Getting Started With Bowfishing

So you are interested in bowfishing? Well first let me congratulate you on picking an amazing, adrenaline-filled sport to try out! This article will cover everything you need to know about getting started with bowfishing.

Let me issue you a fair warning though – this sport is extremely addicting!

#1 - Bow

Good News - To begin bowfishing you do not need an expensive bow! Many people believe that to start bowfishing you need all this expensive gear but that is NOT the case.

Beginner bow fishermen follow this formula: Cheap + Efficient = All You Need

When first starting out with bowfishing you want to stress comfort. When you are out on the lake trying to stick fish you want to be comfortable with your bow. Your first bow could be a used compound bow from a garage sale or your dads old recurve – as long as you are comfortable with it and it shoots straight you are set!

It is important to note also that bowfishing is probably one of the roughest sports on your equipment. Know ahead of time that you are probably going to break some equipment the more you bowfish. Someone may accidentally step on your bow in the boat or your bow may just be so old that the bumps of a long boat ride cause something to break – whatever the case may be just know it happens to everyone.

I say all of that above just to reiterate the fact that your first bow does not need to be fancy!
   Leave your sights at home and learn to trust your instincts!

Bowfishing is such a quick and instinctive sport that having sights on your bow is not recommended. Unlike deer hunting, you do not get the chance to scope out your target very long before you have to take a shot. Most of the time you just have a couple of seconds before you have to instinctively release an arrow towards the fish. Hardly ever will you have the time to spot a fish, line it up in your sights, and let it fly. The nature of the sport is quick, instinctive, and adrenaline pumping – and that is why we love it!

Similar to your sights, if you are used to bow hunting with a release aid then I would advise you to leave that off of your bowfishing setup as well.Although release aids may insure accuracy in hunting, you will not want them while bowfishing. Speed and quickness is better than losing a fish due to a slow release.

The ideal poundage for a bowfishing bow is anywhere between 30-50 pounds. Remember what I said earlier though, you want to be comfortable when you are bowfishing. Typically you are going to be taking a lot of shots in a short amount of time – for some this may mean using a lighter pound bow so you are not tiring yourself out too quick. Fish typically have very weak flesh you won’t have trouble at all still sticking fish with a lower pound bow.

Another personal tip I have learned from experience is that you will want to have finger slicks installed on your string to help prevent your fingers from being rubbed raw. This is not a necessity, but will help you in the long run.

 My final advice with your starter bow is to start small and work your way up.


#2 - Reel

The reel is probably the most vital piece of equipment when you are bowfishing. Sometimes experts can overcomplicate what kind of equipment you need or what kind of reel you need to be using but this is the basic formula of bowfishing that you always need to keep in mind:

You --- water --- (Reel/Line) --- water --- A huge fish
What I tried illustrating in my lame formula above is simply this: Your reel is the only connection you have between you and your fish!

So rule number one with the reel is this

Don't be afraid to spend a little bit more money in this category!

There are two basic methods for a reel:
  1. A spinning reel
  2. The AMS retriever

The AMS retriever is the reel that we highly recommend to anyone wanting to get started with bowfishing. Its simplicity and efficiency is unmatched in this category.

One huge positive to the AMS retriever is the fact that you are always ready to shoot. When you see a fish you do not have to think twice about letting an arrow fly. The line is always released until you begin to hold down the engagement lever.
The AMS Pro Retriever
The AMS Pro Retriever

The old idiom “there is more than one way to skin a cat” is similar to fishing reels. There are multiple reels that can get the job done, but if you want the best equipment guaranteeing a good bowfishing experience I urge you to look into purchasing the AMS retriever.

#3 – Arrow

I know I told you earlier to go ahead and be willing to spend a little extra cash on your reel because it is just that important, but the arrow is not the same story. My personal advice would be to not over think or overcomplicate what arrow you use.

The Shure Shot point is ideal for Buffalo
The standard all around bowfishing arrow is the white fiberglass arrow. There are of course other options to think about such as carbon arrows or aluminum arrows, but here at Pure Shot Outdoors we highly suggest using your standard fiberglass arrow. There are going to be minor differences between which arrows you choose to use, but it is hard to beat good quality and efficiency and that is what you get with a fiberglass arrow.

For beginners we recommend purchasing arrows that are already set up with a point. This way you do not have to mess around with trying to buy an arrow shaft and point separately and trying to combine the two together.

For more advanced bow fishermen go ahead and buy an arrow shaft separately and then mix and match different points until you successfully build the arrow you want.

“I have the arrow – now what point do I need?”

What point you want to have on your arrow depends on what kind of fish you want to shoot.

The Shure Shot point is great for most situations. It has the holding power needed to stick a hard scaled fish and it is also very easy to remove from the fish after you have shot it.

NOTE: With an arrow point you really want retractable barbs.

Retractable barbs just make the job of getting your fish off of the arrow SO much easier!

***Safety Point!***

One of the worst things that can happen to you when you are bowfishing is to experience a "snap back." A snap back is when the fishing line is tied directly to the arrow shaft and the line snags on something mid flight causing the arrow to jolt backwards and fly your direction.

To avoid ever experiencing a snap back and the possibility of being seriously hurt we suggest using AMS Safety Slides on every one of your arrows. The Safety Slides work to keep all your line in front of your bow so it becomes impossible for your line to snag mid flight. It may cost you a little extra but trust me; you will want these in your setup!

#4 - Rest

The next essential to bowfishing is a rest to hold the arrow in place when you are scoping out the water for a fish. I have started using the Victory Rest on my Oneida Osprey and I absolutely love it. The “V” shape of the Victory Rest makes it quick and simple to align up your next shot and also keeps the arrow from bouncing around.

Another positive with the Victory Rest is that it is aligned with a rubber pad which acts like a padded bed for your arrow to rest in. This feature will keep your arrows in pristine condition and also give you a smoother feel when you release a shot.
Victory Rest
Victory Rest

The Victory Rest is that is set at a very reasonable price for the quality product you are receiving. There are many rests out there that you can try for yourself, but I firmly believe the Victory Rest outperforms all the competition.

#5 – Line

The old saying a chain is only as strong as its weakest link is kind of similar to your fishing line except in the bowfishing world the saying is changed up a little bit:

"A bow fishermen is only as good as his fishing line allows."

Believe me there is nothing worse than losing a big fish because of your line malfunctioning. To keep yourself from ever experiencing that gut wrenching feeling I strongly urge you to make sure you have quality line.

Do not go cheap with your line!

The Good News: If you followed our advice earlier in this article and purchased the AMS Retriever as your reel then you are in good standing! Typically the line that comes in AMS Retriever is a 200 pound line which is ideal for almost all situations.

Again let me just reiterateà The AMS Retriever is great!

When you are using a spinner reel is when deciding on what line to use gets interesting. Most of the lines for spinner reels are in some way similar to each other but the difference is the smoothness versus durability. The 200 pound Fast Flight line is strong and durable for big river fish as well as fish that pull out lots of drag. Our other option of line is the Monkey Wire. This line has a smoother feel on the reel as well as a faster recovery time when retrieving your arrow.

P.S. Do not let yourself lose a big fish because of poor line!

#6 - Location

Location is Key
Location is key to having success when bowfishing. Location is key
You want to be where the fish are and where the fish are depends on three things:
  1. What kind of fish are in the water?
  2. What time of the year is it?
  3. What is the water vegetation like?
The easiest way to determine the species of fish in a body of water is to look up the water body records for that specific body of water or by simply asking your local bowfishing friends.The time of year and water vegetation varies depending on your location.

Since bowfishing is a sport that usually picks up in the spring and begins to slow down when the weather gets colder a good rule of thumb for fishing location is this: Generally in the spring months with light to moderate green vegetation is where the big fish will be laid up.

If there are fish in water then you should be able to bowfish it!

#7 – Lighting

Before I begin with lighting – let me first say that lighting for boats and bank fishing is not completely necessary. Some of my best fishing trips have been lit up by the sun, but that does not mean that fishing over lights is not fun! There is a certain rush of adrenaline that is unmatched when you are fishing in the dark and you see a fish appear in your lights. To have fun with bowfishing you may never have to use lights, but if you do here is what we recommend!

Remember this
  • Fishing darker waters means you will need a more yellow tinted light.
  • Fishing clear waters means you will need a white light.

The next step is whether you want to go with either of the following lights:
  • LED
  • Metal Halide
  • Halogen
  • High Pressure Sodium

The lights I love to use are the LED flood lights. I recommend these lights because they are very energy efficient and do not require a long start up time. Besides the LED flood lights, I also could recommend the RAB Floodzillas high pressure sodium lights. The Floodzillas may not be the most energy efficient option but if you are just looking for straight lighting power then this would be the best option.

If you are trying to bowfish off the shore at night then a small spot light would get the job done.
Remember: Lighting is a luxury not a necessity

Start small with your lights and see for yourself what you begin to like. Most of the time lighting is personal preference and likes and dislikes vary from person to person. Start with a small setup and as you grow as a bow fishermen start upgrading your setup little by little.

#8 – Walking or Boating

One of the best things about the sport of bowfishing is that it can either be done by simply walking the riverbank or by getting out in the middle of a lake on boat. While walking the bank can be fun, having a boat is the more ideal preference for more success

With bowfishing there is no ideal "perfect" boat. There are unlimited options to what you can boat with – and still be successful! This is just another aspect of bowfishing that comes down a lot to just your personal preference.

Your boat choice needs to come down to one word: Maneuverability
  • How easy can it maneuver?
  • How shallow will it draft?
  • Can it slide in to tough to reach places?
  • Could you comfortably bowfish from it?

These are all questions you should be asking.

If you like to be really quiet when sneaking up on fish then I would suggest rigging a trolling motor to your boat. If a trolling motor is too expensive, then you can sneak up with the ol’ fashioned wooden paddles or a push-poleand be just fine. Now you may lose "cool" points if you are using wooden paddles, but if you stick a huge carp in a hard to reach spot by using paddles then it is safe to say that the bragging rights are yours!

Even if you have a trolling motor on your boat I would still highly suggest that you carry with you some sort of push-pole. One of the unwritten laws of bowfishing is always expect the unexpected. You never can fully prepare for everything when you are out on the lake and sometimes things do not go as planned. If things go wrong and you get stuck in tight spot on the lake that trusty push-pole you were hesitant to bring may become your new best friend.

#9 - Glasses

One of the most overlooked pieces of equipment is a pair of polarized sunglasses. This sounds like no big deal, but try bowfishing without a pair and you will see what I mean. The sun’s brightness greatly reduces our vision and line of sight when you are trying to look underwater without glasses.

What the polarized glasses do is they take the vertical sun rays coming off the water and direct them into horizontal rays, thus virtually eliminating the glare coming off the water. This will allow you to spot fish at much deeper levels of water.

Trust me – this will make bowfishing much better and your buddies will be wondering what you are shooting at because they are not wearing polarized glasses.
Most underrated piece of equipment

Polarized glasses are a MUST!

#10 – Determination and Perseverance

It is important to remember why you bowfish and that is to have fun!

This is a great sport guys! Let’s not forget that!

Location is key to having success when bowfishing. Location is key
You want to be where the fish are and where the fish are depends on three things:
  • What kind of fish are in the water?
  • What time of the year is it?
  • What is the water vegetation like?
Being out on the lake, sticking fish, bonding with the people I shoot with, and soaking in God’s creation is all great stuff. What started as something I just did occasionally has turned into a passionate addiction of mine. There is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you release an arrow and the next thing you see is splashes in the water and you know you nailed a fish.

But any bow fisherman will you tell you that success in this sport is a hit or miss. Sometime you may have all the right gear and be and the perfect spot but just not hit anything. It is just important to remember that there are some aspects of bowfishing that are out of your control. Sometimes when you are on the lake it may seem that the fish are hiding, or you may have poor visibility all day because of cloud cover. It is important to not focus on what you cannot control, but focus on what you can control.

But even with all the factors you can control, you are going to have some tough experiences with bowfishing, especially early on. This is a trial and error sport. You have to begin to figure out what works for you.

Determination is what you have to have to succeed in this sport.


Alligator Gar
6’4″ Alligator Gar
I personally know the feeling of going to a lake that earlier in the week I shot nearly a hundred fish out of, but for whatever reason that time I only shot two fish.


I also know the feeling of sitting in a hole with a big alligator gar as it just keeps rolling out of range for four hours straight.

If I would have threw in the towel and quit bowfishing after those two experiences I would have never experienced the thrill of sticking a seven foot alligator gar just a few weeks later.

This sport requires you to be head strong and learn the tactics that work for yourself. Just do not ever give up on yourself and keep trying new ideas. If you apply the principles and techniques that you will learn on this site I assure you that in due time you will be sticking fish like a pro!

comments powered by Disqus