As my buddy eased the boat around the corner with the trolling motor, we were both in a state of anticipation as we approached the “fishing hole.” Once we reached the hole, we could see several fish cruising around. I was the first one to get my line in the water. Thwack! My arrow bounced off a rock, shattering once-present silence. Yes, I did say arrow, but we were not after bass on this day; we were bowfishing for carp!
While it may look and sound a little odd shooting at fish with a bow and arrow, this creative pastime is full of excitement, and the sport has really been catching on in recent years. It serves a few important purposes: the fish targeted in bowfishing are usually non-native to our waterways and can wreak havoc on the natural habitat and species that belong there.
A great example of this is the explosion of the Asian or bighead carp throughout the Midwest. These destructive fish can wipe out a waterway of natural habitat and food for game fish. And their all-out aerial assault can even seriously injure people as they often jump boats when startled by the motor’s noise and vibration. Bowfishing also is a great shooting activity to do during the summertime when you are otherwise stuck shooting paper targets or nothing at all. And lastly, it is just plain fun!
It was early June when the aforementioned trip took place, and it was to be the first of our many bowfishing exploits throughout the years.
Yes, this is a good time of year to actually be doing some “real” fishing, but bowfishing is sure a good way to take a break for awhile when the fishing slows down or just to try something different. Besides that, bowfishing is a great way to do your part in helping to control the spread of invasive non-native species into our fragile waterways.
In terms of equipment, there are bows specifically made for bowfishing, but if you do not wish to incur the extra expense, using the bow you already have is an option. Nowadays, I prefer to have a separate rig just for bowfishing, and most can be had without too much expense. But if you are just starting out, you may choose to go the least expensive route possible.
It does not take much at all to turn your bowhunting setup into a bowfishing setup. For my inaugural trip several years ago, I simply screwed on a Zebco bowfishing reel in place of my stabilizer and wire-tied my TM Hunter prong-style arrow rest up to keep it from falling down under the weight of the heavy fiberglass bowfishing arrow. It wasn’t the prettiest set-up, but it worked. There is also a plethora of equipment out there also, but all you really need to get started besides a bow is a bowfishing reel and seat, line, and arrows. For around $100 you can turn your hunting bow into a fish hunting machine.
One last yet very important piece of equipment if you are chasing your quarry during daylight hours is a pair of polarized sunglasses. They can be just the ticket and make the difference between spotting your prey or not, unless, of course, you are fishing at night with the aid of lights.
As for places to try your hand at bowfishing, almost anywhere can provide action at the right time of year. Probably the most popular method is to slowly patrol shallow coves and bays at night in lakes and reservoirs. The use of spot or flood lights enables you to easily spot fish as they meander along in the shallows.
However, simply stalking along creek or river banks in late spring can produce shots at carp and gar as they cruise the shallows. I have even shot them from small ditches at certain times of the year. The spillway areas below small dams are also a good place to try your hand. Or, if you are looking for just a quick, simple trip, consider getting on the water early in the morning or early in the evening and putting the boat back on the trailer a few hours later. This will allow you to take in some good bowfishing and still get off the water before the crowds hit, or after they go in, whichever the case may be.
You will be surprised at how easy it is to miss a 10-pound carp at a distance of mere feet. This is due to a phenomenon known as the light refraction factor. Because of this factor, the fish you are sighting simply is not where your brain tells you it is.
This makes it necessary to aim low on fish, generally anywhere from six- to 12-inches low, depending on at what angle you are shooting. The closer the shot is to 90-degrees, the less you are required to hold below your target. A good rule of thumb is to start out by aiming about 10-inches or so below the bottom of the fish. You can adjust as you go along.
Probably the newest method of bowfishing, and certainly more challenging, is called aerial bowfishing and involves targeting the Asian bighead carp and its close cousin, the silver carp, as they leap several feet out of the water. These fish become startled by the sound of the boats engine, causing them to leap into the air, at times by the dozens. This creates a serious threat of injury to boaters as these fish easily can weigh up to 50 pounds.
This is extreme bowfishing, and certainly one of the most enjoyable methods, but don’t count on hitting hundreds of these fish in a day. Trying to punch a hole in a fish as its airborne while in a moving boat is no easy task, but it’s off the charts on the excitement level. Beware this is a contact sport. You will undoubtedly get smacked on occasion by flying fish.
Thanks, or actually, no thanks at all, to the rapid expansion of the bighead carp, they are no longer found just in or near the Mississippi River and its main tributaries where they originally escaped from ships during transport and/or were irresponsibly released into the wild. They now exist in rivers throughout the Midwest and their numbers continue to spread.
Bowfishing is a rapidly-growing activity in the outdoor lifestyle repertoire and for good reason! Besides the obvious fun and challenge that it brings to the table, it serves a vital role in attempting to do all we can to try to stop invasive species from proliferating out of control.
So remember, it isn’t necessary to spend loads of cash on equipment for bowfishing. Sure, if you are serious about it, the proper boat and equipment might be in order, but if you just want to go out and have a good time and hone your shooting skills, then a few simple modifications will work.