You took the bait. You’ve heard bowfishing is a fun, fast-paced, multi-shot sport, and you’re ready to try it. But where should you go? Use these tips to identify bowfishing hotspots.
First things first: Check with your state’s fish-and-wildlife agency to confirm which license is required. Also check your state’s fishing rules and regulations to identify which fish you can shoot, and when and where bowfishing might be restricted.
Agencies outline bowfishing species on their websites and marketing materials. Those resources might also identify bowfishing hotspots to help beginners get started. But don’t stop there. Explore options like those outlined below.
Contact your local archery retailer to ask if anyone could be your bowfishing mentor. Laura DeCook, a naturalist for the Mahaska County Conservation Board in Iowa, teaches bowfishing classes and workshops. She said most bowfishing gurus eagerly help newcomers.
“Finding a mentor is one of the best ways to learn the details of bowfishing, like where to go, how to identify fish, and where to shoot them based on water refraction,” DeCook said. “The bowfishing community is really helpful, so take advantage of that.”
Matt Schillinger, a public-relations specialist for AMS Bowfishing, recommends beginners use maps to find good habitat where they intend to bowfish.
“Maps show you the layout of lakes, ponds and rivers,” Schillinger said. “They sometimes also show contours, weeds, vegetation and water depth; and help you identify back bays, feeder creeks or drainage ditches where the water current is slow and most rough fish hang out.”
Fish seek habitat that includes food (insects, minnows and aquatic vegetation) and shelter (rock beds, weed beds and downed trees). Find such areas and you’ll likely find fish.
Bowhunters United offers information on identifying fish and tons of bowfishing information. Use these articles to learn the species you’re pursuing and what they might be doing. Learning their food preferences and spawning patterns helps you zero in on their hangouts.
Diamond Sonar’s video provides tips on where to find fish. The video helps you identify what fish do throughout the year so you can anticipate where they’ll be. Are fish sunning, feeding or spawning? Once you know, circle back to what makes ideal habitat for each activity.
If you don’t have a boat, don’t worry. DeCook says bowfishing from the bank often works great for those who don’t have access to a boat. And it’s just as much fun.
“If you’re bank-fishing, you can spread out and walk around, and you don’t have to worry about finding a boat ramp or steering the boat,” DeCook said. “In some ways, bank-fishing is more accessible because boats can’t get into shallow or narrow areas that you can reach by land.” Just be sure you’re on public land or have permission to bowfish from private property.
DeCook said bowfishing by boat or by bank has pros and cons. She said her favorite thing to do while bank-fishing is to bring a grill, invite some friends along, and hang out while waiting for fish to swim by.
Once you arrive at a bowfishing spot, check for signs of fish. Schillinger said you might see and hear water splashing, and spot ripples or V-shaped patterns on the water caused by active fish. Another good sign is muck bombs, which are swirls of mucky water resembling a mushroom cloud. Fish unleash them when taking off and disturbing the bottom with their tails. All such signs indicate a good place to bowfish.
“You’re probably going to find fish,” DeCook said. However, you can’t bowfish for every species you find. That’s why you must be patient, and carefully identify the fish. Ensure it’s a legal species before shooting your arrow.
DeCook recommends staying in one area 10 to 15 minutes before moving along the bank. Fish constantly move, so keep searching. And don’t be afraid to go back or retrace your steps. Fish often return to areas they left earlier.
If you’re repeatedly shooting into the water, however, you must move more often.
“People associate fish, especially carp, as being dumb,” Schillinger said. “They’re not. They spook easily. If you shoot once, they know there’s danger and will likely leave the area. So, it’s best to move around, and walk back and forth along the bank. The only time they don’t do that [in Wisconsin] is when they’re spawning around May and June when they’re concentrating on something else.”
If you find a hotspot, mark it on your map, in your GPS unit or smartphone app, or in your field notes so you can find it again in the future. You’ll find good bowfishing spots mostly by trial and error, so get out there, have fun and sling some arrows.