There’s no better way to spend a sultry summer’s day than knee deep in cooling water shooting non-native carp, gar or buffalo fish with bow. Where I live in the west, there’s plenty of wide-open bowfishing action, most notably carp in the shallows of silt-laden desert reservoirs. If you consider Texas the West – which I do – add three species of gar and buffalo fish (and certain saltwater species) to the list.
Getting started is inexpensive (if you wish it to be) and easy. Of course, you’ll need some basic gear. Regarding bows, make sure you choose something you don’t mind getting wet and muddy…an old compound hanging in the garage collecting dust or pawn-shop recurve.
Compounds are best for deliberate shots in deeper water, traditional bows in shallows where from-the-hip moving targets are likely.
You’ll then need a bowfishing reel, arrow and point. When shooting compounds a special bowfishing arrow rest made to support more weight and eliminate tangles is recommended, products like Trophy Ridge‘s Bowfishing Whisker Biscuit or AMS Bowfishing‘s Tidal Wave, as examples. You can shoot instinctively, or with a sight, that’s up to you. Shooting off the shelf and instinctively works exceptionally well with traditional bows.
The bowfishing reel stores line during the shot, pays it off smoothly on release, and allows retrieval of the arrow after. Bowfishing arrows are constructed of something like solid fiberglass to be extra heavy, to penetrate resistant water while retaining enough push to skewer tough scale and bones of tenacious rough fish. A barbed fishing point keeps fish from slipping off the arrow during retrieval.
Like anything in archery, you can buy inexpensive gear that’ll get the job done 90 percent of the time, or you can pay extra for added convenience. Budget-priced drum reels require hand winding during retrieval, and somewhat limit range, but served archers such as Fred Bear for decades. Bohning, Saunders and Cajun Archery sell fine examples. Mid-priced spinning-reel outfits, like those from Muzzy Products, offer faster arrow retrieval, but require pushing a “cast” button before every shot. The ne plus ultra bowfishing reel is AMS Bowfishing’s Retriever. By depressing a lever and reeling it stacks line neatly in an attached bottle. To shoot you simply draw and release, with no bails or buttons to push. Line pays out smoothly, allowing longer shots. They retail for around $70.
In fish arrows, a budget-priced, solid-fiberglass shaft costs about $5, a fancier model with carbon fiber less than $10. Both will last a lifetime. I still shoot fiberglass fish arrows I owned as a kid. In fish points you can spend from $2 to $15 for a single point. The difference? Budget points will make removing fish slower, normally requiring unscrewing an entire head assembly. The more expensive point will include instantly-reversible barbs for faster fish removal. The expensive point will probably hold up better while shooting in areas with lots of rock or hard stumps. the budget point will work fine for soft mud bottoms.
Aside from this basic gear, all you need is a pair of polarized sunglasses (to better see submerged targets), a set of grunge clothes and ratty sneakers (bowfishing is wet, muddy business), plenty of sunscreen to protect from the hot sun – and a willingness to slop through wet, swampy terrain. Bowfishing targets — non-native, invasive carp mostly — show up nearly anywhere there’s permanent water, so you won’t have to look far. Check local regulations relating to bowfishing (some states require fishing licenses, others don’t), and remember to aim low, as water refraction makes submerged targets appear higher in the water than they actually are. But beware: Bowfishing’s addicting and you’ll find yourself spending every spare summer moment hitting local waters for more!