Bowfishing in Kentucky, like some of the other states, has a broad appeal due to the common outdoor lifestyle of many in the state. You will see plenty of awesome lakes, rivers and streams to bowfish, and you can either shoot from shore or take to a boat to target the fish. The whole state of Kentucky offers its share of bowfishing opportunities.
What Fish Can You Shoot in Kentucky?
You can shoot the fish all year in Kentucky, but they only allow you to bowfish for the rough fish species. The only exception to that rule being catfish, which they consider a game fish. Kentucky allows you to take up to 15 catfish per day. The carp don’t have limits since they consider them an invasive species.
The most common fish species that you would target in the state include:
- Asian carp
- Grass carp
- Common Carp
- Bighead carp
You can only take two paddlefish per day. They only have a couple of states in the entire nation where you can go after the paddlefish with a bow with Kentucky being one of them. The Paddlefish also has the name Spoonbill Catfish.
While they allow you to shoot gar, you can’t target the alligator gar here since they consider them an endangered fish species. They have attempted to bring the alligator gar back to the state, and they were naturally occurring there and common throughout western Kentucky. You can learn more about that here in the video below:
Where are You Allowed to Bowfish in Kentucky?
You have a couple of different places where you can go bowfishing in the state of Kentucky. Some of the best places to shoot some fish include:
- Kentucky Lake
- Lake Barkley
- Cumberland River
- Tennessee River
All four of these locations offer you the perfect spots to go bowfishing. The state has a lot to offer people in terms of the action because of how the invasive fish have taken over some of the waters in Kentucky.
If you decide to bowfish on the Cumberland, we would recommend being aware of where you can bowfish and where you can’t since they have strict rules. For example, you can’t bowfish in the tailwaters of Lake Cumberland, and you can’t do it on the tributaries for half of a mile upstream. You must be aware of where you want to bowfish and know the rules if you choose the Cumberland.
However, it’s advisable to do that wherever you bowfish since the laws cann be trickier than with regular fishing.
With everything said, you have some great areas closer to the lower end of the lake where you can go bowfishing. Just be aware of where is allowed and where isn’t.
Bowfishing on Kentucky Lake
Especially as the spring and early summer temperatures heat up the waters, Kentucky Lake comes alive for bowfishing. Right around 73 degrees Fahrenheit would be the ideal temperature for bowfishing. Some of the best places to check for fish would be in the back coves and the tailwaters.
You will see many of the tailwaters near the dam on Kentucky Lake. Right near the creek inlets shows you another excellent example of a location to shoot some Asian carp. Many of the fish like to hang out near the inlet since they like to spawn in this area due to the extra minerals and runoff into the water making it the ideal spot for them to feed and spawn.
We wouldn’t recommend going at them from shore as much even though you could pull it off near the inlets. The problem is that it limits you more with this lake, and we would give more of a recommendation for bowfishing from a jon boat that they fitted with a bowfishing deck and lights for bowfishing at night.
This same information would apply if you were to bowfish on Lake Barkley. Check the coves and the inlets to see what you can pull in the fish.
While on Kentucky Lake, you might think about hiring a bowfishing guide who understands the lake to help you find the fish better. They will also provide a boat that lets you get out on the lake without the need to fish from shore. With as big and beautiful of a lake as Kentucky Lake is, it would be a shame if you only saw it from shore.
Some bowfishing guides will provide you with equipment but others won’t provide the bowfishing equipment. You want to be aware of this in advance to know if you need to bring your own equipment. In case you need your own gear, check out the article that I wrote here on the best bowfishing bows. To go bowfishing, it can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. On the simpler side, you can grab a bowfishing bow and arrow and start almost immedately.
Bowfishing Near Dams in Kentucky
One of the hotspots for bowfishing is always near the dams. In fact, if you’d like to see some hot action, we’d recommend checking out Barkley Dam on Lake Barkley. There was a video posted a while back about the action here, and I’ll post it below to let you decide if you would like to check it out. It makes bowfishing even more exciting as a sport when they jump right into the boat:
The one thing that we must emphasize as bowfishermen is responsible sportsmen practices. When you shoot the fish, take them with you. Many times, people will shoot them and leave them near the boat launch or up on the shore at the dam. Unfortunately, some of the Kentucky dams like the one at Barkley have had serious issues with this.
It stinks up the area and makes it unusable for other people and giving bowfishermen a bad reputation. When you shoot the fish, take them home with you. Carp make for great garden fertilizer even if you don’t like to eat the fish itself. You can give them away to someone as well. Most people will express gratitude when you give them fish. You can always find someone to take fish off your hands.
I’ve seen some selfish individuals argue for their right to do throw the fish on the shores or at the boat launch. It makes no sense to me. Here’s the thing—it requires little effort to take the fish home and dispose of them properly. This practices good sportsmen ethics and keeps the area clean and pleasant for everyone. You could argue that people throw trash around and this pollutes the area as well—you shouldn’t do that either.
Doing one doesn’t suddenly make the other one better. They’re both making the lakes and rivers less pleasant for everyone, so we would implore people to act responsibly. It doesn’t require that much effort.
We would say that the best time to bowfish the Kentucky Dam would be around spring to early summer from early March to early June. In terms of the time of the day, you can shoot them at almost any time, but we would recommend bowfishing at night since the fish will literally jump into your boat at night. They see the lights turn on on your boat and go crazy.
Kentucky Bowfishing Tournaments
If you want to participate in bowfishing tournaments, check out Kentucky Lake since the 160,000-acre lake hosts many bowfishing tournaments in the state. Many of the tournaments in Kentucky will target the invasive Asian carp on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. One of the examples of this would be the Annual Freedom Shoot Charity Bowfishing Tournament.
The Carp Mayhem Tournament Series and the Jarred Ashmore Youth Bowfishing Tournament show you two other examples of ongoing tournaments in the state.
You could also check with the Kentucky Bowfishing Association since they often host tournaments and fight for the legal rights of bowfishermen. We didn’t find that they had a strong presence in the state compared to other states, but we do think that they have some presence here. In Kentucky, many of the tournaments appear to be funded by regular individuals rather than the association.
What Kind of License Do You Need for Bowfishing in Kentucky?
To go bowfishing in the Bluegrass State, you just need a regular fishing license. You can learn more about the cost of the licenses here. Bowfishing doesn’t have a season in the state of Kentucky, and you can bowfish year-round. This appears to be pretty common for most of the states in the US, but we still would advise checking ahead of time to make sure. As far as bowfishing regulations go, they remain pretty relaxed. You can take fish here with a compound bow, longbow, recurve or crossbow. If you choose the crossbow, be aware of the specific laws for using them with bowfishing.
Kentucky State Bowfishing Records
If you wanted to see the latest bowfishing records, we would recommend checking out the records from the Kentucky Bowfishing Association. They show you the latest records of fish that people have caught, show you the potential for the huge fish within the state. To paint a picture of the opportunity, Will Burgess shot an 82.5-pound bighead carp in 2017. It was 5-foot 2 inches. Think of that size—that fish is taller than my girlfriend!
It goes to show you that Kentucky is full of great bowfishing opportunities. If we were to look at another mind-blowing record, Mike Pahner shot a 5-foot 4-inch longnose gar on March 16, 2016. It weighed a mind-blowing 41.4 pounds. Even if you don’t shoot a state record, you can be guaranteed hours of fun as you have tons of fish to shoot. The people who went bowfishing and disliked it often went to the wrong lake where there wasn’t a lot of action, but bowfishing has the potential to give you hours of fun out on the water.
Kentucky as a state has no shortage of locations where you can go bowfishing, and you can target a variety of fish species. If you don’t have a boat and don’t want to bowfish from shore, you could hire a bowfishing guide to take you out on the water. For some of the people in this state, bowfishing has become a way of life and over the summer months, you will find them out there four to five days out of the week going bowfishing.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to plan a bowfishing trip out of state, we might recommend going bowfishing in Florida. We wrote a guide about the experience of that here. You might also check out the places to bowfish in the neighboring state of Ohio.