Bowfishing from a kayak differs from doing it on shore or in a boat because you can slip into tight corners and shallow waters that a larger boat couldn’t reach. When much of bowfishing depends on shooting in shallow water, that turns into a huge advantage. I’ve always liked kayaking in general, and adding bowfishing to the sport gives it one more perk. Bowfishing in a kayak offers a level of challenge that you don’t receive in a bowfishing boat, and it offers more simplicity too. You don’t need as big of a budget to do it.
How to Get Started: Bowfishing Kayak Setup
To begin, you will need a kayak—the best kayak for bowfishing would be a sit-on-top kayak because of how you can stand up in it to take the shots. The Perception Outlaw 11.5 offers you a kayak that can pull this off. With the regular kayaks, you don’t dare stand up in them because like a canoe, it will make the boat tip over. They made the boat for lakes, rivers and slow-moving streams, which makes it the ideal setup for bowfishing since much of the sport happens on rivers and streams.
I personally don’t want to have to take shots while sitting down because of how it will limit my range of where I can shoot, and it may feel too tight to take the shots safely. In limiting circumstances, I might use it, but I think a sit-on-top kayak is a superior choice.
The other great thing about a sit-on-top kayak comes from how you have more space to store your gear. With whatever kayak that you choose, you need one that will offer the stability necessary for the sport.
After you have the boat, you need to decide if you will bowfish at night. Bowfishing at night means that you would need to pay extra for lights, so you might choose to opt out of that for the time being, if on a lower budget. Bowfishing lights can get spendy, and they will cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000, depending on the setup. It will probably sit more on the lower range because of the size of the kayak, but you will still need lights to bowfish at night.
Not only will you need the lights, but you will need a generator as well to power the lights.
Next, you will need a bow for bowfishing. Technically speaking, you can use any bow that you want for bowfishing, but I would recommend a bowfishing bow. Bowfishing bows have an advantage in that they can handle a beating out on the water and be fine.
In a kayak, you don’t have as much space as in a regular boat, and this can lead to it bumping around more. The kayak paddle can accidentally hit it. To sum it up—I wouldn’t use my prized hunting bow for bowfishing. Bowfishing bows were designed specifically to take the abuse, and they were made more for taking snapshots out on the water.
If you’d like to learn more about some of the best bowfishing bows, check out this article that I wrote here.
Also, if you’d like to see what bowfishing from a kayak looks like, check out this video here:
What Bow to Use in a Kayak?
With a kayak, the biggest disadvantage of it will come from the space limitations. You may prefer a compound bow or a recurve because the shortness of it means less bumping around in the boat. Think of shortness for your bow if you plan to do bowfishing from the kayak often. The space limitations can prove a challenge at times, and you don’t want to worsen it with a large bow.
What You Need in the Kayak
You have some items that you need and some that I would recommend having. For example, an anchor isn’t entirely necessary, but it prevents two things—first, it will prevent you from drifting, but second, it will keep the fish from pulling you around in the water. Yes, in a boat this small, the fish will pull you around in the water after you shoot them. It offers some fun, which is why you may decide to do away with that anchor altogether—like no problem if you decided against it!
Along with an anchor, you will need a spare arrow. Bowfishing doesn’t require a lot of arrows, but you do need at least two. This helps you in the event that one of your arrows would break or get lost on a fish—it happens and you don’t want to have to end your night early. Many bowfishing kits will only come with a single arrow, and you will need to buy a spare one separately. I would recommend at least one spare.
Next, you will need a cooler to store the fish. One of the great things about being out in a kayak comes from how the smaller size lets you go more unnoticed than with a larger boat.
You will need a place to store your bow, which is one of the more challenging thing about bowfishing from a kayak is that you don’t have that space easily. You will need a lifejacket as well for safety. With all bowfishing, you need a line attached to the arrow to legally shoot the fish and to reel it back into the boat.
What Fish Can You Shoot from a Kayak?
The bowfishing laws for bowfishing from a kayak don’t differ from bowfishing in a regular boat. Check the rules of your individual state to see what you can and cannot shoot. Many times, as bowfishermen, we will go after the carp. Some states may allow you to bowfish for other types of fish. I wrote about the bowfishing laws of all 50 states here. It tells you about the fish that you can shoot in each state.
Can You Catch Big Fish in a Kayak?
Especially due to the smaller size of the kayak, you may wonder about how big of a fish you can catch. There are no size limitations on what you can catch when it comes to the kayak. Put a big enough carp or monster alligator gar (if you’re in Texas or Louisiana), and that fish will pull you all around the lake. I’ve had a blast with this.
6 Bowfishing Tips for out in the Kayak
Tip #1 Day and Night Differ: First, understand how bowfishing during the day will differ greatly from bowfishing out at night. The daytime has an advantage in that you don’t need as much expensive gear to pull it off. With that said, most of the bowfishermen that I know like to do it at night because the lights illuminate the fish, and you can see them better. If you go during the day, you will want a good pair of polarized sunglasses. I wrote about the best polarized sunglasses here.
Tip #2 Take Full Advantage of the Kayak: If you only shoot on lakes and large rivers, you may be missing out on an essential part of the bowfishing experience. The biggest advantage of a kayak is that it hands you access to small creeks, coves and streams that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise because of the size restrictions.
Tip #3 Choose the Right Arrow Tip: You want to choose an arrow based on the fish that you will target. To take down the larger carp, you will need a larger prong arrow so that it doesn’t flop right back out after injuring the fish. With gar and alligator gar, you need more than a flimsy arrow tip to put it in the fish.
Think about it this way—it’s recommended that you use a hatchet to open them up because of the toughness of their skin—really think about how hard their skin must be. For that reason, you want an arrowhead made for gar and alligator gar or you risk losing the fish.
Tip #4 Beware of Rocky Shallows: Unlike with regular fishing, you will shoot a projectile into the water, which may strike off the bottom of the riverbed. Do this enough times, and it will dull your arrows. For that reason, you either want to shoot in more mucky and muddy areas or use a grinder to sharpen them after shooting in rocky shallows.
The biggest problem with a dull arrow comes from how it creates a bigger hole. This will make it easier for the fish to get off your arrow. Also, it will be a waste because they will likely swim away and die somewhere. Bowfishing kills the fish unlike with regular fishing.
Tip #5 Know Your Prey: You want to know where your prey like to hang out so that you can target them better. Carp, for example, like muddy water, and they will often stir up the muck in the area to meet their preferences, especially during spawning season. This creates a lot of pollution in the water, and it makes them harder to arrow during the daylight hours. At night, you can illuminate them easily.
If you’re going after gar or buffalo, they prefer to chill in the creeks and rivers. Lastly, suckers like clear water. Whatever you go after, know their water preference and where they prefer to hang around so that you can get them more easily. Also, be aware of your local and state laws because some fish—even the rough fish—may be off limits.
Tip #6 How to Snap Shoot: Snap shooting is the most common type of shooting in bowfishing. You draw back quickly and take a shot because the fish won’t stay in one area for long. If you plan to do a lot of snap shooting, you will want to choose a bow with no let off. This typically means recurves or a compound bow without let-off. You can still use a bow with let-off, but it’s less ideal for doing snap shots. Bowfishermen don’t tend to worry as much about aiming because there’s no time for it. Take too much time and the fish will swim away.
Hopefully, you learned something about how to bowfish in a kayak. Choose a boat so that the kayak bowfishing platform should be stable to shoot from. You generally want to choose a sit-on-top kayak, but after that, it becomes about practice and knowing how to take the fish from the boat. In truth, it doesn’t differ all that much from bowfishing in a regular boat except you have access to tighter corners and smaller streams and creeks. You just have to know how to choose one that will work well for bowfishing.