Full of bowfishing opportunities throughout the state, Alabama offers freshwater and saltwater bowfishing adventures. You can bowfish during the day or at night here, and the state offers a broad range of potential targets that you can go after. Like in most other states with the exception of New Mexico, gamefish remain prohibited in bowfishing in the state of Alabama.
Alabama Bowfishing Laws and Regulations
To get started bowfishing, you just need to buy a fishing license since the state considers it as fishing. You can take fish with a longbow, recurve, compound or a crossbow. If you plan to bowfish on the ocean, you need a saltwater bowfishing license. Likewise, if you plan to bowfish at one of the many freshwater lakes or rivers in Alabama, you will need a freshwater fishing license.
Bowfishing has, in fact, become one of the fastest-growing sports in the state. You can bowfish for a variety of species that include:
- Shortnose gar
- Spotted gar
- Grass carp
- Common carp
- Alligator gar
- Freshwater drum
Catfish would make for an especially welcome bowfishing choice since many states prohibit shooting catfish. They leave it only for the anglers.
For saltwater bowfishing, Alabama has a lot of great opportunities like some of its neighboring states. Stingrays have become a popular saltwater target among bowfishermen. Some of the saltwater species that they let you target include:
- Atlantic rays
- Black drum
Be aware of how while they made red fish and red drum legal in Louisiana, you cannot take them in Alabama. When it comes to bowfishing here, think of the fish that you can take with a spear. Whatever you can take with a spear, you can usually take with a bow and arrow.
Alabama Bowfishing Records
Alabama has had some impressive bowfishing records. For example, the largest alligator gar here taken by bow and arrow was 148 pounds, 9 ounces, and shot by Rick Sanders. The largest bighead carp was 98.6 pounds and was shot by James Carroll.
For the record bowfin, the biggest bowfin shot in Alabama was 14 pounds, 12 ounces and was shot by Wes Tyner. All the fish on the records here tend to do quite well in terms of size. The record common carp here was shot by Bryan Hughes, and it weighed 41.4 pounds. That’s a big carp. The biggest grass carp here weighed 92 pounds and was shot by Bryan Hughes again.
You have a lot of great bowfishing opportunities in Alabama like with its neighboring state, and with some that you can’t target elsewhere. For example, one of the records was a 130-pound tiger shark shot by Paul Gragg. In many states, they don’t let you shoot sharks, which makes Alabama stand out as unique.
Where to Go for the Best Bowfishing in Alabama
If I had to make a recommendation, Lake Guntersville offers some of the best freshwater bowfishing opportunities in the entire United States. You can shoot carp here up to 35 pounds and grass carp up to 85 pounds. The grass carp can reach an average of 75 pounds here. At one point in Guntersville, they would hold weekly bowfishing competitions, which show the level of activity.
In some cases, people have reported gar up to 5 feet long, which says something about the bowfishing opportunities in the state. Remember the 148-pound alligator gar?
Wheeler gives you another great example of a place to go bowfishing here. Unfortunately, a few bowfishermen have dumped their catches on the boat landing to rot. Don’t be that person. This ruins the sport for everyone, and it isn’t that difficult to take the fish home. Practice good sportsmanship at all times as a bowfishermen since the sport already has a bit of a negative reputation due to people like that.
Beware of using an airboat here since Wheeler has made it illegal for you to go out on the water with an airboat on the refuge. Check the shallows for the common carp. Many of the carp here will weigh anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds. Once the water warms up in Wheeler, you can find many grass carp and buffalos of good size. In fact, one person says that he shot a 51-pound buffalo here.
You may not want to shoot from the shoreline in Wheeler, and many recommend that you don’t even pull your bows out until you get out on the water.
Another place where you may want to bowfish in northern Alabama is on Lake Weiss. You can shoot the carp right from the shores here. Whenever the lake floods, you will find yourself with tons of great bowfishing opportunities. One thing to beware of here is water moccasins, a venomous snake that lurks in the area. You might visit Lake Weiss if you wanted to shoot for numbers. In terms of size, the carp aren’t all that big, but you will have plenty of action to keep you going all night.
With Lake Weiss, be aware of using an airboat after 12 am because the police can write you a ticket for a noise ordinance violation. Any time from 12 am to 5 am could run you into trouble with the law. Be forewarned that even running a fan boat here can run you into trouble. The water on Lake Weiss can be so muddy at times that you may struggle to see anything. You have plenty of shallows and weed beds here that make it rife with bowfishing spots.
Some have also reported shooting gar on Lake Weiss. To give an example of the numbers that you can pull here, three people reported shooting up to 600 fish in a single night. With that said, you will find an abundance of fish, but most of them don’t have the size to them.
Bowfishing the Gulf Shores in Alabama
The open gulf offers you some great opportunities for bowfishing. Going here depends on the weather and the tide, however. The perfect conditions for bowfishing the gulf shores will be wind at less than 10 knots and clear waters. Clear water in any condition for bowfishing will be ideal since you can’t see the fish as well in muddy conditions. That can make taking shots tricky.
Along the gulf shores, some bowfishermen report taking stingrays anywhere from 200 to 400 pounds. The inlets, bays, lagoons and waterways all prove a place rife with sheepshead, drum, stingrays and flounder.
For someone new to bowfishing in saltwater, you may find it beneficial to hire a guide since they can take you to the popular spots. Trying to do this yourself on the first try may prove a bit tricky, but it can be done. Check ahead of time to see that they have licensing and insurance before you go out on the water.
In particular, bowfishing Orange Beach, Alabama, has become a hotspot for saltwater bowfishermen. You can also find many charters here to book. Its proximity to Pensacola, Florida, means that you can also take advantage of the Florida bowfishing, which is some of the most exciting in the nation.
Mobile Bay is another popular area where people go bowfishing. It does have some uniqueness here in that the waters can run brackish, which means saltwater and freshwater meet. How do you know which license to hold? In general, don’t overthink it. Just go with whatever fish you plan to mainly target and go with that if you plan to bowfish brackish water.
Don’t target the saltwater species if you only have a freshwater license since this can run you into trouble. When in doubt, hold both licenses.
The northern end of Mobile Bay in particular holds brackish water. Many of the awesome targets in the brackish waters include sheepshead, black drum, mullet, stingrays and flounder. You can also shoot spotted gar, alligator gar, grass carp and shortnose gar in this area. There are a ton of buffalos in Mobile Bay.
How to Find Tournaments in Alabama
The best place to start your search is with the Alabama Bowfishing Association. This group of bowfishermen regularly holds tournaments, and they participate in the most responsible practices for bowfishing. For example, they’re the ones that will often tell bowfishermen not to dump their fish at the boat landing.
Stayed tuned to their Facebook page where they will occasionally announce bowfishing tournaments.
Getting Your Gear
Unless you plan to hire a charter or a guide, you will need to bring your own gear. You don’t necessarily need to pay more than $100 to get started in bowfishing. You can make this sport as expensive or as affordable as you’d like. For anyone interested, I wrote an article here on the Ultimate 14 Best Bowfishing Bows.
The great thing about the sport is that everyone can enjoy it. You can take along your kid, and as long as they can pull the back the bow, they can go bowfishing. Just remember to use safety slides when bowfishing because the sport can be dangerous if you don’t use them. A few people have lost their eyes and some have even died because they didn’t use a safety slide.
Many of the bowfishermen in Alabama will often visit the neighboring states like Florida and Mississippi. Just make sure that you acquaint yourself with the laws before going because each state may have slightly different laws.
Choosing a Charter
All of the good bowfishing charters in Alabama will supply the equipment and the boat. You do have a couple of things to think about before you hire a guide. For example, think about what they like to target. Does it align with what you want to go after? Guides may be good at finding a specific species of fish because they go after it so much.
Alabama holds many opportunities for bowfishing, and you can do it all year round in the state while taking as many fish as you want. Before you target a fish, however, check ahead of time to see if they have a limit. Most won’t, but some species may have a limit to them. You have many targets where they let you take as many as you’d like.