Bowfishing Basics by Dave Thomas

Written By:  D and R Sports May 19, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Bowfishing is gaining popularity fast. It is a unique sport that combines bowhunting and fishing. I have been an avid bowfisherman for about 15 years. It is an inexpensive sport to start and very enjoyable once the bug has bitten you. I spend several hours a week during the season exploring different lakes and looking for my game. The only legal species for bowfishing are carp, gar, and dogfish.

To get started all a person needs is a bow, a bowfishing reel, and an arrow. Generally, a sight is not used for bowfishing. The bow does not need to be fancy or expensive. An old hunting bow or a used bow will work great. Most of the bows that are used for bowfishing are under $100. Any make or model will work as long as it is set to your correct draw length. The poundage can be set anywhere from 40 to 60 pounds. Whatever is most comfortable for you. I prefer to shoot a lower poundage because it is easier to draw and will not cut large holes in the fish.


There are several varieties of reels that can be used. All of the reels screw into the front of the bow in the stabilizer hole. The most inexpensive model is a spool that you hand-wind. It works well but it is rather slow to retrieve and sometimes it is beneficial to be prepared to shoot quickly. The second type is a small rod with a big closed-face reel. This works well for faster retrieval, however it is imperative that you remember to press the button on the reel before shooting. If you do not push the button, the line will break or the arrow could come back and hit you. The last and the best reel is an AMS bowfishing reel. It is a free spooling canister of line that runs out freely when shot. By pulling in a lever it pinches the line and you crank the line back in. This is the model that I use and I love it. The line is a special bowfishing line that is usually 200-pound braided string.

There are many different arrows that can be used. All of them are fiberglass and there is a variety of tips and rigging. Leave the arrow full length. There is no reason to cut it down. The heavier the arrow the better it will penetrate the water. Rigging is up to the individual. I use a slide on the shaft of the arrow with the line tied to that and a stopper up by the nock. There is also a setup that has a wire cable running the length of the arrow with a slide on it. There are more tips than I can list. I use a one-piece muzzy tip. If you unscrew the tip a couple turns, the fins on the head flip backwards and the fish can slide off. It is important to always make sure that the tip is tight before shooting or it will not stay in the fish.

Now that you have all of your equipment set up, it is time to start shooting. Shooting can be done during the day or night and from a boat or shore. When I first started I shot during the day and from shore. There are several good places to go if you do some checking around. Now I shoot at night and during the day from my boat. The night shooting is more productive than the day but it is more difficult to get out.

There are several ways of rigging your boat to shoot at night. I use a car battery with an adapter and a shining light. It is completely quiet, but you always have to have another person to shine and run the trolling motor. You can also use a generator and a series of lights rigged to the front of the boat. Platforms built on the front of the boat are helpful but certainly not a necessity. The shooting can be better from a higher elevation though.
Hitting the fish requires a bit of practice. You want to aim 6 inches low for every foot under the water the fish is. The deflection of light in the water can be deceiving and it takes some time to judge how deep the fish is. Don’t get frustrated if you are having a hard time hitting fish. After a little while you will start hitting some of them. I say “some” because in a given trip I may shoot 40 or 50 times and only hit a few fish. This is very common in this sport. The targets are sometimes small and difficult to hit, plus deflection adds another factor. Fortunately, most lakes have carp. Dogfish and gar are a little more difficult to find but are present in many lakes as well.
Stop by D&R Sports Center for more information on bowfishing or to pick up a bowfishing rig that’s right for you. Many of their salesmen are avid bowfishermen and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.