How Bowfishing Works

Bowfishing Equipment

You can use any type of bow for bowfishing, but that archery site won't do you a lot of good.
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Bowfishing is a flexible sport. You can bowfish in shallow waters or from a small boat. You can bowfish during the day or at night. To get started, you need a bow, arrows and a reel.

Any type of archery bow will do (longbow, recurved bow or compound bow). Recurved and compound bows are smaller, offer sufficient force (greater than 45 pounds or 200 Newtons) to propel an arrow and take up less space in your boat. An archery site on your bow is useless because it can't account for depth or refraction.


Bowfishing does require different arrows than archery or hunting. Typical archery arrows are made of lightweight fiberglass or wood, have fletching (feathers) to propel them through the air and end in points. But bowfishing arrows must travel through denser water and trap the target, so these arrows differ in the following ways:

  • They don't travel as far, so they're made of a heavier weight fiberglass.
  • They don't have fletching because it diverts the arrow as it moves through the water.
  • The arrowheads are barbed, so that they ensnare the target and keep it on the arrow.
  • They have a means of tying the line from the reel to them, usually a slide mechanism of some type. This slide mechanism prevents snap back (see sidebar).

Your last piece of bowfishing equipment is the reel, which usually clamps to the bow itself. The fishing line is usually piled within a bottle, rather than wound around a spool, as it is in conventional reels. Because a bowfishing line travels with the arrow, it reels out much faster than a conventional line that's cast from a rod. Also, a spooled reel would slow the arrow and tangle when shot. Some reels also have a float attached to the line so that you can track the fish.

­Optional bowfishing gear might include rubber hip waders to keep you dry if you'll be fishing from shore or wading into shallow water. Gloves are a good idea to protect your hands when you handle the fishing line and "reel" in your fish. Sunglasses with polarized lenses will reduce the water's glare if you're fishing during the day. If you're fishing at night when they're more active, you'll need a good light to see. Bonus benefit: The light may attract the fish.

If you bowfish from a boat, you'll need a flat-bottom vessel that can take you into shallow water. Make sure it has rails that you can hang over to get a clearer shot and a quiet motor to keep from scaring the fish away.

Compared to some sports, like golf, bowfishing is practically a bargain. The basic equipment (bow, reel, arrows and sunglasses) can cost about $300. Like sport fishing and hunting, individual states regulate bowfishing, so you probably will have to purchase a fishing license. If you decide to use a boat, then your costs increase substantially. Many guided bowfishing trips will include the use of bowfishing equipment, license fees and the boat in the price.

Now that you're equipped, let's go bowfishing.