Fishing is a tradition that goes back as far as 500,000 years and has been an integral part of all cultures across the globe, helping to provide sustainable food supplies to communities and help them flourish. When people first started fishing whether in salt or freshwater it was for food but it has developed over time and is now a sport or recreation hobby. The industry alone employs over 800,000 people in the United States. Providing services such as the manufacturing of equipment from rods, bows, and clothing and local guides within the industry generating over $45 billion annually for the economy, and with estimated numbers of over 30 million adults participating the number will surely continue to rise.
Whilst most people continue to use the simple fishing rod many are now trying an older but more updated version of bowfishing. Within the angling community, bowfishing is often seen as a fun and alternative way of fishing. With so many amazing places to go fishing in the United States, it is not surprising that bow fishing has become more popular combining archery and the understanding of fishing techniques.
Understanding Bowfishing And How It Works
Bowfishing is exactly just as it sounds, consisting of a bow and arrow but the equipment does differ from the bows used in woods. With bowhunting on dry land often the target is quite far away and you do have to practice a lot at long-range hunting. With bowfishing, the target is much closer, and whilst the practice is required it is much easier for beginners to start and begin enjoying the sport.
The bow itself can be a compound or recurve certainly when beginning to learn, the mechanical compound bow can usually produce more power than a recurve bow and is more used than recurve bows. There are three main components needed, the bow, arrow, and reel. A specialized bow can be purchased including all three elements but you can also buy the reel separately and modify most hunting bows that you may possess. Neither of these works without the other although if you are bowfishing in slow-moving and shallow water the reel may not be necessary but is highly recommended. The purpose-built bows can go for under $350 and range into thousands of dollars, the reels for as little as $50 and the arrows between $10 and $30. When beginning, seek out a sale at your local outdoor sports store or the internet for some great deals. They also sell bowfishing kits that allow anglers to have everything they need to get started.
Check out this great video on what bowfishing is, and the gear needed to get started:
Where Are the Best Places to Bowfish?
Bowfishing can be a method you can use on any body of water or river so long as the water is clear and transparent and relatively shallow. Fishing saltwater is also popular within the sport taking advantage of estuaries, shallow flats, and bays. Here are some of the most popular places for bowfishing:
- Texas: There are so many recommended places to bowfish in Texas but the Trinity River and in particular the stretch between Dallas and Houston offers a great experience. The main fish to catch here are common carp, gar, and catfish.
- Mississippi: With over 2300 miles of river to choose from the Mississippi River offers so much for bow fishers. With so many places it’s hard to say which is the best but the entire river is teaming with common carp, paddlefish, and in the southern parts of the river alligator gar.
- Florida Coast: Florida has always had a strong tradition of fishing and many are now switching to bowfishing especially on the Gulf Coast. With a year-round tropical climate, it is an ideal destination during the winter months if you are from the northern United States. With an abundance of saltwater species including flounder, mullet, catfish, spadefish, sheepshead, and stingrays Florida is definitely a place to go bowfishing.
- St. Lawrence River: Steeped in history and running through nine states it has an abundance of carp and some people have caught over 40-pound carp. You will need a boat and be careful to obey the guidelines when fishing near locks.
- Bull Shoal Lake, Arkansas: Nestled in Ozarks is one of the most unused areas in the United States. Scenic and pristine it has a huge amount of common carp, bass, gar, and catfish making it an amazing place to bowfish.
These are just some of many popular spots amongst bow fishers to visit if you are not lucky enough to live nearby a vacation may be considered. It is worth noting that different states have different laws when it comes to bowfishing and you should check with the relevant authorities about the permits, fees, and the type of fish you can catch. Game fish is prohibited in many states.
You can also research an area where bowfishing is common and legal, and you’ll likely find experienced guides that can get you on the water and teach you the ropes.
How to Ensure Safety While Bowfishing
As with any hunting, hiking, backpacking or outdoor activity, safety must be a concern for everybody taking part or spectating. With bowfishing, like any other hunting expedition, it is better to go in a group or have a partner with you just in case of an accident, with the nature of fishing it can take you to some remote places, and in the unfortunate situation where medical attention may be required being alone is not the safest option.
Given that bowfishing often takes place from a boat, it is essential to have the proper safety devices on your boat, and to be wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) when required, alone, or if you aren’t an advanced swimmer.
Bowfishing is not inherently dangerous but a line tangle does happen and you need to be aware before firing an arrow that the line is free and not entangled with any part of the bow. If it does happen the arrow can snap back potentially harming yourself or anybody with you. A Slide Safety is a good way to prevent this from happening, a simple device that moves the line down the shaft of the arrow to the front and prevents tangling. While many anglers do use them, it is highly recommended for beginners.
How Bowfishing Can Help the Environment
Helping to reduce the numbers of fish in rivers, lakes, and ponds that can cause devastation on game fish spawning grounds and are in direct competition for food. Many species targeted by bow fisherman are invasive species. This means that they are not meant to be in that region, and directly compete against the native species of that are. Carp and gar also consume other organisms that help to keep the quality of the water pristine. Invasive species cause havoc on the local ecosystems that will also have negative effects on wildlife that rely on the water they inhabit, not just on the fish and other aquatic life freshwater mussels.
Also, the money that is generated by the issuing of licenses, taxes generated through sales of equipment and boat permits can be used to help the relevant authorities with the management of national parks and waterways. People can argue that fishing these environments is doing the opposite but most bowfishing the majority of fish caught are invasive species and need population control.
Bowfishing is great fun and can be very addictive, easy to learn, and not very expensive. With so many great places throughout the country and the world, it is something you’re never too old to learn and you never know even if you have been fishing with a rod for years you may really enjoy bowfishing.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about