Basics of Bowfishing: Everything You'll Need to get Started – Foundry Outdoors
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Basics of Bowfishing: Everything You'll Need to get Started

The basics of bowfishing are something you can learn easily and won't cost you an arm and a leg.


As a person who truly enjoys history, I often find myself thinking of days long gone. My favorite time periods are the Stone Age, Pre-Columbus America, and Fur Trade Era of America in the 1830’s. What is attractive to me about these time periods? They all seem to highlight the free-loving nature of man, knowledge of the world, and can teach us big lessons about the skills and knowledge it took us to reach this point we are at. Another aspect of these time periods that sticks out to me is the dependence of hunters on the animals they pursued. In more primitive times, hunters lived off the fat of the land in order to survive. Your competence with primitive weapons and knowledge of the land had a major bearing on how well you lived. Although their means of procuring meat was different in each of those periods, individuals had the opportunity to hunt every day of the year.



Today’s world simply does not afford us the opportunity to pursue large game for 365 days a year. The animals would simply run out. This would be bad for both people and animals. In order to hunt our animal populations sustainably, state wildlife departments manage our wild game populations with strict hunting seasons and limits. Much of the year we are unable to pursue animals as they are out of season. So what is an avid hunter and archer supposed to do in the downtime between seasons? One way archers have recently been keeping their archery skills honed is by bowfishing the summer months away.


Bowfishing is a great family past time.


Bowfishing is a fun and relaxing way to keep shooting throughout the year. It is something that most states allow. Most states also afford plenty of fish to target in their waters. The basics of bowfishing are easily learned, and the basic bowfishing gear is generally pretty affordable. If you are new to archery, or have simply never bowfished before, this guide on the basics of bowfishing might get you lined out.

History of Bowfishing

It’s hard to say when people first started fishing with bows and arrows. We can presume though, that people have been shooting fish for long periods of time. Fishing has always been a good way of getting food and fish are generally very nutritious.  In the past few decades though, bowfishing has really taken off here in America as a popular form of recreation. One major reason for this fad is the absolute explosion of carp populations in North America.

Carp are bottom feeding fish who were intentionally introduced in the rivers of North America in the mid to late 1800’s. In Europe these fish had been a major food source for nearly 2,000 years and new immigrants could not understand why this species had not been introduced in America. These immigrants took matters into their own hands and began introducing carp into many of our country’s major waters. Little did they know the havoc these fish would wreak on native fish populations.

Almost instantly people began to realize carp were negatively impacting the native fish populations of America. Not only that, but the prized taste they were known for in Europe seemed to have not made the journey with the fish. American carp were never adopted as a major food source in America and the population was left to prosper. By the early 1900’s the same people who had introduced these invasive fish were trying to figure out ways to stymie their populations. Over time, one measure used to control their populations was opening the door to unlimited harvest of the fish. In the past few decades bowfishing has really taken off as a means to that end.

Basics of Bowfishing

The basics of bowfishing are very straightforward and easy to learn. In most states bowfishermen are taking aim at the invasive carp previously discussed. These fish can be found in nearly every body of water in the US. Our major rivers and simply overrun with them and they recently have found their way into the Great Lakes ecosystem. Odds are your state allows you to harvest as many of these fish as you want, in whatever manner you choose. In southern states it is growing in popularity to shoot alligator gar as well. You can watch this video featuring a very large alligator gar shot in the south.

The ability to shoot these fish creates a create opportunity for anyone wants to shoot their bow every week of the year. When summer rolls around and most other shooting opportunities are months away, you can likely find some archer walking the riverbanks near your hometown.

Basic Bowfishing Gear


One reason why so many people pick up bowfishing as a hobby is its general affordability. In order to bowfish you only need a bow, a reel system, and a heavy fiberglass arrow made for the job. In reality you probably don’t absolutely need the specialty equipment (Stone Age hunters never had it) but it certainly does make the whole experience much better.

Bowfishing bowWhen it comes to bows you have several options. Your first option is to buy a specially made bowfishing bow rig. Any bow made specially for bowfishing will offer a few key features. One, the bow will have a longer axle-to-axle measurement than your hunting bow will usually have. Why? Longer bows are better for finger shooters. I’ve never seen anyone shoot a bowfishing rig with a mechanical release and don’t plan to. A longer bow will create less finger pinch where the archer grabs the arrow as the angle of the string will be less severe.

Bowfishing bows also generally come with finger guards on the string so you can shoot bare fingers without tearing your hands up. Finally, these bows are made to be around water and stand up to that special abuse. You have other options when it comes to bows as well. Many recurves can be easily turned into efficient bowfishing bows. These traditional bows are great shooters for the quick shots presented in bowfishing.


Bowfishing reelMost modern bows, both compound and recurve, generally have an adaptor for a stabilizer. Some of the more simple bowfishing reels mount where a stabilizer would be. I personally like these reels as they are simple and affordable. That being said, these reels do take a little more practice to get the string sitting just right. Other models hold the string in a bottle. These would be great and limit the amount of tangling you would encounter on your shot. They do tend to cost a little more, but the trade-off may be worth it to you.


Bowfishing pointAnother aspect of the basic bowfishing gear is a bowfishing arrow. These fiberglass arrows are certainly different from your standard hunting arrow in a few regards. For starters, they are much heavier than a carbon hunting arrow. This is ideal because the weight will allow the arrow to penetrate deeper into the water and stay more accurate. Secondly, the fiberglass construction creates a very strong arrow. In many bowfishing situations you will be shooting into hard surfaces like a rocky stream bed, or into unknown backgrounds. The fiberglass arrow is tough and can take abuse that would surely crack a carbon. Finally, bowfishing arrows are tipped with specialty points that pass through the fish and then secure on the other side. Once again, these tips are robust and can take the abuse bowfishing seems to bring.

Learning the basics of bowfishing is easy and takes very little time, equipment, or hunting expertise. Odds are you are a short drive to some very good bowhunting grounds. In the summer months when deer season seems to be a dream of another world it can help to scratch the bowhunting itch. It can be a great way to stay in shooting shape and pass the dog days of summer. If you’ve never given it a try I’d encourage you to take the plunge and give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.


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