Bowfishing: Keeping It Simple


The heavy splashing only made my smile wider, grinning through my teeth, as they say. I held on to the thin line with both hands, pulling as gently as possible so as to not have it break again. It’s happened before and will time after time, especially when you’ve just stuck a good fish.

Shooting fish with a bow has long been a favorite pastime of mine. My good friend Lyle and I started in our high school days when there wasn’t much else to do around our little town. I can’t remember exactly which one of us first heard about bowfishing (probably Lyle), but we found that it was a way to keep us outside and sharp with a bow.

With each new spring comes heavy rains, and a Tennessee River that has a tendency to spill out over its banks in certain low spots just outside of the town where we grew up. Inconsequentially, those high waters lead to more high water when the creek (the one I speak of runs parallel to the Tennessee less than half a mile off the bank) rises. Really, it’s the perfect storm.

The big carp and buffalo are pushed out of the river and into the fields where they’ll remain until the creek goes back down. By that point they usually perish as the creek doesn’t run more than a few feet high at normal depths. Luckily for the bowfisherman, the river will go back down just as fast as it goes up, causing the majority of the fish to “miss the train” and hope another arrives. These are the days (and nights) when you can wade out into the field and almost pick your shots.

The setup on my bow is very basic and can be found at just about any outdoor store. If my memory serves correctly, it was a start-up kit that came complete with everything you’d need to begin shooting fish right away, including a reel, arrow, and roughly one hundred feet of line. Take off your stabilizer, screw in the reel, and voila!, you’re set to go. However, I wouldn’t recommend using your brand-new, expensive bow. You know, the one you started a savings account just to buy? Maybe that’s just me.

Fortunately, many of us have an old bow in the closet. Like mine, it might be from the first generation of compound bows, but that’s perfect for fishing. You can drop it in the water or the mud and really not worry much about it. Sights help but obviously aren’t required. If you’re skilled in the art of shooting a recurve, then you’re way ahead of the ball game.

Lyle and I eventually graduated from the bank to the boat, though we still like to hold on to our humble beginnings. In fact, we prefer it. Sure, you can cover a lot more water in a boat, but a lot goes into the whole thing. For starters, you’re looking at buying or borrowing a boat, which takes gas, which needs a generator for your floodlights that also takes gas. And then what will you pull it with? My point exactly. Lots of fun and funds are incorporated into that style.

It took several nights of shooting and lots of frustration before either of us hit a fish. I believe it was Lyle who struck first. Back then you just couldn’t find much on the sport and the term “light infraction” simply slipped away shortly after the fifth grade when the teacher dropped her pencil into a glass of water as a science demonstration. Aim low. At first this is tough to process. Your mind continuously lines you up to shoot directly at what your eyes see. The faster you can break down this mental barrier, the faster you’ll start sticking and hauling in fish.

Find the low spots near the big bodies of water that are easily accessible on foot and you should find fish, as well as a few others who share similar interests. But just like regular fishing, if you pick and choose your own holes, everyone should get along just fine. Setting up your bow is easy, though you might consider purchasing an extra arrow or two. You’re going to lose them. It happens to the best of us. On the off chance that a granddaddy carp hauls away your arrow or just slips off after a good fight, well, then you’ll have a story to tell.

As always, enjoy the extra time outdoors if this is a brand new pursuit. Take along a youngster—you never know what you might learn from each other.

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