Colorful Colorado—upon my first bowfishing trip here, I didn’t know about the best lakes and rivers to bowfish on, what fish I could target or what the laws to follow were. I put together this article as the state guide that I wish I had had before I went bowfishing in Colorado. I looked up some Colorado bowfishing guides as well and found a great one for those who would like to start with a guided tour. You have everything that you need to start bowfishing in the state.
Is Bowfishing Legal in Colorado?
Colorado bowfishing regulations are relatively relaxed, but you can’t bowfish with a crossbow in the state because the law places it under the category of a firearm. They do make exceptions for those with disabilities and who have a permit for it. For everyone else, you just need a valid fishing license to start bowfishing in the state.
You can target several fish, which include:
- Longnose sucker—east of the continental divide
- Grass carp
- Common carp
- Whitenose sucker—east of the continental divide
- Gizzard shad—east of the continental divide
- Kokanee salmon—in the legally permitted season
Before you head out to a location, check with local DNR officials to see that they made it legal there. Bowfishing has specific regions where they allow it and others where they may not. Many DNR officials don’t know the laws either since bowfishing isn’t as common as regular fishing. You may want to keep a handbook of the rules on hand in case approached.
Be aware of how they may prohibit bowfishing with artificial lights at night at some lakes. This is often because of bowfishermen in the past who shined their lights into homes late at night.
Please, act responsibly when bowfishing to ensure that we can all continue doing it in the future. Being a nuisance or bothering other people while bowfishing is one of the best ways to see this sport restricted more. Unfortunately, some people in the sport have given it a bad name by throwing fish off on the shore or stinking up the lake with dead fish. This makes it unpleasant for everyone, and we would implore you to take the fish home and dispose of them.
For more information on specific state parks and bowfishing there, have a look at the Code of Colorado Regulations PDF here.
Best Places to Bowfish in Colorado
Regulations may change, and we would advise looking into the lake or river before heading out since it can save you from trouble with the law. You must take responsibility for it yourself, but we’ll try to keep this updated if new information comes out.
Some of the best places to bowfish in Colorado include:
|Legal Lakes for Colorado Bowfishing||Location||Bowfishing at Night Legal?|
|Blue Lake||Bentand and Kiowa County||n/a|
|Wellington SWA||Fort Collins, CO||n/a|
|Walker SWA||Grand Junction, CO||n/a|
|Tamarack Ranch SWA||Logan County||n/a|
|Stalker Lake||Yuma, CO||n/a|
|St. Vraine State Park||Longmont, CO||Illegal|
|Simpson Ponds SWA||Loveland, CO||n/a|
|Sedgwick Bar||Sedgwick, CO||n/a|
|Sandsage SWA||Yuma County||n/a|
|Red Lion SWA||Crook, CO||n/a|
|Ramah Reservoir||El Paso County||n/a|
|Prewitt Reservoir||Washington and Logan Counties||Legal|
|Pueblo Reservoir||Pueblo County||n/a|
|Poudre River SWA||Windsor, CO||n/a|
|Overland Trail SWA||Julesburg, CO||n/a|
|North Sterling State Park||Sterling, CO||Legal|
|Messex SWA||Washington County, CO||n/a|
|Lon Hagler Reservoir||Loveland, CO||Legal|
|Lone Tree Reservoir||Loveland, CO||n/a|
|Lake Pueblo State Park||Pueblo, CO||Legal|
|Lake Dorothey SWA||Raton, CO||n/a|
|Karval Reservoir||Lincoln County||n/a|
|Jumbo Reservoir||Julesburg, CO||Legal|
|John Martin Reservoir||Hasty, CO||Legal|
|Jackson Lake||Morgan County||Legal—generators prohibited after 10 pm|
|Jackson Lake State Park||Morgan County||Legal—generators prohibited after 10 pm|
|Horsetooth Reservoir||Fort Collins, CO||Legal|
|Holbrook Reservoir||Otero County||n/a|
|Frank SWA||Larimer and Weld County||n/a|
|Eleven Mile Reservoir||Lake George, CO||Illegal|
|Chatfield Reservoir State Park||Littleton, CO||Legal|
|Carter Lake||Larimer County||Legal|
|Brush SWA||Morgan County||n/a|
|Boyd Lake State Park||Loveland, CO||Legal|
|Bosque del Oso SWA||Weston, CO||n/a|
|Bonny Reservoir||Yuma County||Legal|
|Boedecker Reservoir||Loveland, CO||n/a|
|Big Thompson Ponds||Loveland, CO||n/a|
|Barr Lake State Park||Adams County||Legal on northern end|
|Banner Lakes||Weld County||n/a|
We couldn’t find the information on some of them, and if you’d like to bowfish at one of those lakes at night, we’d recommend checking with a local DNR official since some of the lakes in Colorado prohibit the use of bowfishing lights at night.
Keep in mind that at most Colorado state parks, they will have a quiet time where you must have your generators off out of respect for everyone else. Usually, this will be at around 10 pm. Get the specific rules for each state park since it can vary on where you bowfish. Now, let’s have a look at a couple of the best places to go bowfishing in the state.
One of the best places to go bowfishing near Denver is Barr Lake. Keep in mind that they only permit bowfishing here on the northern half of the lake. They even host Colorado bowfishing tournaments here from time to time, such as the Barr Lake Memorial Shoot or the Barr Lake Blast II. Many bowfishermen visit Barr Lake for the summer carp contest. After the contest, local farmers use the carp shot as fertilizer for their fields.
You can shoot plenty of fish out on Barr Lake and come April or May, the place becomes one of the paradise bowfishing spots in Colorado.
If you’d like to see bowfishing on Barr Lake, check out the video below:
Eleven Mile Reservoir
Boasting crystal clear waters, Eleven Mile Reservoir has become a popular spot on where to bowfish in Colorado. You can tell the most popular spots in Colorado because of how they have tournaments there for bowfishing, and Eleven Mile holds a tournament called Mountain Madness.
In Colorado in some places, they let you bowfish for pike. We believe that you can bowfish for pike at Eleven Mile Reservoir, but we put a heavy disclaimer here to check with local DNR officials first to make sure. The state treats pike as an invasive species in some areas. We heard that Eleven Mile is one of those places, but check ahead of time to make sure. Some people don’t like to bowfish for pike because of how they just sit there compared to carp that swim around.
The Prewitt Reservoir has a bowfishing tournament here that the Colorado Bowfishing Association holds here annually. This bowfishing spot shows you one of the best places east of the continental divide for bowfishing. We like this spot as well because of how it allows for easy bowfishing from shore.
Prewitt Reservoir covers 2,431 acres at its full capacity. They first constructed it in 1908. Some of the fish that you can target here include carp, shad and suckers. Come here especially around early June when the carp move into the shallows, and you can take your shots at them. Bowfishing is a sport where you usually don’t shoot in water deeper than 3 to 4 feet deep because it ensures that the arrow won’t misdirect in the water.
Another one of the lakes in the state where you can participate in tournaments, Jackson Lake offers the same bowfishing opportunities as Barr Lake, which we would say is one of the best around. I have heard of many people who have done well in going bowfishing at Jackson Lake. You can also bowfish from shore here without too much for problems. This is a great bowfishing spot in northern Colorado.
If you want to see the monstrous carp that they have on Jackson Lake, check out a short video of it here. Not a lot happens in the video itself, but it shows a huge carp in the picture toward the end, which should demonstrate the size of the carp you can shoot here:
Colorado Bowfishing Guides
Especially if you happen to bowfish coming from out of state like I did, going with a bowfishing guide can eliminate the need to haul a boat behind you. You don’t need to bowfish from shore either, and depending on the guide, they will supply the equipment. You have a couple of awesome guides, but the one that we would recommend is Frontier Bowfishing.
They operate with three guides, and the carp that you shoot can go for a good cause in feeding south African and eastern European countries in need. We like this particularly because of how bowfishing has gotten a bad reputation as simply killing the fish and wasting them, but you have many positive things that you can do with your kills.
Getting Your Gear Together
Let’s say that you would like to go bowfishing in Colorado, but you don’t have a bowfishing bow. Technically, you could use any bow, but we wouldn’t recommend using your prized hunting bow since it will bounce around in the boat a lot.
If you’d like a bowfishing bow, why not check out the article that I wrote here on the Ultimate 14 Best Bowfishing Bows.
What are the Colorado Bowfishing Records?
The Colorado Bowfishing Association keeps track of the bowfishing records in the state. For example, in terms of common carp, Sean Helton caught the largest carp at 29 pounds, 13 ounces in 2008. As far as we know, no one has broken that record since.
Dennis Modlin broke the record for the grass carp, which is 37 pounds, 28 ounces. To give you an idea of the size, it was 45 inches long caught in 2013.
For the gizzard shad, the largest one shot was by Aaron Senn in 2009. The gizzard shad weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces.
John O. Lindell broke the record for the longnose sucker at 2 pounds, and he shot it in 2011. For the white sucker, John O. Lindell holds a second state bowfishing record where he shot a 3 pound white sucker. Apparently, Mr. Lindell was doing a lot bowfishing that year because he shot the second record in 2011, too. The two records were, in fact, only 13 days apart from each other.
Now, for the northern pike, the record here was shot by John Andres. It weighed 16 pounds, 2 ounces and had a length of 39 inches. He shot it in 2012.
Bowfishing State Guides Resource
In case you’d like to see some bowfishing state guides from the other states, I wrote plenty about the different states across the United States. You can learn more about other states that you would like to visit here:
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Florida
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in California
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Texas
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Kentucky
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Wisconsin
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Missouri
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Ohio
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Utah
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Louisiana
Bowfishing in Colorado has a lot of potential with the beauty of the mountains in the background. One of the things that I loved about Colorado was how the state, in areas, felt less tamed than in other states like Minnesota. You had lakes and rivers where you could go to still shoot a variety of fish.
Colorado also shows you one of the few states where they let you bowfish for northern pike because they don’t occur naturally in the state. They’re invasive. The only other states where they allow that that we know of are in Alaska in certain parts and in New Mexico where you can shoot all the fish since they don’t restrict it to just the non-game fish species.