Getting started in bowfishing, you wonder about everything that you will need to begin. I’ve put together this guide to help beginners better understand how bowfishing works and everything that you will need to get started. To get started in bowfishing, you need a bow and bowfishing arrows at the most primitive level, but you can make it much more complicated. Bowfishing usually costs anywhere from $120 to $5,000 to get started.
Let’s take a look at the most essential things to get started in bowfishing.
#1: Bowfishing Bow Setup—How to Get Started
You need a bow to start bowfishing. While you can get away without a boat and bowfish from shore, you will need to buy a bow. You can use a bow like your hunting bow, but I wouldn’t recommend that you grab your best bow and bring it along for bowfishing.
This has a big issue in that moving around in a boat will leave it vulnerable to smashing up against the sides of the boat. It will beat up your prized hunting bow—not ideal. I would recommend a new bowfishing bow or a separate bow at least.
Choose a bowfishing bow in particular to get one that can handle abuse better. The brands that manufacture bowfishing bows understand how they get beat up in a boat. On shore, you won’t have much problem, but you need one for a boat.
The other danger comes from how bloody and messy bowfishing can get when you shoot the fish. The fish slime in particular can be hard on your bow.
Now, you can choose from either a compound or a recurve bowfishing setup. You have strengths and weaknesses with either choice.
Compound bows won’t tire you out after a night of shooting. You can draw them back with ease and aim easier because of the lighter weight. Most bowfishing shots will be snapshots because the fish move fast if you don’t shoot at them quickly. Rarely do you get time to aim at the fish.
For anyone in the market looking for a compound bowfishing setup, I would recommend the Sucker Punch Bow Package.
On the other hand, a recurve bow costs less to get started. Beginners without much money should think more about a recurve. Now, recurves do have an advantage over compounds in that you don’t need to reach a full draw because of little to no let-off.
You can take quick shots easier, which matters because 98 percent of your shots will be quick shots. If you’d like to see a great bow for the recurve, I would recommend the PSE Kingfisher Recurve.
Related Article: Ultimate 14 Best Bowfishing Bows
#2: Bowfishing Reel
After you grab your bow, you will need a bowfishing reel to mount to it. On the whole, you can convert almost any bow into a bowfishing bow, but you still need the right accessories. Bowfishing does have some specialized equipment. Some people with the reel will even create their own reel with a bottle. Sometimes you hear this called the drum reel.
You can also use a spin cast reel for bowfishing. Just keep in mind that you want one that the manufacturers made explicitly for bowfishing, which lets the line flow freely off the reel. The drag only engages after you pull the trigger on it.
Pros and Cons: Drum Reel
You can use a drum reel easily enough. The fishing line spools around the drum, and after you finish the shot, you grab the line to reel it in and spool it back around the drum. Drum reels cost much less than the other choices like a spin cast.
Drum reels usually cost less than $20, and they will last for years because they don’t have moving components that will break down on you.
The biggest downside of a drum reel comes from how it needs to run freely to operate correctly. You will need to put on a heavier line with a drum reel.
Pros and Cons: Spincast Reel
Especially if you hope to bring home a truck bed full of carp, spincast reels outshine their rival when it comes to numbers. You can crank in the fish faster and hunt for more fish sooner. Spincast reels require no learning curve especially if you use them for other types of fishing.
Your hands won’t tire out as much with a spincast reel because your hands never need to crank in the line in a demanding way.
For anyone who plans to shoot a tournament, spincast reels make the most sense for a setup because it enables you to shoot more carp.
As an expert tip with spincast reels, install a lighter line if you want to take shots at a greater distance. Generally speaking, your shots in bowfishing will all happen within 20 yards of the boat, but it can help you to hit the fish farther out.
#3: Bowfishing Arrows
Next, for a proper bowfishing setup you will need special bowfishing arrows. No, you can’t use regular archery arrows because they won’t penetrate the water. Bowfishing arrows don’t include feathers on them, and they weigh more than a regular arrow. This allows to pierce the fish better and shoot deeper in the water.
In most cases, you won’t shoot in water deeper than 4 feet even with these arrows. The water resistance will slow down the arrows otherwise and make your shots less effective.
For beginner bowfishermen, I would recommend that you start with less expensive arrow tips because they won’t hurt as bad when you ruin an arrow. Bowfishing takes time to learn, and you will likely begin by missing a lot and sinking the arrow in muck, mud, rocks and logs. All of this will dull your tips and shorter their lifespan.
Especially if you bought a $20 to $30 arrow, that can take the wind from your sails.
Bowfishing Arrow Tips: What to Know
Now, you have two types of arrow tips that you can buy, and before you buy one, I’d recommend that you know your main target. Don’t just buy a bowfishing arrow thinking this will set you up because the arrow tip will dictate what you can bowfish for. When it comes to arrow tips, you can either buy a gar point or a grapple point.
Gar points were designed to pierce the fiercely strong armor of a gar. They don’t work well as bowfishing arrows for carp. You use this arrow when you hunt gar. You need an arrow that will penetrate through its two layers of scaled armor.
To put into perspective how tough their scales are, most bowfishermen will clean gar with a hatchet. You can tell when you bought a gar point because it will have two prongs on it. Manufacturers made the barb strong enough to retrieve the fish easily.
For everything else, you should buy a grapple point arrow. They made this arrow specifically for taking down carp. Once a grapple point penetrates the fish, it expands to keep the arrow on the fish. In some cases, arrows will slide off or bounce off, which is why you need to keep your bowfishing arrows sharp. Nothing feels worse than losing a fish that you hit.
In other cases, the arrow might come off when you go to reel it in. This is a waste because bowfishing always kills the fish. If they arrow comes off without you cranking it into the boat, the fish was given a death sentence that will happen slowly. It’s similar to hunting in that ethical hunters never try to simply wound a fish. You always want to make a clean kill with as little suffering for the fish as possible.
When this arrow does stick a fish, it will usually remain on the line until you bring it into the boat.
Best Bowfishing Arrow Brands
- Muzzy Bowfishing
- Cajun Bowfishing
- AMS Bowfishing
How to Make Your Arrows Last
When well maintained, bowfishing arrows will last with carbon arrows lasting about two years. If you start to see signs of damage on the arrow, however, replace it. Never shoot a damaged arrow because it can injure you.
To make your arrows last longer, stay alert to the places where you take shots. You want to shoot at locations with sandy or mucky or muddy bottoms because it won’t hurt the arrow as much. Try as much as possible to avoid areas with rocky bottoms. That will be the hardest on your arrows.
At its worst, your arrows will break sooner and at its best, your arrows will dull sooner. You will have moments where you need to take a shot in the rocks, but I would just do my best to avoid it. That doesn’t mean you can’t take the occasional shot at a carp in the rocks, but it pays to find a better place for your shots.
Usually, you don’t need as many arrows as you would with archery. In fact, most all-inclusive setups will only have one or two arrows included with them, which is okay because you don’t shoot in the same way as you would in archery.
Related Article: Bowfishing Arrows Guide: How to Buy Bowfishing Arrows
#4: Bowfishing Slides
Bowfishing slides are not negotiable. You need a bowfishing slide for safety purposes because it prevents the fishing line from tangling with the bowstring and shooting the arrow back at you. No one should get started without a bowfishing slide. I know bowfishermen who risk their lives over this, but it’s not worth it. People have died or lost their eyes because of an arrow that the bow flung back at them.
It’s such a simple solution that there’s no reason not to use a slide. It’s stupid to go without one. Stay safe when out bowfishing and don’t take unnecessary risks. In general, bowfishing is a reasonably safe sport as long as you use common sense.
If you’d like to learn about what can go wrong without a bowfishing slide, check out the story in the video below. This is one of the reasons that I say a slide is a must. An injury where the arrow takes out your eye can end your bowfishing career:
While the guy in the video did eventually recover and learn how to shoot with one eye, he never recovered his eye. Not everyone will walk away unscathed or with an injury. In plenty of cases, bowfishermen were killed when the arrow came slinging back at them.
Every bowfishing arrow will have a hole drilled into it made for the safety slide—make use out of it.
#5: Bowfishing Boat
The above sets up your bowfishing rig, but you will likely need a bowfishing boat if you would like to head out onto the water. Most bowfishermen will bowfish from a flat jon boat because it makes it easier for them to aim at the fish. You can use a pontoon boat for the same purpose because it offers good stability.
I wouldn’t recommend a pontoon boat in most cases, however, unless you already have one. The reason behind it is that it can’t maneuver in some of the tight spaces that you can get into with a jon boat to shoot the fish.
Pontoons will make a good choice if you would like to bowfish with a few buddies because you can maximize your space. Jon boats do the best for bowfishing, however. I have even heard of people who will use a stand-up kayak to bowfish in. You can do this, but I wouldn’t get it if you want to bowfish with your friends once in a while since it seems to a solo boat for bowfishing.
#6: Bowfishing Lights
I should emphasize that most bowfishing sessions—unless you belong to a state where they banned it at night—will happen after nightfall. You can see the fish better at night, and you can take shots easier. I always struggled to see the fish others. Now, you can use polarized sunglasses for bowfishing during the day, but for me, I will always belong to the camp that prefers to do it at night.
The lights will light up the fish, and they have nowhere to hide. I have always found it difficult to see the fish otherwise. Still, you have plenty of bowfishermen who have bowfished for fish successfully during the day. I would just prefer to do it at night is all.
Bowfishing lights aren’t necessary if you plan to bowfish during the day, but I would recommend that you try to go out bowfishing at night. It’s a completely different experience full of action because you will take snapshots of the fish any time they show up in the water.
Related Article: Best Polarized Sunglasses for Bowfishing
Total Cost Chart to Start Bowfishing
|Bowfishing Item||Price Range|
|Bowfishing Bow||$70 – $500|
|Bowfishing Reel||$20 – $150|
|Bowfishing Arrows||$8 – $50 (per arrow)|
|Bowfishing Slides||$10 – $30|
|Bowfishing Boats||$500 – $3,000|
|Bowfishing Lights||$20 to $40 (per light)|
Bowfishing can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it. You might start out with a small setup and invest more as you learn that you like the sport. I would even recommend that first-timers hire a bowfishing charter to check it out for themselves to see if they like it. Just check in advance to make sure that they will include all the equipment. Having an expert guide you out on the water can teach you how to bowfish at the same time, making it valuable for beginners.