Bowfishing is AWESOME!
Learning how to bowfish isn’t as complicated as you might think either!
You need a bow, bowfishing reel, you need to know where the fish are, and where to aim! After that, you’ll be a bowfishing machine. In this complete guide, I’ll show you everything you need to know to get started.
How to Start Bowfishing
You’ve taken the correct first step in learning how to bowfish, and that’s research. There are a lot of safety issues you need to familiarize yourself with. Plus, if you’re making the transition from standard fishing to bowfishing, the tactics just aren’t the same.
9 Essential Items You Need to Bowfish
First things first, you need to get your equipment.
Before you can let your arrow fly, you need a variation of the following supplies:
The style you choose is just going to depend on your personal preference. Typically, though, most shoot with an old hunting compound bow or a recurve bow. Also, you don’t need it to pull a lot of weight. Unlike bowhunting deer, you’ll be pulling back an arrow 50-100 times any given day. Anything over 35-40 lb is going to wear you out, fast.
There are several types of bowfishing reels: hand-wrap, spincast, and retriever reels. The most basic is the hand-wrap, which is nothing but a spool attached to your bow that you wrap your line around. Spincast is a traditional fishing reel fastened to your bow. Bowfishing specific spincast reels are heavy-duty and have higher gear ratios that standard ones in order to handle the thick (200 lb test) line you’ll be shooting with. Finally, retriever reels use a bottle system to hold your line, and are both safer and more durable than the other options.
You want to invest in a good arrow, but you also don’t need to over think which kind you buy. When you’re just starting out, it doesn’t matter if the arrow is fiberglass, carbon fiber, or aluminum just make sure you to get arrows with the points already on. Ideally, the arrow will have retractable barbs so you don’t have to tear the fish apart removing the arrow.
You’re not stringing up your grandfather's line when you’re going bowfishing. You want something that can handle the pressure of being shot, but also that can reel in BIG fish. The most popular is Dacron line and its about 200 lb, though some will shoot with anywhere from 80 lb+.
Rests hold your arrow in place while you’re lining up your shot. While you can shoot without them, it helps steady the arrow making your aim that much better.
Fishing sunglasses are a must if you’re going to be bowfishing. Their polarized lenses are what you need to be able to see fish below the water, and protect your eyes from the glare bouncing off the water.
You want to make sure you are shooting with safety slides. They allow you to keep your bowfishing line out in front of your bow, eliminating the risk of your line catching on your rest.
Finger Savers or Shooting Gloves
Finger saves are an easy accessory to add to your bow that helps cushion your fingers. When you’re bowfishing, you’ll be shooting alot and it can really tear your fingers up. Gloves can work well too, if you don’t mind shooting with them.
If you plan on bowfishing at night, which is when you’ll shoot the most Gar, then you need some good bowfishing lights.
- Fishing in darker waters, you want a more yellow light.
- Fishing in clear waters, you need a white light.
LED lights are going to last the longest and produce the most light. If you’re fishing from a boat, you’ll need some clamp flood lights, but if you’re fishing from the bank at night you just need a simple spot light.
How to Set up a Bowfishing Bow
A bowfishing rig is easy to set up. Since you’ll be shooting from relatively close distances, and your vision will be skewed by refraction, you won’t even need to set up a sight. Most of your shooting will be quickly and running on instinct.
Plus, you don’t want a bunch of bells and whistles because your bow is going to get thrown around, covered in water, and covered in fish blood and guts.
Instead, just take your old bow, and if you don’t have one, you can pick one up on eBay or Craigslist for cheap.
- Install your finger savers
- Mount on your reel
- Install a rest.
Not very complicated, right?
How to Tie a Bowfishing Arrow
Tying up your arrow safely is something you NEED to know how to do. Failing to do so can result in catastrophic injury. Using an AMS safety slide can avert most of the risk. It was alluded to earlier in the how to start bowfishing section, but for the sake of redundancy I’m going to go into to detail about why you need one.
If you’re shooting with an AMS or Cajun bow, the string you’ll be using is thick. It’s simply not as fast reacting as the thinner line you’ll shoot out of a spincast. The slide always the line a chance to catch up with the arrow so to speak. Preventing the line from getting tangled up, causing the arrow to snap back towards you.
Be warned: If you use a safety slide while shooting with a spincast, don’t forget to press your release button!
The slide allows slack on the line, so you can draw the arrow back without having to press the release. If you just tie off to the back of the arrow, though, if you don’t press the button, you won’t be able to draw your arrow.
- First off, make sure your line isn’t frayed.
- The safety slide has notches in the back and grooves across one side. String the line up from the bottom following the groove, and then back down.
- Pull extra line through to give the line slack.
- Make sure the slide is all the way to the front end of the arrow, then tie a big overhand knot.
- Finally, pull the arrow all the way through the loop of the overhand knot and pull it tight.
How to Bowfish: The Bowfishing Basics
Now that you know everything you need to get to get ready to go bowfishing, I’ll show you how to actually land some fish!
There are a few skills you need to master to become a proficient bowfisher: knowing where to aim and knowing where to fish.
Knowing where to aim is the trickiest part of bowfishing—but, it’s a lot easier than you think.
Bowfishing: Where to Aim!
When you spot a fish, draw your arrow back and aim. At this point in time, if you’re using a spincast bowfishing reel, you want to make sure you release the line or else you can do some serious damage to both you and your reel.
Here’s where things start to get tricky:
As light travels through the water it bends, or refracts, so what you’re seeing is a refracted image of the fish. The fish is, in fact, much deeper than appears. You need to keep this in mind when shooting.
If you shoot where you see the fish, you’re going to miss high. So the trick is to always aim low! How aim you low depends on a number of factors: your skill and your distance from the fish.
There is a few general rule of thumbs that fishermen swear by, and each does the trick. You just have to find which one works best for you.
- Aim 10” below the fish - This is the most basic, and easiest to compute quickly to get a shot off.
- Aim 6” below the fish for every one foot of depth/
- The 10-4 rule is a little bit more complicated. If the fish is 10 feet away, and 1 foot below the surface, then you aim 4” below. If you double either the distance away or the depth, then you double the 4”.
Not only do you want to aim low, but you need to aim for the vital spots. Try and hit the front half of the fish, which contains its vital organs and brain.
Where to Bow Fish
Prowl the shallow end
When bowfishing, you have to keep in mind that water is dense. So, in order for your arrow to have enough velocity to pierce a fish, you need to be aware of how deep the water is. Typically, you’ll want to fish water that is 3-4 foot deep. This depth gives fish plenty of confidence, but also won't bother your arrow.
Don’t let the Fish see you
You never want to let the fish see your shadow--this alone, can spook them. So, try and stay under cover and remain anywhere from 10-15 feet from your target fish.
How to Bowfish at Night
Bowfishing at night is one of the most exciting ways to experience the spot; just you and nature. You can bowfish at night in one of two ways: from a boat or from the shore. If you want to shoot more fish at night, though, you’ll want to be shooting from a boat.
Bowfishing at night takes extreme focus. The area you can light up is very limited, so as soon as you see a fish in your light, you have to shoot. If you hesitate at all, the fish will be gone.
To bowfish at night, you need to set up lights. As I touched on earlier, if you’re bowfishing from a shore you’ll need a spot light, and if you’re fishing from a boat you’ll want flood lamps.
The idea is you’re using the lights to light up the water. So, you need them to be strong and cast as wide, but focused, of a view as possible.
If you’re using a boat, most serious bowfishermen put a shooting platform on their boats. This isn’t needed to shoot fish, but it’s a flat and stable platform to shoot from.
You can shoot from and kind of boat: a Jon boat or even a fishing kayak if it’s stable and wide enough for you to stand.
Shoot the Right Fish
One this you need to keep in mind is bowfishing is not catch and release--comical I even bring it up, right? The reason I do, though, is make sure you’re not just shooting any ol’ fish. Carp are an invasive species that uproot aquatic plants while they're searching for insects to eat, creating chaos in local aquatic ecosystems. So, Carp is a good choice to shoot. Plus, unbeknownst to many, Carp is eaten worldwide and often even considered a delicacy! So, next time you land a big Carp: skin it, fillet it, and eat it!
6 Quick Carp Bowfishing Tips
- The best time to bowfish carp is early spring-spawn. Spawn starts early April and last through late May. During this period, carp are extremely active—they love the 62-64° water.
- When bowfishing in the spring, you might try wading like a fly fisherman. Instead of bowfishing from a boat or land, jump in the water and wade through the weedy shallows.
- Shoot on instinct. Sound simple enough, right? Wait too long and the fish will be gone. So stay ready to shoot from the hip.
- If you’re on a boat, turn off the motor and just drift. The vibrations from the motor can scare away fat carp. Also, if you’re using halogen lights, you should think about switching to a spotlight to keep the water vibrations to a minimum.
- Stay as quiet as possible. Your voice and footsteps on the boat will scare the carp away.
- If you want to bring the fish to you try this secret: throw some corn in the water. This works especially well if you’re bowfishing from shore. Carp love to eat corn, and it’s strong scent attracts them.
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