Photo credit: Paul Sherar/ATA

The Best Locations and Habitats for Successful Bowfishing

  Cassie Gasaway   BowfishingFeatured   June 13, 2023

If you want something fun to do this summer, grab the retired bow in your closet, invest in some bowfishing equipment at a local archery shop, and find the nearest waterway where carp and other legal rough fish species swim. Bowfishing is legal in every state and on most waterways — but which waterways are most productive? That depends on where you live, but good bowfishing waters are probably closer than you think. Consider places like these:


1. Ponds, Lakes and Reservoirs

These bodies of water are surrounded by land and offer multiple opportunities for shore fishing. Even if you live in town, there’s likely a pond nearby to bowfish, which is an ideal place to start because most ponds are shallow. Shallow water can hold good numbers of smaller fish. You might have to ask permission, but it’s worth the hassle. Ponds, lakes and reservoirs are often home to various species including common carp, grass carp, flathead catfish, blue catfish, longnose gar, tilapia and bullfrogs.

2. Estuaries, Inlets and Deltas

Brackish estuaries and inlets, where fresh and salt water meet in bays, lagoons, sounds and sloughs, are great habitat for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species, from stingrays to flounder to bowfin. The more exotic bowfishing species and water options are only available on the coast, so you might consider planning a unique bowfishing vacation. Deltas are large, nearly flat plains of sediments dumped at a river’s mouth that span outward on ever-weakening currents, ideal for those with waders or an airboat. Different carp species frequent these areas and grow large because of the abundant minerals, deposits and food sources.


3. Rivers, Streams and Creeks

These terms may be interchangeable depending on where you live, but these waterways all have flowing water. Rivers usually flow toward an ocean, sea, lake or larger river. Smaller streams and creeks provide ideal wade-in opportunities; larger rivers are ideal for boaters. A plethora of fish species reside in these waterways, including gar, carp, suckers, catfish, shad and snakehead.

4. Floodwaters

In the spring, drainage ditches and agricultural fields connected to rivers often flood because of heavy rainfalls or early-spring snow melt-offs. These temporary water options can provide fantastic bowfishing spots because carp and other rough fish leave the main waterway to look for food and lay their eggs in spring. Thankfully for you, these adventurous, opportunistic fish roam flooded areas, sometimes getting stuck in shallow pools. Most boats can’t access these locations, so grab your water shoes or trek barefoot for lots of quick-paced action.

Identify Fish Hotspots


After locating a place to bowfish, find an area with suitable habitat, and you’ll probably find a high concentration of fish. Look for these habitat components to find ideal places to bowfish.

  • Food: Most rough fish feed on aquatic vegetation like algae, pondweed, watermeal, pickerelweed and lilies. Other species consume insects, minnows, crawfish and smaller fish.
  • Water: You’re fishing in water, but the quality of water matters.
    • Oxygen Level: Fish breathe using their gills to filter water for dissolved oxygen. Well-oxygenated waters can sustain more fish species, but some fish, like catfish and carp, can live in water with low oxygen levels. Oxygen levels are typically low in stagnant or slow-moving waters.
    • Clarity: Clear water generally means lower fertility, which can mean fewer fish. On the other hand, clear water allows you to more easily see fish, and some crystal-clear rivers can provide outstanding bowfishing for carp, gar and suckers.
  • Shelter: Aquatic structures like weeds, rocks, trees and submerged items provide sanctuary for fish.

Fish utilize different portions of water bodies at different times of year, depending on water temperature, food availability and timing of their spawning cycle. Monitor the body of water you plan to bowfish at various times of the season. Knowing how to identify and eliminate unproductive water makes locating and arrowing fish much easier.




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