Spring Bowfishing Preparation

(Author with a nice Buffalo) Night bowfishing action can be fast and furious, but be sure to check regulations first before heading out on the water.
Here in Wisconsin, springtime draws bowfishing enthusiasts outdoors and with a few preparations you can be on the water giving it a try yourself this year.  You’ll be surprised how easy gearing up for a day of bowfishing can be and how addictive it will quickly become.

Following a few guidelines ahead of time will make your transition to the water an easy one.

Step 1 - Purchase a fishing license.
This is all you need for bowfishing and it allows you to shoot rough fish with compound, recurve or long bow.

Step 2 - Check your state’s fishing regulations.
Find out exactly which lakes and rivers allow bowfishing, when bowfishing is allowed, and if they allow night bowfishing as well.  Some don’t.  If you’re unsure, call the DNR.  In some states, lakes are open to bowfishing year-round, while in other states lakes may not open for bowfishing until the spring.   Rough fish are legal to shoot; game fish are NOT.  Make sure you I.D. the fish you’re aiming at before shooting.

Step 3 – Get your gear in order now.
Gearing up for bowfishing is much easier than you think. Chances are you or a friend has an old bow lying around that’s still in good condition and perfect for taking to the water.    

You need a compound, recurve or long bow, best used at between 30 to 50 pound draw weights.  Recurves or compounds with variable draw lengths from 15-30” (like the bows sold by AMS Bowfishing) are both well-liked for their quick-shooting ability at darting fish.  Either works well since they release a powerful punch shot at less than full draw.  Bows will get full of mud and slime and get banged around in the boat so keep your quality hunting bow at home.  Personally, I love the using the AMS Fish Hawk bow, just one of several bows that the company sells.  Before that, I used an old Mathews compound set at a lower draw weight, equipped with the AMS Wave rest and Retriever Pro reel.

A key point is to keep your draw weight comfortable for all-day or all-night shooting.  Repetitive shots over several hours are the norm, so crank down the weight a bit and be comfortable.  If you’re using an old bow, check the limbs to be sure they’re not cracked or warped and be sure your bowstring is in good condition and not showing signs of wear.

Reel and Line:
Purchase a reel that is simple to work, easily mastered and made specifically for bowfishing.   Most importantly look for a reel like the AMS Retriever Reel that allows the fishing line to release smoothly and easily every time an arrow is released and allows for rapid arrow retrieval.  The most important factor is that the reel used completely eliminates the possibility of “arrow snap-back” -- the most dangerous factor in bowfishing.  A reel that will allow the line to be stacked instead of wound on a spool is ideal.  Arrow snap-back can result from using a closed face or spool reel which can house undetected tangled line or from using a fishing reel where you must remember to push the spool “release” button each time before shooting an arrow.  This can be a serious danger and caught up in the fast pace of bowfishing, a person can easily forget to hit the release button first before shooting.  The arrow will then snap back when released and could result in a severe head or bodily injury.  The same thing can happen if your line tangles when wound on a spool reel.  The line must pull out automatically each time an arrow is released!  I feel the AMS Retriever Pro reel is ideal to guarantee your safety while bowfishing.

I recommend 130# braided Dacron fishing line for carp, using stronger poundage for heavier fish.  You’ll find white along with a variety of bright colors available for excellent visibility at night or in muddy waters.  The thicker, braided line is easy on the hands when pulling in heavy fish and the strong Dacron material will dry naturally after you’re done bowfishing. 

An inexpensive, long (generally 32”) durable fiberglass arrow shaft made specifically for bowfishing is needed….it can withstand the abuse it will take being shot repeatedly into the water at fish and sometimes into logs and debris.  NO fletching is needed.  This will only interfere with your gear and fletching is not needed to steady your arrow….most shots are taken just a few feet or yards from the boat.  Have several arrows handy; they can be lost if they become entangled underwater or if your line breaks.

Arrow Slide:
For safety, your arrow should have an arrow slide to which you’ll tie your bowfishing line.  This slide should ALWAYS be positioned at the very front of your arrow next to the fishing point and in front of your rest to prevent injury.  NEVER release an arrow until you are certain the arrow slide and line is positioned to the front of your arrow.  For safety reasons, never tie your line to the back of your arrow; doing so may cause the line to become entangled on your bowstring, cable or on your rest as you release an arrow thereby causing “arrow snap-back” and a potentially serious injury.

A simple channel “prong” style, or roller rest, like the AMS Wave rest, works best.  Either will hold your arrow securely as you move quickly around the boat or swing for a shot.  Once again, always be sure that your line and arrow slide are positioned in front of your rest.  This is imperative.    

None needed.  Instinctive shooting works best and is quicker.  Some people like to use a 10 yard pin, but I’d advise not.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll pick up shooting instinctively after you’ve shot several times.  Using a sight will slow down your shot execution and more likely cause misses instead of hits.  Fast, responsive shooting is required versus slow and steadily aimed shots.

The author (right) and friend Cindy Braun, owner of AMS Bowfishing, search for passing carp on Wisconsin’s Mead Lake.  Daytime bowfishing requires a quality pair of polarized sunglasses.
Use a quick-release fish point that comes attached to your bowfishing arrow.  It features a sharp main tip that is replaceable and a prong on each side.  The prongs hold the fish on your arrow until you’re ready to release it.  After your shot, reel the fish in, and once aboard give the tip a few turns to loosen the prongs, flip the prongs so they are facing the opposite direction(toward the fish point on your arrow) and slide off your fish.  Push the prongs back into position (pointing toward the back of your arrow), tighten your point and you’re ready for more action!

I highly recommend you wear a leather palm/neoprene-backed glove for bowfishing.  Water-ski gloves work great and can be found easily for around twenty bucks.  Most bowfishers use fingers for shooting since releases interfere with quick shooting and add more difficulty to handling fish once you boat them.  Gloves will help protect your shooting fingers and will protect your hands when pulling in your line with a heavy fish on the end.  (Often you may begin your fish retrieval by reeling, but finish by pulling in a large fish hand over hand as the boat continues to troll.) Gloves will also keep your hands free from fish slime and supply your hands with extra insulation and warmth when bowfishing in cooler springtime temps.

Polarized Sunglasses:
Essential for daytime bowfishing, polarized lenses allow you to see deeper into the water, reduce the sun’s glare and enable you to aim better at passing fish.

Bowfishing action is hottest in the spring, usually mid April to late May, when the rough fish are spawning and plentiful.   They are most unwary at the height of the spawn and can be found easily in the shallows in large numbers on many lakes and rivers throughout Wisconsin.

This boat is rigged and ready for some bowfishing action with air fan, platform, lights and trolling motor.
Bowfishing can be done a variety of ways.  You can shoot from the shore edge, wade along slowly and shoot from the shallows or flooded river bottoms, or shoot from a row boat or fishing boat.  Shot execution is easiest shooting from an elevated position allowing a better field of vision from above.  Shooting is done quickly and instinctively.   Fish move fast and your draw and release must be done in an instant or you’ll miss.  Remember that due to the water’s refraction, your aim must be lower then the fish appears.  Generally, you’ll want to aim at least 6-12” lower than you think since objects appear higher than they actually are.  Use the fish’s “underbelly” as a reference point.  The deeper the fish is in the water, the lower your aim needs to be.

Fully outfitted bowfishing rigs generally feature an elevated platform, a railing for safety (and for leaning on when shooting) and halogen lighting for night bowfishing.  A trolling motor and air fan can increase maneuverability among cattails and marsh grass in shallow water.  Best advice is to start with basic equipment you have and improve your bowfishing setup as your expertise and level of interest increase and as your pocketbook allows.

For a successful first bowfishing adventure head out with someone who has bowfished before; they can offer you helpful tips and they’ll likely know where to locate fish.

Gather your gear together now and you’ll be ready to hit the water soon for some exciting springtime bowfishing action!

For more information about bowfishing and gear needed, visit: www.amsbowfishing.com.