Know Your Regulations
Before you embark on any bowfishing trip, it is vital that you check the local regulations as these vary between states and can carry hefty fines if not observed. In some states, a regular fishing license or bowhunting license will suffice, while some such as Ohio only allow fishing licenses for bowfishing.
Legal gamefish also depends on the state you are in; ordinarily, invasive species are fair game with catfish, stingray, tilapia, and redfish legal in some areas. You also need to be aware of the areas it is legal for you to bowfish, with many states listing public territories where bowfishing is prohibited, but traditional fishing is fine.
To reiterate, always know the regulations, obtain the necessary licenses, and respect the area.
Finding a Hot Spot
If you are just beginning your bowfishing journey and wondering where to start, your best bet is to contact local archery stores. These stores will be able to either share their own knowledge with you or put you in contact with someone who can.
Many areas also have bowfishing workshops or classes that you can attend, giving not only a technical overview but a lay of the land and hotspots.
Many beginners are put off bowfishing, believing that a boat is necessary, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Wading the banks of rivers and creeks will quickly familiarise you with bowfishing hotspots.
If you know what types of fish are in your locality already, this method will be even more accessible.
If you are an avid archer, you are probably a competent marksman already. Unfortunately, even for experienced archers, bowfishing presents its own challenges.
If you have ever observed a straw in a glass of water seemingly bend where the straw meets the liquid’s surface, you should have an understanding of refraction already. Because light behaves differently in water than it does in air, your eyes are fooled into believing an object is in a place that it isn’t.
This is readily apparent when you first start bowfishing, and it can be frustrating at first to miss almost every shot you take. One way to quickly address this is to adopt the mantra ‘aim low’. This will eventually be embedded in your subconscious, improving your success rate dramatically.
Even for those already skilled with a bow, bowfishing can take years to perfect, so don’t beat yourself up about having not mastered it overnight.
Bowfishing doesn’t require the most expensive gear on the market to yield results; only proper technique and experience will improve your success rate.
One popular method used by bowmen over the years has been to fill up water bottles or jugs of milk and place them in the shallows to use as target practice. While not precisely the same experience as the real thing, this is an effective method of improving your aim quickly.
Before you can go bowfishing, you will need the correct equipment. Below is a short overview of the essentials that you will need to have beforehand.
While bowhunting normally commands a higher draw weight, the opposite is true for bowfishing. Lower draw weights are ideal as you will be pulling it many times during your trip and will want to reduce fatigue.
Compound bows are generally favored in the bowfishing community, but many still opt for recurve bows for quicker shots. In the end, you should choose what you find most comfortable.
Advanced bow fishers will usually recommend a spin cast reel, but for beginners, we suggest using a bottle-style reel. When you are just starting, you can easily forget some steps leading up to your shot. Because of their ease of use, bottle-style reels will allow you to get comfortable with the activity before upgrading.
Fiberglass arrows are the arrow of choice for bow fishers, with more expensive carbon fiber arrows coming in a close second, and gaining popularity.
No matter what arrows you choose in the end, you should ensure they do not have fletching.
Bowfishing Arrow tips
Arrow tips for bowfishing typically come in two or three-pronged variants. Each has its own merits, but it is almost always the case that you will want to use three-pronged tips to ensure the fish stays on the arrow.
Two-pronged arrow tips are useful, however, when fishing in densely vegetated water, being less likely to get entangled within the grass or reeds on a missed shot.
Before bowfishing, your bow and equipment should be dialed in; not only will this improve your success rate, but it will safeguard the longevity of your gear from breakage.
Reeling Your Catch
So, you’ve taken your first shot and hit your mark, what now? After you have successfully made contact, you should let the fish run out slightly.
This will offer some guarantee that the arrow remains in the fish. If you reel too soon, you may lose the fish; don’t be afraid to take your time.
Smaller fish can be plucked straight out of the water with the arrow; for larger species, you will want to use a net to keep the shaft of the arrow from breaking.
For anyone fishing during daylight, polarized sunglasses are essential. Water reflects a large portion of the light that hits it and can easily become blinding, leading to missed opportunities.
Polarized glasses will allow you to see fish that might otherwise be hidden by the glare of the water. Not only that, but studies have shown that too much UV exposure is harmful to overall eye health, so it is best practice to always carry a good pair of sunglasses.
For those of you with archery experience, I can already hear you muttering underneath your breath, but hear me out. Snap shooting is a useful skill for bow fishers to master.
Generally more effective with recurve bows, snap shooting is the act of firing your bow, having only partially drawn the bowstring back. Doing this allows you to take aim and shoot much faster than you would otherwise be able to, opening up more opportunities on the water.
Because of this, I also always recommend shooting with your fingers and forgoing any mechanical release aids. Release aids can take time to set up and don’t favor the fast shooting style often needed when bowfishing.
Let me preface this by saying that lighting is not essential, especially when fishing during the day, but it can be enormously rewarding to fish over lights when the sun has gone down.
If you are using lights, the rule of thumb is typically; when fishing dark waters use yellow-hued lights, reserving white lights for clear water.
Lighting is available in many different forms, but I usually recommend people use LED floodlights.
I hope this article has provided you with some useful information, but most of all, inspiration to grab your bow and hit the water. Bowfishing is growing in popularity, and we are happy to share our knowledge and shed some light on this little-known aspect of archery.
Do you have any helpful bowfishing tips to share? Please let us know in the comments below.
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