Let’s say that you want to go bowfishing. You bought your bowfishing bow, you bought your arrows, but now you realize you don’t know much about the sport. Can you just go out and bowfish for any fish that comes along? You have rules and regulations in place that stop you from going after any type of fish. Bowfishermen can only go after certain types of fish.
What kind of fish can I bowfish? When you go bowfishing, you can bowfish common carp, bighead carp, silver carp, grass carp, gar, alligator gar, catfish, suckers, paddlefish, buffalo, freshwater drum and bowfin or dog fish. During bowfishing, you go after the rough fish.
Check Your Local Laws and Regulations
I give this as a general outline for bowfishing species rather than an exact statement of what you can bowfish. This varies depending on your state. For example, you can only fish for carp in Washington. What you can bowfish for will largely depend on your state.
In addition, one that I didn’t mention was bowfishing for northern pike. Most places don’t let you bowfish for northern pike, but you have certain areas where they consider it as fine. You should first speak with your local DNR to understand your specific region because of how this can even vary from one region to the next. Always check with your local DNR.
The Most Common Bowfisherman Prize
Most commonly, you will see us loose arrows on the common carp. That is our forte, and I know of many bowfishermen who specifically target the common carp. The great thing about going after the common carp is that they don’t have a limit in many cases. You can fill a truck full of carp with no problem from the DNR.
In fact, you’re doing a public service because carp are considered an invasive species that eat everything in their path from other fish to weeds and other things that kill off the local fish. You keep the populations down so that they don’t overtake the local native populations.
The best time to go after the common carp is in the spring of the year. From early April to late May, you will find them in abundance, and for some reason, they also tend to taste better during this time.
What Fish Should You Target?
Especially when starting out, I’d recommend that you go after the different carp species because they will be the easiest to shoot. You will also find them in abundance. In some places, they even overrun the local water system, and they have endangered other local fish. That is why bowfishing for them could be doing a public service to your local wildlife area.
With that said, gar make another great target for bowfishing. You can differentiate the gar from the alligator gar based on the fact that a regular gar lacks the upper jaw that you’d see with an alligator gar. This makes a fun target because of how they have a protective scaling that acts like armor. They can be a lot of fun to shoot. If you will have success with bowfishing for gar, you have to use the sharpest tips.
A little recommendation on when you go after gar, this species doesn’t require much oxygen to survive. Their gas bladders function much like how a human’s lungs would function. Regularly, you will see gars gulping air. As they do this, it presents you—the bowfisherman—with ample opportunity to put an arrow through its belly. Important to note, you should do this with a quick shot draw because it happens and ends fast.
Going after Alligator Gar
If you want to strike down an alligator gar, you better come with the sharpest arrow points like the Muzzy Bowfishing 1010 Quick Release Gar Point Fishing Point. You need the sharpest of arrows if you will pierce the armor of an alligator gar. Important to note, if you decide to bowfish for alligator gar, they can reach sizes of up to 125 to 150 pounds, and they can be as big as 6 to 8 feet long. That should give you an idea about the tasty monsters you face.
After you have shot an alligator gar and brought it home, you need a machete or a cane knife to cut away the tough skin at the top to expose the meat. A good recommendation for this is the Tramontina 18″ Machete. It doesn’t cost much, but it gets the job done right. In a lot of cases, bowfishing will kill the fish by the time you clean it.
In the event that it remains alive, you will need to kill it before you clean it. One of the best ways that you can do this is with a couple of hatchet blows to the head. A hatchet works best. If you don’t have one, you might check out the very cheap Coleman Camp Axe to help you clean some alligator gar.
With the axe and the machete, you will skin back the skin of the alligator gar and effectively clean it. I like alligator gar because the meat tastes a lot like shrimp. A lot of people like the delicious flavor of alligator gar. It tastes delicious, but you will need the right equipment to get past the tough armor that is the skin.
What Can’t I Bowfish?
I think this is an equally good question that can help you to steer clear of the DNR’s angry eye. Basically, any of the regular fish that you’d normally fish for can’t be taken as a bowfishing species. For example, you can’t bowfish walleye, pike, sunfish, bass or muskellunge.
In most cases, you can’t bowfish for pike, but if you ever have a question, your best bet is to contact your local DNR. They can highlight the fish available for bowfishing in your area. Look up your state DNR office online and then look for your local region to find a DNR that you can ask about for what is available to bowfish for in your region. This can also tell you what you can’t bowfish.
You will want to ask how much of each species you can take too. In some cases, this even depends on a difference of a single lake, so you want to get the most up-to-date local information.
The Difference between Bowfishing and Regular Fishing
You have one key difference that is quite large between bowfishing and regular fishing. With hook-and-line fishing, you will usually have a limit on how many fish you can take. Bowfishing differs in that with a lot of the rough fish, you have no limit to the amount of fish that you can put an arrow through. Even with no limit, however, it can still be difficult to shoot the fish. When I first started, I missed my first 60 shots.
I have known bowfishermen who have literally taken home a pick-up truck full of carp. They don’t have a limit because it is an invasive species that is causing irreparable ecological harm to the local environment. Because of that, they often let you take as many as you want. That doesn’t always mean that you should eat as many as you want. Because carp eat everything in sight, they often get highly polluted in certain waters, and it is only recommended that you eat a specified number of them to stay safe from harmful chemicals and other things they may have digested.
With that said, hopefully this sheds some light on the types of fish that you can bowfish. You have a number of fish available, but this largely varies depending on what state and region you live in. This is only to give you an idea, and I recommend that you look into it a little deeper.
For saltwater bowfishing, you can also target some different bowfishing species, such as stingrays, flounders, sheepshead and certain species of sharks. Again, check with your local DNR because it’s going to depend on each individual location, which is more than I can write in a blog post about it. However, this should give you an idea about what you could bowfish for depending on your area.