Bowfishing Beginners Guide

Bowhunters and fishing enthusiasts have a lot in common. They love the outdoors. They’re passionate about the chase. They’re patient, and spend time honing their skills and techniques to land record-breaking seasons.

It’s no surprise then that someone decided to combine the best of both worlds and mainstream the sport of bowfishing. It gives bowhunters a welcome enjoyment in the warm spring and summer months when hunting isn’t as common and provides anglers with an exciting new way to catch an abundance of fish.

The best part? It’s easy to learn how to bowfish. The technique is simple to master, and if you’re already a bowhunter or have some experience with archery, it can keep your skills sharp in the offseason. If you’re new to the sport, you’ll need to invest a bit of money into your bowfishing setup, but it might not be as expensive as you imagine.

In this guide, we’ll give you tips on choosing the right gear, finding great fishing spots, and bowfishing at night. 

Bowfishing gear

Other than a bow, you won’t need lots of expensive gear to get started with the sport. Although you can always add bells and whistles to your setup, the basics you’ll need include:

  • Bow
  • Reel
  • Bowfishing arrow
  • Sunglasses with polarized lenses (for daytime)
  • Lanterns or flashlights (for the night)

We’ll give you some pointers on what types are gear are a good match for your bowfishing performance needs.

Bowfishing bow

The most critical piece of gear you’ll need is your bow. The good news is that you aren’t limited to a specific type and can use either a recurve or compound bow depending on which you are most comfortable with.

Be sure to choose an option that has a draw weight of no more than 50 pounds because you’ll be doing lots of quick shooting at short distances and don’t want anything heavier that could cause fatigue.

It’s worth noting that sights aren’t needed when you’re bowfishing. Instead, you’ll rely on your natural eyesight and instincts to help you make your shot. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to aim at the center of the fish’s belly to give you the best chance of hitting the target. I recommend the AMS Bowfishing Water Moc Recurve Bow.  [aawp box=”B073G8TB4R”]

Bowfishing reel

Another critical element to your bowfishing setup is your reel. It’s wise to choose one that’s made specifically for the sport so that you can avoid issues with your line, not releasing as expected, or getting tangled. If that happens, not only might you miss your target, but you could also get seriously injured if the arrow snaps back unexpectedly. I highly recommend the AMS Retriever Pro, shown below.

[aawp box=”B072M63BCX”]

Bowfishing arrows

Another way to ensure your safety is to select the right arrow and use safety slides when you fish.   Fiberglass arrows are lightweight and easy to draw, which makes them a great option on the water. Choose a high-quality tip to ensure that if you hit a fish, you’ll be able to bring your catch in.

 Avoid any options with feathers or vanes, they’re unnecessary and could get in the way of the other moving parts of your rig. Combine your bow and arrow with a quick-release fish point, and your setup is complete. I recommend the easy-to-see AMS arrows below.  [aawp box=”B0847Q9599″]

Polarized sunglasses

If you plan to fish during the day, make sure you invest in a pair of sunglasses with polarized lenses that will eliminate the glare off of the water and make it easy to target fish accurately and adjust for refraction. It’s also smart to wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the elements. There are no bonus points for being the most sunburned bowfisherman.

Flashlights or lanterns

Night fishing is a great way to add a challenging element to the sport. To do it right, you’ll need a light source that packs enough lumens to allow you to see the fish. Remember, just like regular bowhunting; you can’t hit what you can’t see.

Bowfishing regulations

Before you start, research the bowfishing regulations in your state to make sure you comply with the laws. The type of license you need varies depending on where you live, as do the kinds of fish you can catch.

You’ll likely need either a small game license or a fishing license, and some states will only accept one or the other if you’re using a bow.

In addition, there are rules around what species of fish you can harvest. In most states its legal to hunt: 

  • Bowfin
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Gar
  • Mullet
  • Sheepshead

You may also be allowed to reel in other types like tilapia, stingray, and catfish, depending on the regulations in your area.

Also, some states have designated some public areas off-limits for bowfishing. It’s essential that you do not hunt in those areas, or else you could be fined or jailed depending on the laws.

How to find a great bowfishing spot

Whether you’re aiming from a low-bottom boat, a creek or riverbank, or wading in a stream, you’ll want to hone in on great spots with lots of fish to hunt.

Once you’ve determined the species that are legal to hunt in your area, do some research to find out their preferred habitats to narrow down your possibilities. The best locations will depend on the type of fish you want to hunt. 

For example, carp and tilapia tend to love shallow pools with still water and a muddy bottom that gives them camouflage. River buffalo fish, on the other hand, love moving water and will gather near the bottom of a flowing stream in the rapids.

Decide what you want to hunt and then scout locations that are a potential match. If you find water that looks promising, spend a day observing how the fish behave and then start reeling them in.

Bowfishing at night

If you want to try your hand at fishing after the sun goes down, you’ll need to adjust your strategy to do it right. One of the simplest ways to do it is on a boat. You can  rig mountable lights that shine into the water but won’t interfere with your setup or shot.

Boat fishing isn’t an option for everyone, and if you’ll be shooting from a bank or wading in from the shallows, it’s best to bring along a partner who can aim a bright halogen light and help be your spotter. An alternate option is to wear a high-quality headlamp with a wide beam that penetrates the dark water.

Remember, bright lights at night can attract bugs. It’s smart to  use bug spray to ward off mosquitos, moths, and gnats if you’re hunting in the evening.

More tips

Check out the following video for even more great tips.

FAQs About Bowfishing for Beginners

What type of bow should I use for bowfishing?

A compound bow is most commonly used for bowfishing, though some people also use recurve bows.

What kind of arrows do I need for bowfishing?

Specialized arrows with barbed tips are typically used for bowfishing and can be purchased at most sporting goods stores or online retailers.

How much does a beginner’s setup cost?

The cost of a beginner’s setup will vary depending on the type of equipment you choose, but it will usually range from around $150-$400 USD.

Are there any safety precautions that I should take while bowfishing?

It is important to wear eye protection when bowfishing and ensure that your shots are taken in a safe direction away from other people and obstacles such as trees or rocks that could ricochet an arrow back towards you if it misses its target.

Is it legal to hunt certain kinds of fish with a bow and arrow in my area?

Different states have different regulations regarding what types of fish can be hunted with a bow and arrow so make sure you check what applies in your area before heading out on your fishing trip!

It’s time to hunt

Use these bowfishing tips to compile your gear, get your license, and head out to hunt with your fellow bowfishers. Although the sport will take practice to master, it’s tons of fun to learn. Not only that but it can keep your bow skills sharp in the off-season and might help you improve your aim for when deer season rolls around in the fall and winter.


About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

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