In the early 1970’s I got started with a bow at an early age. I was a freshman in High School working at Don’s food market after school so I had a little spending money. At the time, an older fellow in our church name Harold Boman sold Bear archery equipment out of his garage. There weren’t any archery shops that I knew of in those days so that’s how archery equipment was sold, mostly by word of mouth. I became fascinated with the bows and arrows and spent some of my hard-earned money on a Bear recurve bow. I had no idea the impact it would have on my life.
That spring, the Winnebago River near my home came out of its banks, flooding the surrounding fields. I could see carp swimming all over those field with their backs out of the water. I raced back to Harold’s garage and bought a bowfishing arrow and a spool for the line. I taped the bowfishing spool to the front of the bow and went carp hunting.
It took me a while to learn to use the sun to hide myself, to move stealthy and to ambush carp in the right place at the right time, but I killed a lot of carp over the next week before the river was once again confined to its banks. In fact I killed a lot of carp from that river over the next 20 years. Those early adrenaline-charged days of learning to stalk carp were so exciting to me; I might as well have been stalking lions in Africa.
Today, bowfishing has come a long way. Fully-outfitted $40,000 Boats with lights and generators compete in bowfishing tournaments. Several companies produce high-en bowfishing tackle and equipment and guides take daily and nightly trips with boats full of excited bowfishing enthusiasts.
And young boys still wade flooded pastures shooting carp.
It’s one of the things most lovable about the sport, anyone can participate at any level. Whether you want to keep it simple, or advance to the high-tec state of bowfishing tournaments, you need a basic understanding of the equipment needed. There are five main components to the basic bowfishing set-up, bows, arrows, arrowheads, reels and line.
I still hunt primarily with a recurve bow because I love the history and feel of it. However, some companies are producing bows that are specifically created for shooting fish. You might ask, “Can I shoot fish with the bow I use for deer hunting?” The answer is probably not. The biggest issue with using a bow with a big draw weight and let-off is the let-off itself. Shots at fish are typically quick and often at odd angles. The process of drawing a bow all the way back, settling the pin and touching off a release is a big handicap in bowfishing.
Bows do not need heavy draw weights; 40-45 pounds is plenty. Bows that do not have a let-off are favored because you do not have to draw them all the way back before releasing on a quick shot. Most bows are shot with fingers rather than release aids and shots are instinctive in nature. Few bowfishing rigs are equipped with sights, they are just in the way most of the time.
Good examples of bows that work perfect for shooting fish are the Mathews Genesis, the Cajun Sucker Punch and the AMS Fishhawk. Each of these has the features needed for mounting bowfishing accessories and allow you to shoot quickly and accurately.
Reels and Line
The same reel I started with 40 odd years ago is still preferred by some fish shooters. They are trouble-free and low-cost. With these spools, you pull the fish in by the cord, then respool the reel by hand before shooting again. It can seem like a long process when there is another fish within sight. But fishing reels mounted to the front of a bow, or modifications of the same, are far more popular.
Many companies make a mount that accepts a large reel that can wind the heavy cord used to attach the arrow to the bow. This allows you to reel the fish in just as if you had caught it on a fishing rod. These allow you to get a second shot off much more quickly, but they are more prone to failure caused by line wrapped too tightly on the reel. I suggest pulling the fish in by hand, then using the reel to quickly take up the slack line.
The most popular bowfishing reel today is a modification of fishing reel designed just for bowfishing cord. It has a trigger that puts tension on the line to take up the cord and collects the line in a plastic container bottle attached to the reel. Just let go of the trigger to shoot and the line flies out effortlessly. Good examples of these reels are the AMS Retriever, the Muzzy Retriever and the Cajun Hybrid.
The arrow must be attached to the bow by a cord of course, and 250-pound braided line is the norm. Soft, flexible line that can be used to pull in a heavy weight by hand is important. I prefer a bright color that allows me to see it well.
Arrows and Arrowheads
The line is attached to the arrow via a slider that allows the line attachment to slide to the front of the arrow when drawing the bow, but then slide to the back upon the shot. This offers better accuracy than tying the line directly to the front or the back of the arrow.
Arrows are solid fiberglass which makes them heavy and durable. They need lots of kenetic energy to keep their speed up upon entering the water. And the solid-core arrows bounce off the bottom, rocks and logs without any damage.
Arrowheads generally have spikes on them to keep the arrow from pulling back out of the fish as you are retrieving it. The spikes must be equipped to retract in some way so you can get the arrow out of the fish. Some tips unscrew to fold the spikes back, others have collars or keepers of some sort that accomplish this purpose.
So bowfishing can be simple or complicated and you can spend a lot or a little. It’s a perfect sport for getting youngsters involved and you are doing something good for the ecosystem when you remove invasive species from our waterways. It’s also great practice for shooting and stealthy hunting skills. Give it a try, but beware, it can become a lifelong addiction. I speak from first-hand experience.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.