Ultimate Bowfishing Guide: All You Need To Know

Bowfishing Guide

Bowfishing is an ancient practice where people used a bow and an arrow to catch fish for food.

The practice has evolved with time, and for the past ten years or so, people have been engaging in archery fishing to catch food, have fun, and practice their archery skills.

The gear used also has advanced, such that people are now using specialized bowfishing equipment. Hunting fans can use archery fishing as an extension to their hunting season. To latch any fish, you need an assortment of expertise in archery, fishing, and shooting game animals.

Archery fishing is also an acceptable method of regulating the ecosystem because we can avoid having some fish species becoming extinct. The popularity of this activity led to the formation of the Bowfishing Association of America in 1990.

The purpose of this association is to safeguard the fish species and fishermen’s rights. The association also spearheads archery fishing tournaments and makes them easily accessible to ordinary people.

If you want to learn archery fishing, many companies are teaching the sport. But first, understand everything about bowfishing below.


What Is Bowfishing?

man hunting carps with bow

It is a technique used for catching fish using a specialized bow and arrow.

A string attached at the back end of the arrow allows you to pull back the fish after shooting it. You need the necessary archery skills to participate in archery angling.

Otherwise, you will be wasting your time shooting your arrow and catching nothing.

If you don’t own a boat and can’t afford to hire one to access deeper waters for archery fishing, don’t fret because you can also bowfish in rivers.

What Type Of Bow Is Used For Bow Fishing?

A bow is a vital piece of trapping crucial in archery fishing.

You must be equipped with the right kind of bows for when you are going archery fishing. The best bow will ensure that you hook more preys and improve your shooting skills. 

Below are the four types of bows for archery fishing.

Compound bow

They are prevalent among archers and hunters, but they can also be useful in archery fishing. The bow generates its power through a system of cables and pulleys. A Compound bow has a levering system that makes it exceptionally fast and to the point.

The good thing about this bow is that you can adjust its draw weight according to your shooting capability. The process of archery angling requires repeated shooting and pulling, so you need to be comfortable by adopting the perfect stance and a tolerable weight.

However, like all good things don’t lack blemishes, compound bows are no different. Their cams tend to get blocked by dirt and vegetation, so you will have to be more careful in cleaning and preserving your bow. Regular maintenance ensures that the bow together with its accessories lasts longer.

Recurve bow

catching carp with recurve bow

Recurve bow is your ultimate choice if you want to try the traditional mode of bowfishing. This bow has a lot of firing power because its tips are curved forward. The advantage is that they are light, stress-free to look after, and perfect for novices.

When you are doing archery fishing, most often, you only have a second or less to draw and shoot your prey. The recurve’s bow ability to shoot and discharge an arrow quickly is why this bow is the best option for all bowfishers.
Another upside is they are inexpensive; furthermore, you can effortlessly get second-hand at a lower price for practicing.

They are compact, thus easy to maneuver in a boat. However, it also has its cons as they need you to use more power and skill to shoot prey.

Lever bow

It pools the features of recurve and compound bows. It generates its power by using the lever system. This bow has a smooth draw and a quick shoot similar to that or a recurve.

Luckily for the lever bow, it has a cutoff point such that you do not need to support the overall weight of the draw after pulling it back. This bow enjoys both the pros of recurve and compound, but the disadvantage is that it is too heavy.

Wheel bow

It’s a modern version of a compound bow, and its cam is in a roll, wheel pattern. They have smooth draws and but no let-off.

Archers love this bow because they can discharge the arrow and pull straight back and release again.
To get the best archery fishing bow, you need to try out each of the bows.

Can You Bowfish With A Hunting Bow?

what bow for fishing

You cannot archerfish using a hunting bow, but you can convert it to a fishing bow.

You need to do away with all the parts, including the stabilizer, rest, sight, and quiver. Then purchase all the necessary trappings for archery fishing such as a rest, string accessories, eye, arrow, and point, as well as the type of reel that will transform your bow.

The best possibility is to have professionals convert it for you.

What Type Of Arrows Are Used In Bow Fishing?

Archery fishing arrows are different from game animals or archery because they do not have fletching and their tips are barbed to perforate and hook the fish.

The arrows are also tied to a line for spinning the fish out of the water.

Archery fishing arrow shafts are made of either;
· Fiberglass
· Carbon
· Hybrid
The arrows pack enough weight to make sure that they can retain their power even underwater.

The shaft’s weight makes the arrow impact-resistant upon hitting the water, enabling them to travel through the water and arrest their target. The shaft also gives it force when penetrating the prey.

If you want to hook large fish, it would be best to go for a carbon shaft, but be ready to part with more money than you would for the other arrows.

The arrow tip of bowfishing arrows is barbed. This ensures that the prey does not slip out as you drag it from the water. There are two arrow tips; carp and gar. Carp is suitable for larger targets, while gar is ideal for a hard scale that needs a sharp and spikier point to easily penetrate the skin.

There are various brands of arrows, so look for the best bowfishing arrows.

Can You Bowfish With Hunting Arrows And Tips?

what tips for bowfishing

No. You cannot because archery fishing requires a special kind of arrows to travel via dense water to get to their prey.

Below are the reasons hunting arrows and tips for archery fishing are not suitable for bowfishing:

  • Hunting arrows cannot go far because they are made using light Fiberglass or wood.
  • They have feathers that lead the arrow astray soon as it hits through the water.
  • They do not have a line for pulling back the prey.
  • The hunting arrow points are sharp as it does need to reel back the prey, while those of a bowfishing arrow are barbed to ensure that the animal does not escape.

Another thing you need to look for when buying an arrow is the arrow rest. It stabilizes the arrow as you line up your shot. Your arrow also needs to have a nook for fastening the line used to pull back your arrow or prey.

What Other Gear Is Used In Bow Fishing?

Fish tracker

A fish tracker is an instrument used to pinpoint fish under the water so that the bowfishers can identify the target-rich location.


Bowfishing boats are unlike your normal ones— they have a unique hull shape that has either a flat bottom or a narrow V-shape. Most popular types of archery fishing boats include:
· Pontoon
· Jon
· Dory

If you consider buying the boat, ensure that it is made of the right material, has guardrails to avoid falling over, spacious enough to accommodate a few people, and within your budget.

Also, ensure it has a cooler box for storing your fish, a seat to sit on while taking a break, shade to protect you from the scorching sun, and a generator.

Lights for night fishing

bowfishing lights

You must invest in the best lighting system if you are considering going archery fishing at night. Lights mounted on your bow are the best ones if you are a beginner. The upside is they are inexpensive and most comfortable to use when you are out in the water.

If you are in the market for archery fishing lights, consider water transparency, the ease of switching the light on and off because some fish are sensitive to light. Ensure that the lights you settle for can serve you for the period you are out in the water. The alternative would be to use generator-powered lights. The challenge of using a generator is that its noise can spook the target.

You can also opt for beams fitted to the fishing boat. The lights should be capable of illuminating the aquatic life surrounding the boat. The colors of the lighting depend on the water condition and always aim for optimal lighting.

Also, ensure that color tone and brightness can be adjustable. Lastly, make sure that item housing the lights are water-resistant as they are subject to water splashing.

Where Can You Bow Fish?

You can go archery fishing in shallow or deep water, but ensure that the water is crystal clear such that the fish are visible.

The freshwater bodies include rivers, lakes, dams, and streams. You can also bowfish in saltwater, such as bays and estuaries. You can also find a guide who knows the target-rich places.

How Does Bowfishing Work?

bowfishing licence

First, you will need an archery fishing license. You can apply for one online or at your local bait shop.

Although it’s not difficult, you still need to practice regularly to be as good as everyone else. If you want to be a pro at archery fishing, you need to work on your covertness and aim.


Most people who do not have a boat to archerfish in large water bodies do so in rivers or shores. While fish are easy to spot, they are also spooked by the smallest movement or noise.

So, make sure to practice walking in the water unnoticed and without stirring the water excessively. If you want your bowfishing expedition in small water bodies to be fruitful, adopt these tips;

  • Do not cast a shadow over the target you are trying to hook.
  • Do not wade noisily or disturb the water too much.
  • Watch where you are stepping; this will help you avoid making noise by stepping on fallen branches.
  • If it’s possible, start your archery fishing expedition upwind.


This is the most crucial part of archery fishing skill, as it ensures that you manage to capture your prey.

Compared to air, water is denser; thus, light travels differently. Light refracted when it hits the water, so when you look at the fish, it’s actually at a different position than what you are in reality. It’s often at a lower part, so to hook it, you will have to aim below it and maybe even lower.

If you are a novice, aim 6 inches below your target’s actual position. However, if you have a bit of know-how, and the distance between you and the water is ten feet while the fish is one foot under the water, aim at least 4 inches lower. But don’t give up if you do not hook it the first time.

Practice regularly, and within no time, your aim will slowly get better to a point where the number of times you miss your target is almost none.

Day Bowfishing

If you want to archerfish during the day, then you’d better go to the lake or river early in the morning during spring. But if you choose to go during daylight, buy a pair of polarized glasses.

Go for the ones with a glass lens as they give you a crystal clear look into the water. Since they are abrasion-resistant, they will last you for an extended period.

It will help if you use a tracker to identify a school of fish to avoid wasting time moving from one point to another. If you don’t have a tracker, you look for the lily pads’ movement because some fish are known to snack in leaves. Or you can identify their breeding spots.

Ensure that you have a bright arrow as you get to see precisely where you have hit. Compared to night time, you require less gear. Last but not least, work on your covertness and aim, calculate the refraction, and be mindful of the bearing of your shadow.

Night Bowfishing

three mans bowfishing

Compared to daytime archery fishing, you are inevitable to have more luck bowfishing at night. Why? Because fish are always on the go at night.

The icing to the cake is at night; your target is better illuminated using the bright lights from your boat or bow, making for increased precision in hooking your target.

If you are a beginner going archery fishing at night, it’s advisable to secure the services of a conversant guide with the water. If you want to catch a particular kind of fish, they will take you to places where you can get them with ease instead of trial and error.

You can also use GPS fish tracking applications, such as Fisbrain, FishAngler, and Fish Rules, to pinpoint the fish school. If the lighting system you are using also plays an essential role, make sure it is bright and in tune with the water.

You also need knowledge on how to calculate the bending of light to make a perfect shot. The 10:4 rule applies for night archery fishing, whereby if the fish is one foot below the water, and you have a ten feet distance, your shot should be four inches below.

Do not forget your bug spray, as they are worse at night, and they can make your expedition less fun.

NOTE: If you want the fish to die quickly, aim for the vital organs, mostly located at the top half of the fish.

Best Time of The Year for Bow Fishing

Although you can bowfish at any time of the year, the best time is in spring or the beginning of summer when the fish are breeding.

If you a sucker for archery fishing, you can still do it in winter, but the only target available during that time is carp and buffalo.

Final Thoughts

People have been practicing archery fishing for decades. Traditionally people used it to provide food for their families.

The practice has gained a lot of traction as a fun activity to be enjoyed by individuals and families alike.

People have also created tournaments out of this sport, and this makes it more fascinating. Despite it being a sport and a way to have fun, bowfishers also get to take home plenty of fish.

This fishing method helps balance the ecosystem by controlling fish species that tend to take up more space and nutrients than other fish species.

Bowfishing is here to stay, and its popularity is skyrocketing, so what are you waiting for? Get yourself the best archery fishing equipment and get fishing.

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