Planning a bowfishing trip to California? Maybe you live in the state and want to know of some good bowfishing spots. You may wonder where you can bowfish and all the places to shoot some carp. California is about the size of Japan and ranks as the third-largest state after Texas and Alaska. Don’t worry because this bowfishing guide will look at everything related to bowfishing in the Golden State and how to have the best experience here.
California Bowfishing Regulations
To begin bowfishing in California, you must buy a sport fishing license. You don’t need special gear to bowfish in California except you must attach a fishing line to the shaft or the arrow point and attach the other end of the line to the reel or bow—common sense. This falls under the California Code of Regulations, section 1.23. Crossbows must follow the same laws.
Before you head out to bowfish, check with the local authorities. Not all lakes and rivers are open to bowfishing. Certain areas of the state consider it a “deadly weapon.” In particular, the areas near the city will give you the most trouble. I wrote more about bowfishing in city limits here. Always check with local authorities ahead of time to prevent issues.
California only allows you to bowfish for carp. This follows the rules of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations. You can learn more about bowfishing laws in Southern California here.
Along with bowfishing carp in freshwater, California lets you bowfish for saltwater species as well such as rays, skates and sharks. The only exception to that rule is you can’t bowfish white sharks. This information falls under the California Code of Regulations, Title 14, section 28.95, 27.90 and 27.91.
Again, check with local authorities ahead of time and the species you will target to prevent issues since bowfishing laws may differ greatly from one area to the next.
Where to Bowfish in California
To cover this information, we will organize the California bowfishing areas into two parts: Northern and Southern California. We will start with Northern California and cover Southern California later. You will see how you have no shortage of places to bowfish for carp in either region of the state.
Northern and Central California: Where to Bowfish
We will highlight some Northern and Central California bowfishing spots, but realizing how the choices are smaller than in Southern California, we’d like to point that out in advance. If you can think of any other places to bowfish here, feel free to mention it in the comments below.
Several of the most popular locations to bowfish in Northern California include:
- Clear Lake (Lake County, California)
- Black Butte Reservoir (Tehama and Glenn Counties, California)
- Lake Almanor (Plumas County, California)
- California Delta (between Sacramento and Stockton)
Perhaps one of the most popular bowfishing spots in the region, Clear Lake has several tournaments on it every year. Many of the carp here can reach up to 15 pounds. You can also use a California bowfishing charter here called Hooked on Arrows. They serve Clear Lake and the California Delta.
Check out the bowfishing on Clear Lake here. They pull some monster-sized carp out of Clear Lake:
Black Butte Reservoir
Upon completion of Black Butte Dam in 1963, they formed Black Butte Reservoir. This reservoir sits on Stony Creek to the west of Orland and has proven a popular bowfishing spot.
From late April until the end of August, the bowfishing on Lake Almanor is popping! The carp thrive at this location, and every year, they throw a bowfishing tournament. In 2012, the biggest carp at the tournament was 18 pounds. We wouldn’t call it the biggest fish, but you can get some action here.
Either the best or the second-best bowfishing spot in the state, the California Delta never disappoints for bowfishing. Unfortunately, the Delta suffers from finickiness. A good bowfishing spot yesterday will vanish the next day. Still, you can find carp almost anywhere you look. The biggest common carp in the US swim in these waters.
You may want to begin your bowfishing efforts by starting near Sugar Barge RV Resort and Marina. They throw a tournament around Sugar Barge every year. Check right around the area near the ramp. Frank’s Tract is another good spot to check for carp. California Delta, in general, is one of the best bowfishing locations in the state.
Check out this video where they shoot two carp from a single shot. That should give you an idea of how much carp they have here:
Southern California: Where to Bowfish
Southern California offers 11 locations where you can bowfish for carp. The rivers and lakes where you can go after carp include:
- Big Bear Lake (Big Bear Lake, California)
- Lake Hemet (Mountain Center, California)
- El Capitan Reservoir (Mariposa County, California)
- Lower Otay Reservoir (San Diego, California)
- Lake Hodges (San Diego, California)
- Lake Casitas (Ventura County, California)
- Sutherland Reservoir (Santa Ysabel Creek, California)
- Lake Elsinore (Lake Elsinore, California)
- Lake Cachuma (Santa Barbara County, California)
- Lake Perris (Riverside County, California)
- San Vicente Reservoir (San Diego County, California)
Big Bear Lake
You can bowfish on Big Bear Lake year-round, and in fact, bowfishermen from everywhere in Southern California come to the region for bowfishing. Remember, you can only shoot carp here, but you will see tons of carp up on the lower east end. The water on the east tends to be more shallow as well, ideal for bowfishermen since you don’t usually shoot in water deeper than 3 to 4 feet.
They have allowed bowfishing at Big Bear Lake for over 25 years and consider it the granddaddy of bowfishing lakes in SoCal. To put into perspective the amount of carp here, the bowfishing tournaments held here typically remove up to 10,000 pounds of carp for each event. They hold at least two tournaments per year at Big Bear Lake. Check out the action here:
Lake Hemet hands us one example of the, “Beware of individual lake rules” policy. The lake has a couple of unique rules that you need to understand. You can, for example, only bowfish from Sundays to Thursdays at the lake when the crowds fade away. Do it away from the crowds to keep the lake friendly to bowfishing. Check in advance since this lake has individual rules that could trip you up.
El Capitan Reservoir
Local authorities only permit bowfishing at El Capitan Reservoir on the days open for fishing. All fish taken from the lake must be removed from the property. This is a lake in San Diego.
Lower Otay Reservoir
Like at El Capitan, you can only bowfish at Lower Otay on the days where they have fishing open too. They close this lake on the second Wednesday of each month. This artificial lake covers 1,100 acres.
Lake Hodges has welcomed bowfishermen for longer than the other lakes in San Diego. In fact, the bowfishing programs at Lake Hodges have existed for over a decade. Few bowfishermen know about this spot,and it would be a sore loss not to at least check it out if in the San Diego region. You have some monster carp on the lake with some pushing anywhere from 35 to 40 pounds.
On Lake Hodges, you can’t shoot from shore. You must take the fish from a vessel. You can also only bowfish here on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Most of the San Diego lakes will have a schedule like this. Check ahead of time in case something changes.
The lake first opened to bowfishing for carp in October 2013. Several bowfishermen have caught 15-pound carp here. At this lake, they will issue the permit after 8 am on open days. Lake Casitas is known for clear water in the summer.
Another one of the San Diego lakes, the Sutherland Reservoir offers a bowfishing program that they have had in place for over a decade—much like on Lake Hodges.
Bowfishing from the shoreline at Lake Elsinore proves difficult because of everything being private property here. While you could wade in it, that may prove difficult. You will most likely need a boat to bowfish on Lake Elsinore. Some people reported this as being a harder lake to bowfish than others—when all else fails, go Big Bear Lake.
Before you can bowfish at Lake Cachuma, you need a permit. You can obtain them at the park entrance, and they don’t cost anything. Check out the specific regulations of the lake here.
Check out the bowfishing at Lake Cachuma from the video here:
Since 2019, they have let you bowfish at Lake Perris on the east end for carp and goldfish. Check the regulations ahead of time if you plan to bowfish for goldfish since they usually only allow you to bowfish for carp. You can find some monsters roaming in the lake here. One bowfishermen reported seeing carp up to 50 pounds in the lake. You can’t bowfish from shore on Lake Perris. All bowfishing must happen from the boat.
The last lake that we will cover in Southern California is Vicente Reservoir. Another San Diego lake, the record size for carp at Vicente Reservoir was 42 pounds caught in 1982. We believe this was a fishing record, but it shows you the size of the carp that you can shoot here. The shoreline accessibility here is limited, and they have no public fishing docks.
Saltwater Bowfishing in California
We would like to point out how you can do saltwater bowfishing in California as well as freshwater. Check beforehand, but you can bowfish for shark here. It has become especially popular to bowfish for shark off the coast in Southern California, such as in areas like Huntington Beach. This is because the waters tend to be calmer than in the north. You can bowfish for Mako and Blue Sharks here.
Check out the photos of this 419-pound Mako shark caught off the coast of California. California is one of the last states that still lets you take shark with a bow. If interested in shooting shark, you may want to plan an adventure.
Some of the other fish that you can take include all varieties of stingrays and skates.
Resources: Other Great Bowfishing Guides
I have put together this awesome and growing list of great bowfishing guides for each state. If you found this guide helpful, you may want to check out one of the state guides listed below that interests you. You can use it to plan your next trip to one of the states. Texas, in particular, is one of the best states in the nation for bowfishing:
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Texas
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Missouri
- Bowfishing Ohio Guide: How to Do It Better
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Utah
California is an especially good place to go bowfishing if you want to go after shark since it remains one of the last places where you can do it. To undertake this adventure, you may need a bowfishing bow. If you’re interested, I put together this Ultimate Guide of the 14 Best Bowfishing Bows. It can help you to figure out which bowfishing bow would be the best choice for you. Even just having a look at the bows can be a lot of fun to imagine yourself out on the water with your new rig.