Bowfishing has seen rising popularity in the state of Tennessee for quite some time, and if you’re new to the sport, you may wonder about the regulations and where you can bowfish. What I love about this sport is that it’s a mixture of hunting and fishing, but at the same time, entirely unique in its own ways.
You can bowfish all year round in the state of Tennessee with its weather. When you look at the bowfishing activity in the state, the Bowfishing Association of America has around 250 members here out of 6,000 across the US. Bowfishing has an estimated 50,000 total bowfishermen in the United States.
Is Bowfishing Legal in Tennessee?
In the state of Tennessee, you can shoot non-game fish species without limits, which tends to be what they call the rough fish. Sometimes these fish will also be invasive fish species like the Asian carp, which have taken over the Mississippi River system in Tennessee. These are the fish that have fewer people who want to eat them, and they often pose a threat to the native fish populations.
You can also shoot 5 catfish per day and 2 paddlefish per day according to the state limits. Out of that, Tennessee has no bowfishing limits on the other non-game fish of the state. You can’t take sturgeon here, and unlike in Texas and some other states, they don’t allow you to bowfish for alligator gar either.
What kind of license do you need to bowfish in Tennessee? Like all the other states, Tennessee treats bowfishing as a type of fishing. You just need a standard fishing license to get started. You can bowfish in all Tennessee waters with the exception of a few. If you ever have a question, just contact the local DNR ahead of time to make sure.
When Do the Carp Spawn in Tennessee?
When the carp spawn exactly will depend on the year and what the water temperatures are at because it heavily depends on the water temperature. However, the carp like to spawn in Tennessee from mid-April to the end of May. If you’d like to learn more about the carp spawning habits in general, I wrote about that here.
What are the Best Places to Bowfish in Tennessee?
You can bowfish on most bodies of water in Tennessee with a few exceptions, but let’s take a look at some of the most popular bowfishing spots:
- Lake Norris
- Cordell Hull
- Nickajack Lake
- Dale Hollow Lake
- Douglas Lake
- Lake Chickamauga
- Mississippi River
Lake Norris has become one of the top spots to go for bowfishing. It’s most notorious for having awesome bass fishing, but there’s an invasion of Asian carp that threaten to destroy the local habitat, which is why bowfishermen on this lake are so incredibly important. The lake has over 800 miles of shoreline, and it was created in 1936 by the Norris Dam at the Cove Creek site.
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You can time this lake right around the time where the cicadas take over to stir up activity with the carp. It’s a great opportunity to go after bowfishing targets. Check around the coves where you will find large numbers of them. You will also find them in medium-sized bluffs. This lake has had bowfishing tournaments on it in the past, so you may want to look into that if it’s something that you’re interested in.
You catch gar spawning below the dam on Nickajack Lake if you like to target the gar. You can shoot some fat carp there as well. To give you an idea of what sized fish you can shoot here, Jason Caldwell and Kyle Duggan showed off a 77-pound grass carp that they arrowed on Nickajack Lake. Yes, you can both hit the same fish in bowfishing with multiple arrows going into one fish. I’ve seen it done with alligator gar. Anyway, you shoot some big fish here.
Just be careful. On May 20, 2022, there was a bowfisherman who died on the lake when his boat sank. The details of what happened were never clear. Just be careful when you bowfish. Always stay safe and follow good safety practices.
Dale Hollow Lake
Dale Hollow Lake is one of the clearest lakes that you will ever lay your eyes on. This is a good lake if you’d like to hit up some gar. Just remember that if you plan to target gar, you will want to bring along arrows that can pierce the armored flesh of the gar. You often see people clean gar with a hatchet due to the toughness of their skin.
You wouldn’t come here for common carp because it has little to no common carp. I should rephrase that in that most of the carp on Dale Hollow Lake go deep to where you can’t get them. You just have to experiment here on which of the coves will have the gar.
Douglas Lake is the type of lake that you shoot at because of its closeness to you. You don’t come here necessarily for bowfishing because the rivers will honestly hold more than this lake. I put this one on, however, to give you ideas about where you could bowfish. This isn’t necessarily your best choice though.
With everything in mind, Douglas Lake is a great choice for regular fishing.
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The north end of Lake Chickamauga holds some good bowfishing opportunities. You will shoot some of the biggest carp that you have ever seen at Lake Chickamauga. Just beware because this lake may be handing out citations for noise violations if you use a generator. Unfortunately, some people are hostile to the sport of bowfishing. One of the ways to avoid the problem is to stay out of the populated areas.
Some of the areas where you might head include Wolftever Creek and check around the grass near Harrison Bay State Park. You will see some carp, gar and some big shad lurking in this area begging to be shot. Check the coves here as well since the carp like to hide in these areas.
The Mississippi River offers you endless opportunities for bowfishing. This place is full of hot spots to bowfish, and with Asian carp taking over this section of the river, it becomes a fun opportunity for bowfishermen to shoot some carp and do good for the environment. These carp are destroying our river waterways, which makes it even more important that we go out and take them out.
Should I Hire a Guide for Bowfishing?
For someone new to the sport of bowfishing, you may find it helpful to hire a guide because they will take you to the spots to shoot the carp. You can learn it yourself, but this ensures that you start off on the right foot with bowfishing. When you hire a guide, you will want to see what they include in the package. For example, will they clean the fish for you? Will they include the bowfishing equipment?
In cases where they include the bowfishing equipment, it can help you to get used to the sport before you buy the equipment yourself. If you want to buy your own bowfishing bow, I wrote an article on that topic.
Bowfishing in Tennessee can be a blast, but you need to understand a few things about it before you set out. I hope that I’ve highlighted some of the key points for you on bowfishing in Tennessee like the regulations and the places where you can go. You have plenty of great opportunities here for bowfishing. The biggest thing is to find an area where you like to bowfish and master it over time. You will hit more fish that way.