishing manufacturers come in tests up to 200 pounds.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses are a given when fishing during bright sun, low light and at daylight and dusk. Polarized lens cut the glare so you can see fish just below the surface, and from afar as you scope out the water.

Where To Go Bowfishing

Bowfishing sometimes comes with an unfair stigma because the targets are also known as “trash fish.” Coming to mind are carp, freshwater drum, buffalo, sucker and shad. The good news is those lowly species are low on the priority list for recreational anglers. Unpressured fish mean more targets for you.

Muddy water isn’t necessarily the only place to go bowfishing. Table Rock Lake in Missouri, and Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas, both recognized for their deep clear water, produced a winning weight of 376 pounds of carp at the U.S. Open Bowfishing Championship.

The annual springtime competition is held at night when the targeted species rise to the surface to feed in coves and near shorelines.

Online research is your best bet for dialing into where to go on a given lake.

Also keep in mind that you are participating in a fishing or hunting activity, which means abiding by state laws. Check creel and possession limits before you go.

Experience the US Open Bowfishing Championship

The U.S. Open Bowfishing Championship is a great way to learn more about the sport in a competitive atmosphere. You can see up close the gear and boats used by die-hard enthusiasts, and pick up tips on how to be successful. The Open is headquartered at a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, with the competition held nearby on prime bowfishing waters. Activities include vendor displays and presentations of the latest bowfishing gear, live music, fun contests, exciting giveaways, visits from bowfishing celebrities and more. The Open pays $25,000 to the winner as part of a $100,000 overall purse. Find out more on the event website.

Jon Boats

Looking for your new bowfishing boats? TRACKER offers models with raised bow decks to provide better line of sight and shooting angles, LED lights to illuminate your quarry and storage for all the gear you need. Click the following link to find which fits your needs best.

raised bow deck

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