Ready to bowfish? All you need is time, knowledge, equipment and places to go. Photo Credit: ATA

Here’s What You Need to Start Bowfishing

  Cassie Gasaway   FeaturedBowfishing   April 2, 2019

Bowfishing is a fun activity that gets you outside and helps you practice archery. If you haven’t tried it, now’s the time. Let’s discuss what you need to get started.


Learning and honing bowfishing skills takes time. Budget a few extra hours for your first few outings to give yourself a fair chance to enjoy the sport. Most beginners shoot only a handful of fish – if any – on their first outing.

However, you must practice to get better. If no fish are present, try shooting strands of seaweed, or targets held underwater by weights. Targeting underwater objects helps you adjust your aim for light refraction, an optical illusion that distorts what you see underwater.

In short, the deeper the fish, the lower you must aim. If your target is 2 feet under water, you’ll need to aim about 2 feet below your target. That’s the advice of Nate Zelinsky, a Diamond Archery representative. Watch a video on light refraction here. Take time to practice, learn and adapt. Once you catch on, you’ll be glad you stuck with it.


Take an ATA Explore Bowfishing course or have a friend familiar with bowfishing show you the ropes. Photo credit: ATA

Meanwhile, you must learn where to find fish, and then correctly identify which fish you can shoot. Invasive species like carp, and other “rough” fish like gar and suckers, are usually legal targets. And to shoot accurately, you must also learn to make quick calculations based on varying distances and fish depths.

To help learn those skills, check out Bowhunting 360’s online bowfishing resources for articles and insights from bowfishing experts. Also look for Explore Bowfishing classes taught by archery retailers or fisheries agencies. Explore Bowfishing was created by the Archery Trade Association to teach basic skills, explain gear, and identify fish species and their habitats.

If you can’t find a class nearby, seek a bowfishing guide or mentor to tutor you. Most bowfishing veterans eagerly share their knowledge with beginners.


Bowfishing gear doesn’t have to be expensive or extensive. Necessary items include a bow, reel with line, arrows and tips, and a fishing license. Optional gear includes gloves, towels, polarized sunglasses, and maybe a gaff to secure fish.

Old bowhunting bows easily convert for bowfishing. You can also buy an inexpensive used bow, but make sure it fits your draw length, and adjusts at least 25 pounds to allow for more shooting and less muscle fatigue. If you buy a used bow, ask a bow technician at an archery shop to inspect it before shooting it.

You can buy reels, line, arrows and tips separately or in bowfishing packages. Some packages even include a bow. Many beginners start with bottle-style reels and switch to spincast reels. Bottle reels require you to pull fish in by hand, whereas spincast reels let you play the fish, almost as you would with a fishing rod.

Bowfishing arrows must be heavy and tough to penetrate the water and withstand impacts with rocks, logs and other underwater objects. They’re often made of fiberglass to endure heavy abuse. You’ll also need screw-in barbed tips for your arrows. These tips keep fish from sliding off the arrow after they’re shot. You can buy specialized tips for specific fish species, or multipurpose tips for all species.

Fish can dart, dodge and move quickly, so you won’t need sights or a release aid. They’ll only slow your reaction time, and cost you shooting opportunities. Learn to use your instincts and fingers to make quick, lethal shots. Wear a glove or finger tab to protect your fingers.

Not sure what equipment to get? Visit an archery store where knowledgeable staff can help you select the right gear. They can even set up your bow so you’re ready to start.

Places to Go

You can bowfish off of the land, just as you would with a fishing pole. No boat required. Photo credit: ATA

Once you’re geared up, where should you go? If you’ve studied your options online or talked with experienced locals, you might know where to start. If not, check your state’s fish-and-wildlife agency website to learn where bowfishing might be restricted. Most lakes, ponds and rivers are accessible, but some areas are off limits. Use maps, talk to your mentor or an archery retailer, and learn how to identify fish habitat for bowfishing.

Have several options. Chances are you’ll stumble upon other good spots through persistent exploring. Mark each site on your map, or in your GPS unit, smartphone app or field notes.

Also, you don’t need a boat to bowfish. Although boats are popular for bowfishing, bank fishing is just as fun. Walk slowly around the water’s edge while looking carefully for sunning, feeding or spawning fish that are legal to arrow. Be sure you’re on public land, or have permission to bowfish on private property.

Visit an archery shop to find gear and get more advice. After that, give bowfishing a go!

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