Bowfishing Basics

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.


Archery Bowfish Kit

A great idea is to bring an old compound bow out of retirement or buy one at a garage sale. Then, all it you have to do to get it rigged and ready is a conversion kit.

Recurve Bowfish kit

Kits and packages are available too, and those take away the guesswork of putting together a balanced outfit. All you will need are the arrows to complete your bowfishing arsenal. 


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.

Spinecast reel

For average size fish, a spincaster will suffice. Those reels are inexpensive and the closed-face mostly eliminates the chances of a line backlash.

Pro Bowfishing reel

Bowfishing reels are designed to be mounted on the bow and are easy to retrieve a big catch. Those models are the best all-around choice, so you won’t miss the chance at a trophy fish.


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.

Fish arrows

Complete sets are available and like the bow kits, remove the guesswork from matching point to arrow.




Not just what else you need, but the likes of a V-shaped rest like you use when ground hunting for whitetail deer. For bowfishing, you will use the rest to hold the arrow in place while scanning the surface for a fish.

Now for the rest—you will need these items. 

Bowfish Line

The reel indeed is your final connection with the fish, but it’s only as good as the line. Prior to the season spool fresh line on the reel. You can use fishing braids, but make sure those lines will spool on the reel. Don’t go light—lines sold by bowfishing manufacturers come in tests up to 200 pounds.


Sunglasses are a given when fishing during bright sun, low light and at daylight and dusk. Polarized lens cut the glare so you can see fish just below the surface, and from afar as you scope out the water.


 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.



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.





Are you ready to get serious about bowfishing? If so then you need the right boat to do it. And not just any boat will do.

Boats designed for bowfishing, by bowfishermen, come factory rigged with everything you could possibly need to better enjoy the sport. Raised bow platforms allow you to scan the water for fish, while providing a better aim over the target. At night you can flip the switch on ultra-bright LED light panels that illuminate the target area. Those are just a couple of features specific to boats designed specifically for bowfishing.

The TRACKER GRIZZLY Sportsman series are worth a look for all of the above features and more. The 1860 CC is a center console model that provides plenty of standing room around the boat, and it has a raised platform and LED lights. Here are other features that make this boat rigged and ready for action.

  • 100% aluminum, wood-free construction
  • Minn Kota® PowerDrive™ 12V, 55-lb. thrust, 54" shaft, foot-control trolling motor
  • Removable 40,000-lumen bow LED light kit powered by an onboard generator
  • Elevated, removable shooting deck w/2 seat bases & arrow/drink holders
  • Integrated sponsons at the stern for quick planing & shallow-water performance
  • Exclusive VERSATRACK® accessory-mounting channel in gunnels
  • Exclusive Forest Green Sure Tread™ powder-coat (optional Grassland or Woodland camo)
  • Welded-in, foam-filled interior side walls for quieter ride & structural strength
  • Custom-fit trailer w/GALVASHIELD® Impact corrosion & chip protection

What is so great about this rig is you can remove the shooting deck and lights to convert the boat for fishing. You basically get two boats in one. The nationally advertised NO HAGGLE NO HASSLE® price is $21,495, and that’s with a custom trailer and 40 horsepower Mercury® ELPT FourStroke.

Check out the other models in the lineup here

Related Articles

People Fishing on Tracker
Tournament Etiquette

Are you fired up about the tournament season ahead? Of course! There’s a lot to be excited about when winter gives way to spring. New tackle, a clean slate and a winning attitude are all part of the game.

New Boating Products

You update your wardrobe for spring and summer—so, why not your boat? Get ready for a season of fun on the water with these new products for 2019. From rainwear and other apparel to electronics and trolling motors, these are but a few of the offerings you can find online at and and at select Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Boating Centers.  

We're everywhere you need us to be.