Don’t Just Fish … Bowfish! Get Started With This Essential Gear.

by | Apr 6, 2017 | Bowfishing, Featured

Bowfishing is pure archery fun. Warm weather, fast action and plenty of shooting make bowfishing a great off-season activity. Even so, it requires specialized equipment and a different approach to shooting than big-game hunting.


Fishing points, one solid-fiberglass fishing arrow, and a spincast reel or bottle reel complete your bowfishing kit. These items are usually sold together, and are designed specifically for bowfishing. Photo Credit: ATA

Bowfishing Bows

Archers use recurves and compounds to bowfish. Recurve bows are the more affordable option. When buying a recurve bow, make sure you can mount bowfishing accessories to it. The bow should have a stabilizer bushing or sight-mount holes for mounting a bowfishing reel. An archery store can help you choose a recurve for bowfishing.

Compound bows offer a compact package for easy maneuvering in a boat. They also generate faster arrow speeds than recurve bows. Some compound bows are built specifically for bowfishing so they can be shot with fingers. They also have a consistent draw weight, much like a recurve, for fast shooting.

You could also convert your hunting bow to a bowfishing rig. However, it’s best to dedicate a bow to bowfishing. Bowfishing-specific compounds are inexpensive and, unlike your hunting bow, they’re built to handle bowfishing’s harsh conditions. Complete bowfishing rigs are available at archery stores. They come with everything you need to start bowfishing, and cost less than buying all the accessories individually.


A bottle-style reel is easy to use and excellent for beginner bowfishermen. The line attaches to the arrow and is stored inside a plastic bottle attached to the side of the bow. Photo Credit: Paul Sherar/ATA

Bowfishing Reels

The two most popular styles of bowfishing reels are the “bottle” and “spincast” models, and each has advantages and disadvantages.

Spincast reels are popular with experienced bowfisherman. They’re much like a traditional spincast reel for hook-and-line fishing, and let bowfishermen reel in fish they arrow. The downside of a spincast reel is that it must be set to “free spool” before shooting. The free-spool setting feeds line freely from the reel when shooting the arrow.

The spincast reel’s other setting is for reeling in the line. Line cannot feed freely in this setting. If you forget to put the reel in free spool before shooting, the line attached to the arrow cannot feed. The line breaks when you shoot, or prevents the arrow from leaving the bow.

Blake Shelby, vice president of sales and marketing at PSE, is also an avid bowfisherman. He prefers spincast reels because they let you retrieve the arrow and shoot again quickly. “And it allows me to actually fight the fish on the reel,” Shelby said.

A bottle-style reel is easy to use and excellent for beginners. Shelby said beginners usually start with a bottle-style reel and graduate to a spincast reel. “A lot of beginners like to use the bottle-style reel because if they forget to engage the reel, it doesn’t do any damage,” he said. “The disadvantage is that it’s difficult to fight the fish. You basically hand-line the fish in.”


Regulations set by each state’s fish-and-wildlife agency typically limit bowfishermen to “rough” fish and invasive species, like gar, rays, carp and suckers. Photo Credit: Blake Shelby

Sights or No Sights

Bowfishing’s dynamic, fast-paced nature makes it ideal for instinctive shooting. Bowfishermen must account for varying distances and fish depths with instant calculations. Therefore, don’t be afraid to remove your bowsight and let your subconscious do your aiming. “The great thing about bowfishing is that it’s a target-rich environment,” Shelby said. “Everybody is going to miss in bowfishing. Even the best shooters in the world miss a lot of their shots.”

Release or Fingers?

A mechanical release improves accuracy, but fingers are faster. To shoot with fingers, archers use their ring, middle and index finger to draw the bowstring. To keep up with bowfishing’s fast pace, most archers prefer fingers to a release.

If you shoot with fingers, use a glove or finger tab to protect your fingers during a full day of shooting. Another option is “finger savers,” thick rubber finger protectors that slide down the bowstring and fix into place on the serving. A small opening between them doubles as your nocking point.

No matter how you set up your bowfishing bow, get out there and try bowfishing. For all your bowfishing needs and expert advice, visit an archery shop.

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