A Beginner’s Take on Bowfishing

By Teri LancasterAugust 14, 2014

LAST UPDATED: March 10th, 2017

My husband and I are both avid bowhunters who, like most archers, enjoy chasing big game animals. He has been bowhunting his entire life while I just picked it up several years ago. Looking for something to keep us busy during the off season we reently decided to get our feet wet and try a little bowfishing. We keep hearing a lot about it and it looks like fun so why not?

The first trip we were out on the boat I sat back and watched my husband shoot and hit a few fish. I wasn’t quite sure about the whole set up of shooting so quickly and having to reel in the arrow so I felt like some observation was in order before I tried it myself. During that trip I had a lot of thoughts and questions about the whole provides. If I hit a fish, will I be able to pull it in? Will it jerk the bow out of my hands? Do I aim low, high, at the tail, at the head?

I will not claim to be an expert in bowfishing by any means, but I almost think that could be the beauty of the sport – I don’t think you have to be an expert to enjoy it. Bowfishing seems to becoming more and more popular and I believe that is in part due to the affordability of equipment as well as it does not require a great deal of strength, skill or knowledge to partake and be successful in the sport.

My husband did a little research and ended up purchasing one of the AMS Bowfishing series bows for himself. The AMS Bowfishing light-weight set up is a great bow to use for what is referred to as snap shooting. I tried this instinctive shooting and still haven’t quite mastered the hang of it. Snap shooting, I learned, is just an instinctive shooting. More like aim and release! One big difference we both had to get used to is pulling back with your fingers instead of a release. Many archers, myself included, got started shooting with a release from the get go so shooting with fingers is a bit of a new thing. If you do use just your fingers to pull back there are silicone string wraps to keep the string from rubbing your fingers raw from constant shooting. The Nitro Finger Savers from Pine Ridge Archery seem to work very well. I would recommend these or some sort of finger protectors as you shot a LOT when you go bowfishing!

Instead of a dedicated bow just for bowfishing I decided to use my Mathews Jewel set at about a 35lb draw weight along with my normal archery release. I have found that I feel more comfortable using my regular release and it provides me a little more stabilization when I pull back the long fiberglass arrow shaft with my short 23” draw. We added the AMS Retriever Bowfishing Reel along with AMS Chaos Point tip with a pink fiberglass arrow shaft. This particular set up for me has proven to work!

Bowfishing bows
Bowfishing can be hard on your equipment so make sure you choose your rig accordingly.  A dedicated bowfishing bow that can take a beating and get covered in fish slime may be a better choice than your $1000 deer hunting rig.

Hitting the fish seems to be the hardest part of bowfishing. I learned that because of the refraction in the water, aiming lower is a must. I haven’t yet found an exact measurement, however it seems that when I think I’m aiming low enough, I should have still aimed about an inch lower. An idea to help with figuring out how low or high your arrow is hitting is to set up a few empty milk jugs, with weights, at different heights in the water. This will help to gauge how low or high you need to aim at fish and at different depths. With bowfishing, shooting at a fish no farther than 15 yrds is ideal.

Now there are not as many dedicated bowfishing bows and accessories to choose from as there are with regular archery equipment. However most compound bows will do just fine for bowfishing purposes. Many hunters choose to use a lower poundage compound with a longer axle to axle length for finger shooting, or even recurves and longbows which also work well. And for the ladies, if you are looking for specifically made- for-us bow-fishing bow, the choice is quite limited. I believe that proper bow choice is more about what equipment you feel comfortable shooting for long periods of time and with the ability to quickly reload than it is the brand, cost or speed.

I have found having an arrow rest is helpful to keep the long fiberglass shaft ready to shoot. You do not have to have an expensive arrow rest you would you on a hunting bow set up. An adequate bowfishing rest should only cost between $10 – $30. Of course when you setup your bowfishing rig be sure to set the correct centershot and nock height as you’ll want your bowfishing arrows to fly as true as possible.

I have only had the chance to bowfish a few times, but I’m definitely addicted! On a good trip there is a lot of fast action shooting and fun. So far, the only downside I have found to bowfishing is racing my husband to see who can reload faster to shoot first!

Bowfishing success
While I’ve only been out a handful of times I can certainly say I’m hooked on bowfishing!  The fast-paced action is very addicting.

So if you’re like me and you’ve been thinking about giving bowfishing a try but aren’t sure you can do it, take it from a beginner, it’s no problem!

Teri Lancaster
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