One of the fastest growing outdoor sports in the country right now is bowfishing. Bowfishing is a cross between fishing and bowhunting. Across the United States and the entire world, fish like the common carp, garpike, and Asian flying carp are taking over our rivers and streams. There are very few ways of controlling these invaders, but one way to get rid of a few and have fun at the same time is to shoot them with a bow.
Although a regular hunting bow and sight can be used to bowfish, most diehard bowfishermen have tackle designed for bowfishing. If flinging arrows at garbage fish sounds like fun to you, the good news is it’s inexpensive to get involved in the sport. Nobody knows that better than David White, President of Cajun Archery. Cajun Archery is a company that specializes in bowfishing equipment. “For less than thirty dollars, a person can purchase a bowfishing kit that gets them started in the sport. It contains a reel with line and a fiberglass arrow equipped with a fish point. All they need to bowfish in addition to the kit is a bow,” White said. Once you get a kit, simply attach the reel to a bow and start shooting. Fish tips contain large barbs and a sharp tip. When the tip hits the fish, it usually punches all the way through the fish. Then you reel in the line, remove the arrow, and shoot again. It’s that easy!
Although there are bows designed especially for bowfishing, most beginners start out with a bow purchased from a garage sale or eBay. “Almost any bow will do the trick when bowfishing. Most people start with an old recurve,” White added. Almost any weight of bow will work. My dad and I used to use twenty to thirty-pound bows and rarely had trouble killing fish. White prefers a bow in the fifty-pound range. “A fifty-pound bow can kill almost any type of fish and critters as large as alligators. Some people choose not to use a compound bow because they have to come to a full draw when using a compound and their arm gets tired drawing a high poundage bow a hundred times a day. Recurves are nice for bowfishing because you can shoot them at a half draw or anywhere in the draw cycle. If the fish appears at the last second and you only have a brief moment to get a shot, you can quickly draw and let the arrow go. With a compound, that isn’t possible,” White explained.
Most bowfishing is done from a boat, but the beauty of the sport is it can be done from the shoreline as well. Whether you bowfish from the shore or in a boat, hitting what you are aiming at can be difficult. “Most bowfishermen shoot instinctively without any type of sight on their bow because it allows them to shoot much quicker than if they had to aim a sight. The downside is that becoming an accurate, instinctive shooter can take time,” White stated. When I was a kid, I remember bowfishing with my dad and taking dozens of shots and not hitting fish. They can be difficult to fish because the reflection in the water makes them appear closer than they are. “The rule of thumb is to aim low when shooting at fish. Most of the time, if you aim a little low you will hit the fish, especially if the fish are on the surface or just below the surface of the water. If they are four feet deep or deeper, hitting a fish can be extremely difficult,” White suggested.
Fish are much easier to hit when they are in shallow water, so the best time to bowfish is when the fish you are shooting at are spawning. In Michigan, the carp spawn during the late spring and early summer when the water warms up. During the month of June, it isn’t uncommon to head to the shallows of any lake, river, or swamp and find hundreds of carp in knee deep water spawning. When carp are in the shallows, hitting them can be extremely easy, even for the beginner. “Often when fish are spawning, they are splashing around and half of their body is above the water line. In situations like this, it doesn’t take long to fill a garbage can with fish,” White said.
My first bowfishing experience was wading on the edges of a nearby lake watching my dad fling arrows at spawning carp. Once my dad became hooked on the sport, he rigged up a boat and started bowfishing from a boat. Eventually, we did most of our bowfishing at night. “Bowfishing at night can be a lot of fun. There is some necessary equipment required if you bowfish at night. Most bowfishermen who bowfish at night use a boat rigged up with floodlights that are hooked to a generator. They usually have a large platform built on the front of the boat that sits several feet above the water. The lights are usually strung across the front of the platform, facing down onto the water. This allows the person on the platform to look down on the water and see anything swimming in front of him. Most serious bowfishermen who use a bow also have a motor designed for shallow water like a Go-Devil or a Mud Buddy that can operate in a few inches of water,” White explained. Serious bowfishermen can have thousands of dollars wrapped up in boats, motors, and lighting. If you want to start bowfishing with a boat you own, getting started in bowfishing from a boat doesn’t have to break the bank. “A lot of bowfishermen use airboats and flat bottom boats that are designed specifically for bowfishing, but if a person is just starting out, he can use almost any type of fishing boat,” White explained. The first bowfishing setup I saw was a 14-foot V-bottom boat that was rigged up for bass fishing. The owner built a wooden platform on the bow of the boat that he could stand on when bowfishing. When he was bass fishing, the platform could easily be removed. The boat wasn’t fancy, but a lot of carp took their last breath while staring at the bottom of that boat.
White believes bowfishing is becoming very popular because every part of the country has some type of garbage fish. “In some parts of the country, carp are what people are shooting; in other parts its gar pike. I have heard of some states allowing bowfishermen to shoot catfish. Every part of the country is different. In Florida, shooting alligators is very popular,” White said. One thing is for sure: large critters like alligators require heavier gear. “Guys who concentrate their efforts on gators usually use heavier draw bows and larger, more aggressive fish points like our whaler point or the popular Steel Force Gator tip,” White added.
Since bowfishing is catching on across the country, bowfishing tournaments are also gaining in popularity. Like regular fishing tournaments, the competition is fierce. It is difficult to understand how fierce unless you look in a boat after a tournament. “Hardcore competitors will fish all day and all night. It isn’t uncommon to have a single boat fill multiple 55-gallon barrels up with fish in a single tournament,” White commented. The prizes are never large; in fact, White admits competitors rarely recoup their cost even if they win. “Everyone involved in the sport does it because it’s so much fun. Few people are worried about making money. Tournaments give all of us diehard bowfishermen another reason to head out on the water and shoot fish,” White said.
One of the greatest things about bowfishing is the fact that the best time to be on the water is during the summer when most bowhunters are sitting around waiting for the leaves to change color and the opening day of deer season to arrive. Bowfishing allows us to go out and shoot dozens, even hundreds, of arrows in a single day and have a blast while doing it! In addition to the enjoyment, it also helps rid the earth of garbage fish like the Asian flying carp and provides nice fertilizer for flower gardens everywhere. What other sport can you have this much fun at while shooting things that are legal and costs less than $100 to get started? Keep in mind: if you haven’t been bowfishing before and you pick up a beginners kit, chances are you will spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on the sport during the next few years. Like drugs, bowfishing is addicting!
Tracy Breen is a full-time outdoor writer who writes for fifty different publications all over the United States including Outdoor Life, Buckmasters, Bowhunting World and Heartland USA, to name a few. He is also the Editor of God’s Great Outdoors E-zine. He lives in Muskegon, Michigan with his wife Angie and son Thane. Tracy has cerebral palsy and often writes and speaks about overcoming physical challenges to enjoy the outdoors. Learn more about Tracy and his many hunting adventures at www.tracybreen.com