Soon I had worked my way up through several bows, and had a blue camouflage model with stainless hardware, a heavy-duty reel seat, and a spincast reel specially designed for bowfishing. I realize all this is not totally necessary, but that is like telling a fisherman he only needs a cane pole to fish. That may be true, but I will not give up my good fishing rods for anybody!
The type of bow is not incredibly important; just make sure you don’t take your fancy target or high-dollar hunting bow out on the water unless you don’t care for it anymore. I have spent hours trying to hook a bow that went overboard, and mud or blood gets everywhere on a good night. An old recurve or compound is perfect for this, as long as the draw weight isn’t too heavy. 30lb to 45lb is plenty of power for all but the biggest fish or real deep shots. Specialized bowfishing bows can range in price from the PSE “Kingfisher” recurve at $129 to the Oneida “Osprey” at $765. My son and I are shooting the Cajun “Sucker Punch” bows right now, and like them a lot. They retail for $299.
Reels are your next consideration, and there are plenty of choices. They range from hand-wrap reels, modified fishing reels, to a bottle-style reel called a retriever. It is really up to the individual what kind of reel you choose. I have used almost all of them, and settled on the spincast reel for most of my fishing. I use a “shoot through” style hand wrap reel for the biggest game, like gator hunting; it allows the line to pull completely off the reel, and then to an attached float system. The big spincast reels like the Muzzy “XD” can run $50 or more, and the bottle style reels start around $80. My spincast reels are spooled with 200lb test Brownell “Fast Flight” line, and I have learned that a healthy shot of silicone on the line makes it shoot smooth off the reel.
Make sure you know the laws in the water you shoot on. Each state has tight regulations for bowfishing, and you need to do your homework before hitting the water. In most of my home state of Alabama, the line has to be attached to the bow in some way.
Arrow rests can range from handmade epoxy-style rests to a full entrapment style that keeps your arrow from falling off when you need it most. On the lower end of the price scale, the Muzzy “Fish Hook” rest served me well for years. I have broken them due to my own ignorance, but they are cheap enough to carry a spare. I am shooting an entrapment style rest now called the Cajun “Quick Draw” and my son shoots the OMP Fish-Finder “Hydro Glide”. I still keep a spare handy just because we are rough on gear!
Arrows are another necessary expense you will have to deal with. After watching my only arrow sit at the bottom of fast run of river with a broken line flapping behind it, I never hit the water without a spare. You can figure about 15$ per arrow minimum, depending on the shaft type and the point. Carbon arrows can reach $50 but I have never shot them. I’m not a tournament bowfisherman, so I don’t have to have “perfect” gear. The normal fiberglass shafts tipped with a replaceable tip are my favorites. I like the replaceable tips because if you shoot around rocks, stumps, or oysters, you are bound to dull your points. I can replace a tip with a sharp point in just a few seconds, and get back to shooting. All of my arrows are equipped with a slide system like the AMS “Safety Slide”. This keeps me from tying the line to the back of the arrow, which can lead to a dangerous snap-back should the line tangle around your bowstring.
Another danger from the line is cutting your hands trying to pull an arrow out of the mud. Use a stick to wrap the line around when pulling or add a finger saver to your reel seat. They just screw into the end of it but they will save you from nasty cuts.
There are several bowfishing retailers on the market where I buy my gear,and if you have questions they will help you get what you need. Backwater Outdoors and Bowfishing Extreme are a couple I use regularly. You can purchase complete kits if you don’t want to build your own setup. I prefer to piece mine together to get exactly what I want.
Once you get your gear, shooting the fish becomes the next challenge. Due to light refraction (bending) as it passes through the surface, fish are not where they appear to be when you see them in the water. In order to hit the target, you will need to aim below the fish. A good rule of thumb is to aim about 4” low for every foot deep the fish is. A great way to practice is to shoot at cans or trash you see on the bottom. It won’t run away, and you can see how the arrow impacts and adjust from there. Make sure you clean the trash up when practicing like this - you benefit, and so does the environment.
This has been the “how” segment of this series on bowfishing, focusing on the gear you will need. Stay tuned for the “what, where, when, and why” segments to come!