Since 18 percent of Florida consists of water, you have many great opportunities for bowfishing. You can target a variety of fish species, and we will have a look at everything that makes bowfishing in the state of Florida so much fun. Especially in regions like South Florida, you have many invasive species. Because the invasive species don’t have a limit on them, you can fill your cooler to keep an ongoing food supply. With some rough fish, you have to know how to cook them, but you can make most fish taste good if done right.
What Fish Can You Bowfish in Florida
Let’s organize this into two sections—freshwater and saltwater—so that you can more easily discern what is what and what fishing license you should go after.
For the freshwater fish that you can target, they include:
- Common carp
- Gizzard shad
- Threadfin shad
Overall, we think that you have a diverse selection of fish species to choose from. Tilapia are especially popular even more than common carp because they taste good after shooting, and they’re invasive as well. You can find them throughout the state and due to their aggressive breeding habits, they have the potential to squeeze out native fish populations.
Important to note: You can’t bowfish for alligator gar or grass carp in this state, so you want to understand the differences between the grass carp and the common carp. The grass carp appear more slender without the barbels at the mouth. It will also have a short top fin, which is called the dorsal fin. The common carp, on the other hand, will have a longer dorsal fin. That’s one of the easiest ways to tell the difference.
With saltwater fish and bowfishing, beware of the bag limits and the size limits as well as established seasons since it isn’t as relaxed as with freshwater bowfishing. You can’t take the game fish or the ornamental reef fish with the bow.
While you can bowfish for gar in the state, no one can legally bowfish for alligator gar in Florida. In 2006, the FWC Commissioners decided that no one may possess alligator gar in Florida waters. This is because of how their populations aren’t as stable as in Texas or Louisiana. Alligator gar are only common in North Florida, and they’re illegal to harvest.
Still, you can bowfish for regular gar, and while some mistakenly believe that gar don’t taste good, they, in fact, taste somewhat like alligator. Be aware of how you may want to soak the meat of an older gar overnight in salted water to eliminate strong flavors.
Carp aren’t quite as popular of a species to target in Florida due to there being better options like tilapia, but they remain an invasive species, nevertheless, that needs curbing. We would say to target carp from March to June during their spawning season to get the most action out of them. Because they’re invasive, you can take as many as you can shoot.
You can shoot some good-sized tilapia in Florida. In particular, blue tilapia or Mozambique tilapia have become widespread in the state and have become encouraged to target. Tilapia have much in common with carp, but they taste better than carp, which explains why more people target them for bowfishing. You can find them everywhere in the lakes, rivers and streams of the state.
Unlike in some of the other states, you can target catfish in Florida, and it has become a popular target here as well due to the awesome flavor of the fish. This isn’t an invasive species like common carp or tilapia, and there may be a limit on how many you can shoot.
Be careful who you tell about bowfishing them: Many anglers get protective of catfish and fishing for them, and they may even get jealous of bowfishermen who target them. I don’t personally see a difference as long as you eat what you kill. With bowfishing, you can’t practice catch-and-release like with regular fishing since the fish will die.
Catfish are especially nocturnal fish, so you may want to target them during the nighttime hours. You can still hit them during the day, but it isn’t as common. Many times, you can spot them on rivers near the bend or in rocky areas. During the daytime, you may want to check the rocky and sandy riverbeds since they like to sun themselves there.
The saltwater fish species that you can bowfish include:
- Black drum
When it comes to saltwater bowfishing, they commonly target sheepshead, stingrays and flounder.
Stingrays are a popular bowfishing target because of how they rank as about one of the only fish targets that you can hit even from a distance due to size. South Florida especially offers the best opportunities when it comes to stingrays, and the best time to go after them is the summer season. You can especially get them in the Florida Keys.
In most cases, you will need a boat if you want to hit them because they usually aren’t close to land. You can target the skates, stingrays and cow-nosed rays, but manta rays are protected in Florida due to them being an endangered species with just 16,000 left in the wild. Anyone who targets stingrays should also understand how to deal with the fatally venomous barb. You can check out a video here:
Stingrays have especially become a popular bowfishing target in South Florida because you can bowfish for them year-round. In the northern part of the state, the summer season will offer you the best opportunity at them. Stingray has a lot of similarities in taste to sharks, but how they taste will depend on the size. They taste good up to 22 pounds.
Flounder has become especially popular due to the size of the fish. We would recommend night as the best time to go after them since you catch some of the biggest flounder during that time. However, bowfishing for them during the day can prove just as fruitful, but you will need polarized sunglasses to see them better.
The 2 to 4-foot inshore flats will usually yield the best results when it comes to flounder since they like to lurk in these areas and ambush their prey. Outgoing high tide will typically be your best time to catch them. You can bowfish flounder all year round, but we would recommend going after something else from mid-October to the end of November since this time marks their spawning season. Flounder are in danger of becoming overharvested.
Flounder are famous for their sweet flavor and delicate texture. You might compare its flavor to tilapia.
Sheepshead are a popular target because of how they congregate in schools making them easier to shoot. Your best action for sheepshead happens during the incoming tide, and their broad body makes them an easier target than the pencil-thin gar.
Many times, you can see them in the shallow water near the oyster bars. In fact, sheepshead are a saltwater panfish that you might compare to the freshwater bluegill. They have a delicious sweet flavor with a hint of shellfish. At the same time, they give good nutrition. We would recommend going after them during the low incoming tide.
Freshwater: Best Places to Bowfish in Florida
You have plenty of awesome locations where you can go bowfishing in the Sunshine State, and we will cover some of them here. Most of the bowfishing here happens on freshwater lakes and rivers. Florida has over 30,000 lakes that cover around three million acres of land.
St. John’s River
For freshwater bowfishing, we would recommend the St. John’s River. It is situated in Central Florida near Daytona. A lot of bowfishermen here do airboats because it reduces the amount of damage done to the local aquatic wildlife. Some of the ideal locations for bowfishing here would be if you were to go to Silver Glen or Salt Springs to target the tilapia.
Some of the other fish species that you can hit on St. John’s River include:
One of the great things about bowfishing St. John’s comes from how you can arrow some big fish even from shore. You don’t necessarily need a boat to go fishing here and do well with it.
Silver Glen Springs
You can arrow tons of tilapia in Silver Glen Springs. The tilapia will usually range from 2 to 4 pounds, but you can shoot some over 4 pounds. Tilapia are especially common in Central and South Florida, but you don’t see them as much in the northern regions like Tallahassee. You have different colored tilapia depending on the region. For example, you have a blue tilapia, which we mentioned earlier that gives you nice, white firm meat.
We would especially recommend coming here around the spring of the year like in March when the tilapia start bedding down. The tilapia can spawn all year-round, which means that you have a never-ending amount of fish that you can shoot throughout the year, but their peak spawning season happens from January to March.
Lake George gives you another excellent example of a location where you can bowfish for tilapia. Again, the state of Florida tends to go after Tilapia more than carp, which may have to do with them tasting better. A lot of bowfishermen don’t like the taste of carp, and they wind up wasting the fish, but you do have ways to cook it so that it eliminates the muddy flavor.
Lake George sits in Central Florida, and we like to bowfish this one at night because all of the local wildlife shows up, which can make a trip memorable.
Along with tilapia, Lake George holds some big catfish that like to come out at night. You can also shoot some mullet on this lake, and the best part about Lake George is how you don’t need a boat to shoot the fish. You can still fill a cooler full of them from shore.
Lake George also has a bowfishing tournament that you may want to check out called the Central Florida Bowfishing Circuit. Whenever a lake or river has a tournament, you can trust that it has its share of fish on it.
The Crystal River has to have become one of the most popular bowfishing spots in Florida. Many revere it as one of the best bowfishing places. You see tons of action, and you can enjoy the wildlife along the way. We wouldn’t recommend bowfishing off a kayak in this area since alligators lurk in the area.
This area comes teeming with freshwater fish, but this isn’t necessarily an entirely freshwater river. The water runs brackish. How does that work with the licenses? Well, if you have a freshwater license, then you can only shoot freshwater fish. On the other hand, if you have a saltwater license, then you can only shoot saltwater fish.
In terms of freshwater fish, you will find targets like bowfin, gar and catfish. For saltwater fish, you will find bowfishing targets like sheepshead, black drum and stingray.
Primarily a freshwater source of water, one of the popular targets here has been the blue tilapia. While you can target saltwater fish as well, the main targets are the freshwater fish in the Everglades. You will usually go bowfishing in an airboat to minimize the ecological damage and target the local fish. We would recommend checking out the area near the Sawgrass Recreation Center. You will find this located in western Broward County.
The best time to go bowfishing here is from December to March when the water levels drop because the tilapia herd together to make for easy shooting.
A little tip on tilapia: You want to target them at night if possible because, like carp, they tend to let their guard down more. You can arrow them more easily. Some of the other fish that you might hit in the Everglades include the bowfin and the catfish.
Gar and tilapia have become special favorites on Lake Okeechobee. This Central Florida lake is referred to as the “Inland Sea” of Florida, covering 467,200 acres. Lake Okeechobee has a vast system that invasive species have wreaked havoc upon. You can also hit mullet and bowfin on this lake. You may have heard how bowfin don’t taste good. In fact, I’d like to argue against that point, and if you’re interested, you can check out the article that I wrote here.
A lot of people prefer to bowfish from a boat here because your results will be better. Be aware of how this lake does suffer from some pollution problems like phosphorous and nitrogen, which has become a yearly problem. Many bowfishermen, in fact, overlook Lake Okeechobee. We would say that the best times to go bowfishing on Lake Okeechobee would be from February to August, but you can bowfish here all year round.
Saltwater: Best Places to Bowfish in Florida
Due to three sides being surrounded by saltwater, it should come as no surprise that Florida has its share of saltwater bowfishing opportunities. Along with bowfishing in freshwater, Florida has an advantage in that you can target saltwater fish species as well. We previously mentioned the possibility of the Crystal River, but you have other places as well where you can go bowfishing.
Florida Gulf Coast
We would say that the Gulf comes with an abundance of opportunities for bowfishing. You will have a huge stretch where you can target some of the saltwater species. We would say that the best months to go to the Gulf Coast would be if you were to go around February. It has the best temperatures and many of the fish that you will target start to spawn around this time.
Some of the bays offer the best opportunities like Sarasota and Tampa. One of the great things about bowfishing on the Florida Gulf Coast comes from the crystal clear waters,
The Florida Panhandle
Destin, Florida, ranks as the Sportfishing Capital of the World. Some have even given it the title of the greatest bowfishing spot in the country. As an added bonus, if you come in from out of state, this would make an awesome place to bowfish due to the fact that the area is teeming with bowfishing charters and guides. Some of the most popular saltwater targets here include flounder, stingray, catfish and sheepshead. You have an impressive number of fish that you can shoot here.
Many of the things in the area include shallow sand bars and grass flats. One of the areas where we would recommend in Destin is the area called Big Hammock Point at Choctawhatchee Bay. In particular, this will pay off if targeting stingrays.
Spearfishing has proven popular in the Florida Keys over the years, but bowfishing has become another popular sport here. This is mostly a saltwater location where you can shoot cobia, snappers and flounder. Beware of the prohibited bowfishing targets here since you don’t want to run afoul with the law. Tuna, wahoo, barracuda, cobia, flounder and snappers are all good targets.
You can also shoot stingrays here—lots and lots of stingrays—but the only target that they allow is the southern stingrays. The area doesn’t have mullet or sheepshead because of how it isn’t brackish water with a mix of freshwater and saltwater. The great thing about bowfishing in the Florida keys also comes from the fact that the scenery is good while bowfishing, and the water is crystal clear making it easy to take shots.
The Space Coast
The Space Coast holds some of the best for inshore fish. We wouldn’t call this area quite as popular for bowfishing as the Gulf Coast, but you still have some great opportunities. Black drum have become an especially popular target along the Space Coast.
One of the best places where you can go bowfishing along the Space Coast is near Orlando, Florida. In fact, the bowfishing happens about 30 to 45 minutes away from there. You can also target some freshwater fish near Orlando like tilapia, gar, catfish and giant armored catfish.
Bowfishing Rules in Florida
Bowfishing in Florida is legal, and you can take a variety of species both freshwater and saltwater. Under state law, they consider bowfishing the same as fishing. With whatever type of fish that you target, you must buy the right license. For example, if you target saltwater fish, then you need a saltwater fishing license or likewise for freshwater fish.
The biggest advice for getting started is to make sure that you buy the right license. Hardcore bowfishermen will buy both so that they can bowfish for both the saltwater and the freshwater species. We would recommend starting with what you plan to target, however. You can learn more about the costs for Florida saltwater and freshwater fishing licenses here.
Beware of the local laws before you set out because Florida has local restrictions on bowfishing that you don’t want to run afoul of. For example, you can’t possess a crossbow without a permit given from your local county. Be aware of the local laws so that you don’t encounter problems with both bows and crossbows. What the state says can differ from specific local areas.
Tip: The areas with the strictest laws will usually have a higher population density.
You have a couple of things to remember with bowfishing in Florida—first, you can’t bowfish and fish at the same time because state law doesn’t let you keep freshwater game fish on the boat if you possess a bow at the same time.
Florida Bowfishing Charters: What You Need to Know
You will find no shortage of bowfishing charters in Florida. Plenty of companies offer their services, but how do you know what to choose from? We put together this quick checklist to help you decide on your next charter:
|Do you need the equipment provided by the company?|
|Do you want to bowfish at night?|
|Are you doing saltwater bowfishing?|
|Are you doing freshwater bowfishing?|
|Do you have anything special that you want?|
We put together the checklist so that you will better understand what you want to bowfish for and how to look for a guide. Price is also a big consideration, and bowfishing charters will usually cost anywhere from $300 to $600 for four hours. Look at the region where you want to bowfish and check to see that they will target the species that you want.
Previously, we spoke in the checklist about whether you had equipment or not. In case you don’t have your own bowfishing bow, you may want to check out the article that I wrote here on the best bowfishing bows. It can help you to decide on a great bow for your next bowfishing trip. Always check with each charter before heading out because while some bowfishing charters will give you the necessary equipment, others won’t provide it.
Florida ranks as one of the greatest bowfishing spots next to Texas and Louisiana. For a fun and less thought of state, check out the guide I wrote on bowfishing in Kentucky. You can target a variety of fish species here, but you should also be aware of the fish that you can’t target as well. In general, go after the rough fish, but if you ever have a question of whether you can shoot it or not, check ahead of time. Game fish aren’t allowed, and contrary to popular belief, you also shouldn’t shoot alligator gar here since it’s illegal. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.