Bowfishing Tips for Beginners
Alabama has a very long bow season, and it allows archers to chase their favorite game for almost four months. There’s also a growing number of hunters learning to use turkey calls to extend their season into the spring. Afterward, many of these bowhunters swap their bows and arrows for fishing tackle and a bass boat when their season ends. However, many archers don’t use bows to hunt but instead enjoy the challenge of slinging arrows at a target or competing in tournaments. Many of these archers also turn to catching fish or boating during the warmer months. Yet another group of archery enthusiasts have discovered the best of both worlds, using their bows for bowfishing. What better way to maintain your archery skills than to find another excuse to shoot your bows?
I can imagine the feeling one experiences the first time they shoot an arrow at a fish is similar to that felt by the kid who discovers that jelly goes great with peanut butter.
Fishing With A Bow – Getting Started
The great thing about switching from bow hunting or target archery to bowfishing is that very few accessories are needed to make the transition. A barbed fishing arrow, a sturdy reel attached to the stabilizer mount, and your bow is ready. However, there is a learning curve in consistently making a good shot.
I talked to Clayton Meyer of Shelby County, Kentucky, about the equipment he recommends to enjoy the growing sport of bowfishing.
Meyer (CT) is a US Coast Guard Licensed Captain, and a fully insured Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources licensed fishing guide.
Meyer said he began bowfishing over a dozen years ago, and it quickly became a passion. He also discovered that he enjoyed introducing others to the sport and sharing the finer points of taking large fish with an arrow.
So, he established The Obsession Outdoors in 2016, and now with the addition of his 22-foot state-of-the-art custom bowfishing boat, he can guide you on a Kentucky bowfishing trip that you’ll never forget.
“The great thing about fishing with arrows is that you can use the same bow you used for hunting. So, the addition of a fiberglass or composite arrow, a screw-on barbed tip, and a good reel are all one needs to get started,” Meyer said.
Where To Bowfish
Meyer mentioned another good thing about this sport: finding fish to shoot is easier than most people realize. He said that there are plenty of places to locate fish without a boat. Walking creek banks, below dams, or flooded fields offer great action for those willing to seek out these target-rich areas.
“Aim low, and if you think you’re low enough, aim lower,” is Meyer’s advice about aiming. He explained that light refraction distorts a fish’s position, and it takes a few practice shots to aim correctly. Also, most shooting takes place at close range and often requires instinctive or snap shooting to target a fish quickly.
Meyers recommends targeting the head area because the body will remain in the kill zone if the fish moves forward as you shoot. He compares snap shooting your bow to aiming with a shotgun.
When To Go Bowfishing
“Springtime is when many non-game fish species travel up creeks or into shallow flats to spawn,” Meyer pointed out.
He emphasized that although you can use almost any kind of boat, you can also enjoy plenty of shooting by searching out the creeks and streams in your area with bank access.
“When the water temperature warms into the ’60s, many fish start cruising the shallower water,” Meyer said.
“Another great feature of bowfishing is that someone starting from scratch can get fully equipped with a minimal investment. Spending $300.00-$500.00 can outfit almost anyone with a bow, reel, and fish arrow,” Meyer explained.
Bows- Local want ads usually have several listings of used bows for sale by the springtime. Pawn Shops are also another option for finding a bow without breaking the bank. Recurves with 30-50 pound pull are an excellent option, and beginners can find some new models for less than $150.00.
Meyer said that most any bow could be used to shoot a fishing arrow, but he has found a few brands that he can recommend for anyone who wants to get set up and start enjoying this sport.
AMS- AMS is a family-run American company formed in 1979, and they make practically everything they sell in the US. They offer an extensive line of performance bowfishing gear for most everyone. Their products focus on the hard-core enthusiast and the family that wants to share time outdoors. Their motto is, “If we don’t sell it for bowfishing, you don’t need it.”
Cajun (Bear)- Cajun Archery was started in 1963 by Billy Amentor and he expanded into the bowfishing side of archery in 1976. The company merged with Bear Archery in 2012 and continues to offer a complete line of affordable products for catching fish with a bowfishing bow.
PSE- PSE is one of the industry’s more prominent bow makers, and they have developed several compounds and recurve models that come with everything needed to begin fishing. In addition, they offer bare bows and accessories or package deals designed for everyone in the family.
Fin-Finder- This company was established in 2008 by bowfishing enthusiasts who liked to fish on the Susquehanna River around Harrisburg, Pa. In addition to a line of compound and recurve packages, they also offer some excellent mechanical fish points. They have expanded their line of products to include every product imaginable for chasing fish with arrows.
Oneida– Oneida Eagle bows are built 100% in America by bow fishermen for bow fishermen and women. Their innovative design is like a hybrid offspring of a recurve and compound. They are a tad expensive, but many serious bow fishermen grip one of these as they sling their fishing arrows. They have been making their bows since 1982 and currently produce their products in Michigan.
Arrows- Clayton said that most of the above-mentioned companies also carry good fiberglass or composite shafts that will work fine. However, he said that target species help to determine tip selection. “A two-pronged tip offers better penetration for larger scaled fish, and a three-pronged tip holds softer fish better,” added Meyer.
He also mentioned that 5 Star LED carries an extensive line of bright LED lights to help illuminate your targets at night, and some models can attach to your bow for precise illumination.
Reels- In the early days of taking fish with a bow, people used a variety of homemade line dispensers, including coffee cans. Today, plenty of options are available, from spin-cast to more robust models strong enough for sharks and rays. Many of the above-mentioned bow companies also offer a variety of reels to meet any fresh or saltwater adventure. Meyer also mentioned a reel made in Wisconsin by MegaMouth that’s an excellent choice. Also, be sure and purchase a rugged reel adaptor for your mount.
Regulations- Alabama allows for taking non-game or invasive freshwater fish species with your bow. The list of commonly targeted species includes common carp, grass carp, buffalo, gar, bowfin, drum, and catfish.
In saltwater, shark fishing with a bow is permitted, but sharks must meet the minimum lengths and be a legal species to take. Stingrays, skates, flounders, and other species are also fair game, but killing without eating them is discouraged.
Always check with your local and state regulations before filling your cooler. Both size and creel limits are subject to change, so be sure and contact your local Fish & Game for specifics.
Cook Your Catch
Years ago, my uncle commercially fished the Tombigbee River with nets, and he caught a lot of sucker and carp species. My aunt canned much of what they netted in mason jars, and it tasted remarkably similar to salmon.
Gar, suckers, carp, and bowfin are all fine table fare when cleaned and cooked correctly, so don’t waste what you reel in with your arrow.
If you’re looking for another hobby or way to hone your archery skills, outfit your bow with a reel, tie it to a barbed arrow, and walk along or wade the shallow waters of your local streams. You can even take it on your next visit to the beach.
If you want to try this addictive sport before investing in the necessary equipment, I recommend calling Captain Clayton Meyer in Kentucky to plan a trip and see what you’ve been missing. You will enjoy the ride on his custom-made boat, where Captain Meyer will demonstrate all the equipment and, if you’re lucky, help you arrow a fish as long as you are tall.
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