There are many great websites out there with great tips on bowfishing, you can never learn too much so make sure you check them out as well but there is no better teacher than experiencing it yourself
This is what I have learned so far from my experiences as a beginner.
You need a light bow that you can pull many many times. The lighter the draw weight the shorter your shots can be and still be effective. I pull about 35 pounds on my bowfishing bow and try to keep my shots within 10-20 feet. It doesn’t have to be a bow made just for bowfishing. I re-purposed my first hunting bow and it works great.
A first bow can make a great bowfishing bow when you grow out of it.
I recommend the AMS Retriever Pro for the reel, it’s a very simple system that works very well. The arrows and arrowheads all depend on what fish you are going after. The tougher skinned and bigger fish can call for sturdier gear. Read the manuals that come with your equipment, there are very important operating and safety tips you need to be aware of, such as making sure your line is not hooked on anything because the arrow can come back if the line gets caught.
Most people don’t use a release but I do because for me it is easier and faster to shoot with a release but it’s a personal choice. Some bowfishing bows don’t come with a loop for a release and you may have to add one.
I do not have a sight on my bowfishing bow, most people don’t use them. Using a sight can block your vision and adds to the complexity and most shots will have to be done within seconds and you may not have time to line up a pin. I have painted marks on the bow that approximate surface, high and low areas. I marked these spots using a bottle as a target and it has worked well for me. See picture A
If you do use marks on your bow you MUST remember that the marks are only a horizontal reference, the actual point of impact is in line with the arrow. The marks are not the same as pins on a sight. See picture B as example. Every bow is different but the principle remains the same.
Making your mark
Not everyone can get out on the water to practice and it can be very discouraging to miss every shot on your first day out. All you need is an empty soda bottle (plastic of course!) it is strong enough to take hits without damaging the arrow. Take the tip off the arrow for these practice sessions, you don’t want to damage the tip if you hit a rock or root.
Set the bottle out where you think your average shot will be. You can stand on a platform if your boat or the boat you will be using is high above the water, but it is not necessary for this exercise.
Using the bottle to represent a surface shot target, take your time and line up where you think you should shoot. The good thing about the reel is you don’t have to walk out and grab the arrow! Take many shots until you have determined how you want to aim and what part of the bow you want to use as a reference point. If you are comfortable with where you are shooting, mark the bow with a marker so you know where to paint later.
Next take the bottle and toss it around the yard and see if you can hit it with most of your shots with your new mark. Another great method for back yard practice is filling up several water balloons (start with 5 and work up from there) this will help you practice shooting, shot estimation and reeling. The more you shoot at the water balloons the more aware you will be of what muscles you will be using and you can work on strengthening those muscles. Remember, you will be reeling every single time you shoot!
If the lines you have drawn seem to be working you can paint the lines in a bright color of your choice. I painted the surface line and then a line above and a line below. Just like bow hunting the top line is for closer and deeper shots and the bottom line is for longer distance shots. These lines are reference points but every water shot is different, you will learn with every shot you make.
If you feel like you need more practice you can take a bottle and submerge it in some clear, still water near the shore, you don’t need a boat you can shoot from the bank. For these shots I would recommend a sports drink bottle with a wide bright lid. Shoot with the tip on for this exercise so the arrow runs through the water correctly. Shoot at the bottle at varying depths so you can see just how deceiving the water can be. The tip you will hear from all bowfishers is aim lower than you think you need to aim.
Going after real fish
Always check the regulations for the area you will be fishing and don’t shoot a fish unless you know that is legal to shoot. There can be large fines for shooting game fish in some states.
You will notice that predator fish such as gar and bowfin will be easier to shoot as they are ambush predators and will sit still most of the time. Carp are prey fish so they get spooked easily during the day.
Research the fish you will be going after to see what they eat and this will help you find where they are likely to be.
When a fish is on the move, shoot where the fish is going, not where it is. If it is swimming left aim more to the left on the fish. A side shot is easiest but if the fish is swimming towards you aim for the head. Aiming for the biggest part of the fish will give you the best chance of hitting it.
After the shot
When you do connect with a fish, especially a large fish, let it run and don’t fight it too hard you might pull the arrow out and lose the fish. The barbs on the arrow head should keep the fish on the arrow so you can take your time reeling it back in. Some fish you can just pick the arrow up out of the water with them on it but the larger fish you may need a gaff or a net so that they don’t break the arrow or fall off.
Bowfishing during the day
You don’t need a decked out bowfishing boat to bowfish during the day, just a boat capable of going into shallow waters with either a trolling motor or someone willing to use a push stick to guide the boat around. A push stick can get you into more shallow waters than a trolling motor and is much quieter; however it does take a little practice.
If you are shooting during the day don’t forget your polarized lens sunglasses to see through the water better. I have found that in my cloudy river the best time to hunt during the day is a couple hours after sunrise, there isn’t much glare and the fish haven’t retreated to cooler water yet.
Be aware of your shadow when you are getting ready to shoot, it can spook the fish. During the day the best shots are in shallow water and at the surface.
Gloves are essential because the fish can be slimy and some fish have sharp teeth.
All gar, like this spotted gar, have very sharp teeth. Gloves will help prevent painful punctures.
These fish are extremely strong and can jump around without warning, keep the mouth away from your face. I use my gloves to pick them up after I get them in the boat and for photo taking.
Stay safe on the water, be aware of the edge of the boat so you don’t step off lining up for a shot. Keep where you are fishing free from tripping hazards.
Aim low and have fun!
27 pound grass carp shot 20 feet from the boat launch in full sun. This fish was so strong that it pulled our boat around in the water for several minutes.
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