Bowfishing means bowhunting for fish. You spot, stalk and shoot at fish with specialized arrows. You need little extra gear to get started, and you’ll find many affordable options. And targets are abundant. Carp are bowfishing’s most hunted species. They’re found nationwide, and some species are invasives that threaten ecosystems.
To get started, you’ll need a reel, rest and arrows designed for bowfishing. Several manufacturers make kits with everything you need to convert your bow into a bowfishing rig. Bowfishing arrows are much heavier than standard arrows and carry barbed points. They also connect to a heavy line that spools onto the bowfishing reel or a line-housing unit, both of which mount to your bow. Archery shops can outfit you with the proper equipment and set up your bow for bowfishing.
Many bowfishing archers dedicate a bow for bowfishing, and several manufacturers make specialized bowfishing bows. These bows are water-resistant and built to endure rough handling. Recurves and compounds are excellent for bowfishing. To pick up a bowfishing bow, visit an archery shop and check out your options.
Where to Bowfish
Carp are the most popular fish targeted for bowfishing. Common carp and several invasive carp species are found in North America’s rivers, streams, ponds and lakes.
The best, most productive time to bowfish is spring and summer. Katie Haymes, an experienced bowfisher, helped develop the Archery Trade Association’s Explore Bowfishing program. She said late spring is usually a great time to bowfish.
“The best time to bowfish for carp is during spawning season,” Haymes said. “A variety of species migrates up streams and rivers during spring and summer. That’s when large numbers of carp congregate, making for a great day of bowfishing!”
Carp like weedy areas in relatively shallow water, about 3 to 4 feet deep. You can bowfish them from a boat or by wading. When hunting carp, you’ll do better if you know which carp you’re pursuing.
“Some carp are ‘grubbers,’ and feed along the waterway’s banks and bottoms,” Haymes said. “It’s best to look for them by bowfishing from the bank. Other carp are filter feeders, which swim around at midlevel depths or near the surface, making them ideal to target from a boat.”
Bowfishing at night for carp can be highly productive because they’re less spooky after dark, allowing bowfishermen to sneak up on them. Archery shops can often give you intel on bowfishing hotspots.
Tips for Accurate Shooting
Bowfishing shots are usually 20 yards and closer. Although you’ll shoot instinctively when bowfishing (shooting quickly without using your sights), practice shooting these short distances to ensure your bow is sighted in.
When bowfishing, you’ll always shoot down at fish, so practice shooting at downward angles to improve your accuracy. You’ll find it helpful to bend at the hips to maintain proper form when shooting downward. Once you’re on the water, aim below the fish to ensure you don’t miss high. Light refraction in the water distorts what you see, meaning the deeper the fish, the lower you must aim.
“Refraction requires a small science lesson to explain,” Haymes said. “Refraction occurs when light waves travel at different speeds, such as when going from air into water. Light waves bend when hitting water, causing underwater objects to appear closer to the surface than they really are. So, when you see a fish, it’s likely deeper than it appears. So aim low!”
After you’ve shot some carp, try making a meal of them. Baked carp, carp cakes, carp dumplings, fried carp, carp tacos, smoked carp and Cajun-spiced blackened carp are great ways to prepare them. You’ll find no shortage of recipes online. To ensure delicious meals, properly care for your fish in the field. Carp should be bled immediately by cutting their gills. Next, put them on ice to cool. To cool carp even faster, immediately field dress them. When you get home, fillet and skin the fish or finish cleaning and scaling them for baking.
If you don’t eat your fish, find other ways to ensure your catch isn’t wasted. Donate your fish to a farmer for use as fertilizer or add them to your own compost. They make a great organic fertilizer. You can also donate fish to mink ranchers or to wildlife rehabilitation facilities for use as food.
As you can see, bowfishing is a great way to stay active in bowhunting through spring and summer. But first, check in with your state wildlife agency to make sure you’re following all rules and regulations. Then, visit an archery shop and gear up!