Practical Bowfishing Tips

Bowfishing used to be a niche activity. Something only a few dedicated folks partook in, while the rest of us stuck to using our archery equipment for whitetails only. These days it seems many, if not most, archery hunters have a bowfishing rig.

What’s behind the growth in popularity? It’s simple. The sport is fun, requires little monetary investment and is an excellent way to keep shooting throughout the spring and summer. While having a boat broadens the area you can fish, it’s not a necessity. Neither is bowfishing at night. You can have success shooting from a river bank during the middle of the day.

If you’ve got an old stick and string lying around, it’ll work perfectly to bowfish with. Since the only way you can practice effectively is to actually get on the water, you don’t have any excuses to stay inside this summer. Here are a few bowfishing tips to steer you in the right direction.

Choosing Your Bow

Recurve bows are popular choices for many people due to their simplicity and affordability. They’re well-suited to quick, instinctive shooting, which are the majority of shot opportunities you’ll have. Also, the lightweight bows are easy to carry for multiple hours.

It’s easy to find an old recurve for sale on the internet. Putting together a rig on a recurve is a cinch. You’ll simply need a reel, arrows and some line, which you can purchase for around $50.

Go to a local outdoor store and talk to an expert about bowfishing tips. They'll be able to help as you choose a bow and accessories.
Go to a local outdoor store and talk to an expert about bowfishing tips. They'll be able to help as you choose a bow and accessories.

Compound bows work as well and several companies produce them specifically for bowfishing. Plus, older models are rather cheap and many of the accessories can be easily attached. Just be sure to lower the draw weight between 35-50 pounds, considering most shots will be close and the fish will be submerged only a few feet. And it will be easier on your neck, shoulders and arms after shooting dozens of times over the course of a trip.

Selecting a Reel

Hand wrap reels are cheap and simple, but requires the shooter manually rewind the line after every shot. This means reloading takes longer and additional shot opportunities could be missed. A spincast reel attaches to a compound’s stabilizer insert. It enables you to retrieve your arrows quickly and easily due to the reel’s drag.

The AMS Retriever Reels are another option, which utilizes an enclosure full of high-density line with a hand crank attached. Use 150- or 200-pound line for carp, gar and buffalo. For larger game like sharks or alligators, you’ll need between a 600- and 1,000-pound test line.

Arrows and Other Gear

Arrows are made out of carbon, fiberglass and a hybrid between the two. Any of the options work well, especially when paired with a good point. The Talon bowfishing point features three .062-inch-thick stainless-steel barbs that fold back in flight for better accuracy and penetration. The barbs open once the point passes through the fish for a reliable hold under tremendous  pressure. The point then disengages to easily remove the arrow from the fish.

Additional gear you may consider includes a shooting glove or tab. For daytime bowfishing, you’ll want a good pair of polarized sunglasses. Of course, it never hurts to tote along extra arrows, points and line.


Before you start slinging arrows at fish, you’ll need to tune your bow and shoot a few practice shots. Shoot at a submerged target, which you can purchase at most sporting goods stores, to examine how your arrow flies. If it’s flying erratically, you’ll need to either adjust the nock point, move your rest forward or back, decrease draw weight or cut your arrow shafts shorter. Experiment with each of these options until the arrow flies straight.

The key to shooting accurately is aiming low. That’s right, you don’t aim at the fish at all. Several factors determine how much under your target you need to aim, including water depth and the distance to the fish. This is due to light refraction, which is how light rays bend in water, making the fish appear in a different spot than it really is.

Where to Fish

Some of the most common fish people seek are common carp, an invasive species. Catfish, garfish, grass carp and buffalo are sought after as well. These fish can be found in most rivers, lakes and waterways around the country. The best spots are shallower areas where it’s easy to spot them.

For daytime bowfishing during the summer, search at dawn and dusk when the fish are active as temperatures are cooler. During the middle of the day, however, you can routinely catch garfish swimming right near the surface. You can shoot from the banks of waterways or slowly wade into them.

Night is by far the most popular time to bowfish because that’s when they are most active. If you have access, a boat equipped with powerful lights will allow you to cover more water and see more fish. But, again, shooting from the bank or wading is also effective if you’ve got a portable spotlight or a bow-mounted light.

While bowhunting is a serious pursuit, bowfishing can be a leisure activity you enjoy with your friends and family. It’s another way to get outside and get some shooting done during the off season. It might not quell your itch to hunt whitetails, but it comes pretty close.