Bow hunters begin limbering up for the whitetail deer season in summer by taking aim at practice targets in their backyards. That can get downright boring while sweltering in the summer heat when the season is months away.
There is a better sporting alternative that goes beyond shooting at a foam target. The sport is bowfishing and the good news is it can extend the archery season. What’s so cool about bowfishing is hunters get a longer season, while anglers can enjoy a new, challenging means of fishing.
Getting started is easier than you might think. Like any outdoors sport, you can make bowfishing as simple or technical as you like. What’s more, bowfishing events are growing in popularity. The competition and camaraderie combine to make the sport even better, as participants share ideas about tactics and gear.
If you want to give it a try, this helpful guide will help you get started.
What matters the most is comfort. You will be drawing multiple times, far more than from the treestand, and most productively from a boat. Bowfishing is an instinctive sport with only seconds allowed to draw, aim and shoot at the target. Do that a dozen times in the summer heat—day or night—and you will quickly become worn out if the bow isn’t comfortable.
A traditional compound bow for deer hunting will work, just keep in mind that bowfishing is a rugged sport. You will want to rethink the idea of using your finely tuned, prized whitetail outfit. You risk the bow getting banged up on a boat ride, someone stepping on it in the dark and other hazards you don’t encounter when deer hunting.
You also don’t need all the features, such as bow release aids and sights. That’s because shots are made by eye-balling the target at close range, and you only need somewhere between 25—50 pounds of draw weight.
REEL IT IN
What obviously sets apart bowfishing from archery hunting is the need for a reel. Choose wisely. Sure, you can use an old beat up spinning or casting reel from your fishing tackle stash. Just keep in mind that after the shot the reel is the connection between you and the fish. Big carp and drum can strip the drag of a cheap reel when a big fish makes a strong run, especially near the boat.
Arrows and points are budget friendly, unlike the expensive broadheads used for big game archery hunting. The all-around standard for bowfishing is the white fiberglass arrow. There is no need to overspend on carbon or aluminum arrows—save those for the deer hunting budget.
WHERE TO GO
Bowfishing sometimes comes with an unfair stigma because the targets are also known as “trash fish.” Coming to mind are carp, freshwater drum, buffalo, sucker and shad. The good news is those lowly species are low on the priority list for recreational anglers. Unpressured fish mean more targets for you.
Muddy water isn’t necessarily the only place to go bowfishing. Table Rock Lake in Missouri, and Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas, both recognized for their deep clear water, produced a winning weight of 376 pounds of carp at the U.S. Open Bowfishing Championship.
The annual springtime competition is held at night when the targeted species rise to the surface to feed in coves and near shorelines.
Online research is your best bet for dialing into where to go on a given lake.
Also keep in mind that you are participating in a fishing or hunting activity, which means abiding by state laws. Check creel and possession limits before you go.
JOIN THE FUN
The U.S. Open Bowfishing Championship is a great way to learn more about the sport in a competitive atmosphere. You can see up close the gear and boats used by die-hard enthusiasts, and pick up tips on how to be successful. The Open is headquartered at a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, with the competition held nearby on prime bowfishing waters. Activities include vendor displays and presentations of the latest bowfishing gear, live music, fun contests, exciting giveaways, visits from bowfishing celebrities and more. The Open pays $25,000 to the winner as part of a $100,000 overall purse. Find out more on the event website.