With all the lockdowns and “can’t dos” we’re dealing with, there has never been a better time to take up bowfishing

by Ronald Schaefer

Are you still hampered by stay-in-place orders? Is your state telling you to maintain social distancing? Are your local bow shops closed? Join the club. Many of us are having these problems. For a break from all this unpleasantness, you might want to give bowfishing a try.

Bowfishing is a way to keep your hunting skills and muscle memory sharp and have some fun at the same time — more fun than repeatedly sending arrows into backyard targets. Many of you have probably seen people carrying their bows, walking the banks of rivers or lakes, and thought, “I would like to try that someday.” Now would be the time to give it a shot.

With all the fear and rules we now have stifling us, bowfishing is the perfect sport. You can go by yourself, with a friend, or maybe take a younger family member with you. I enjoy having someone along with me when walking the riverbanks. We take turns on the shots that present themselves and enjoy the friendly competition. I have brought along many first-time bowfishing friends and they become “hooked” in short order.

If you are thinking that it costs way too much to go buy a totally new setup, think again. There are ways to get started and a broad range of prices to get you there. I bought my first bowfishing bow at a garage sale for $10 and I still have it as a backup. It is a recurve bow with a cable system — very easy to pull and hold on target but it is rather heavy. I now use my older compound bow that I have used for years to hunt whitetail deer. I took the draw weight down as low as I could get it and attached a bow fishing rig to it.

You may want to hit up a local pawn shop, or perhaps you know somebody with an older bow they’re not using and would sell you for a few bucks. You can, of course, go to a sporting goods store and buy a new one.

Through the years, I have tried many different setups. The first thing you need to know is that the arrows used for bowfishing are much heavier than what you use for hunting. Therefore, your standard arrow rest may not work for keeping your arrow in the ready position. This would be your first expense if you are converting an older bow. I use the TRUGLO Spring-Shot and the TRUGLO EZ-Rest on my two setups. The cost is about $20. You’re going to need arrows also, so you can save money by combining these items in a kit. The TRUGLO EZ-Rest Kit runs about $55 and includes two bowfishing arrows. This is great because you should always carry an extra arrow with you. I have lost many arrows in rivers — often because a knot breaks or it ends up in a log. Things happen underwater and out of reach.

TRUGLO’s EZ-Rest Bowfishing Kit

Your only other cost is getting a retrieving reel. These can vary in price, depending on your budget and what works best for you. I have tried many different types, but the best guide is to consider what you are shooting for, so to speak. I normally am shooting at common carp and gar fish but have taken buffalo carp that weighed more than 50 lbs.  So, my reel is set up with 200 lb. test line. Heavy line helps when an arrow gets snagged in submerged tree limbs. I have found that bowfishing rigs with a reel work best for me.

Now that you have your bowfishing rig set up, all you need is a place to go. Scouting by walking stream, river, and lake banks will reveal the best locations for the “rough fish” species that are usually legal to shoot. Just be sure to check on your applicable fishing regulations, as rules on bowfishing can vary by location. Sometimes, there are specific harvest season restrictions and limits on species type.

The benefits of bow fishing are many, ranging from simple exercise and recreation to keeping off-season hunting skills honed. I mostly hunt from the banks of rivers, so I get in lots of walking. I can walk up to five miles in an afternoon before I realize it. Walking along and scanning the shallow water for movement keeps your hunting skills sharp. Fish can see movement and colors along the bank, so stealth is required.

TRUGLO’s EZ-Rest (left) and Spring-Shot rest (right) represent two approaches to bowfishing arrow rests. The author has had good success with both rest styles.

Bowfishing is also a great tune up for archery season. Not sure about you, but I used to struggle with my initial bow season practice sessions. Regular bowfishing helps keep those bow-pulling muscles conditioned and my form from getting sloppy. When bowfishing, I may take over 50 shots in a day and I tend to hold at full draw for long periods while waiting for fish to give me a good broadside shot. That’s great practice for hunting deer.

One question I get a lot from beginners is, “What do you do with the fish?” While some folks may balk at eating rough fish, many species that you can take with a bow are edible. Whether it is gar or carp, there are recipes out there. Smoked carp, for example, is quite good. They are a boney fish, but the bones are large and easy to pick out.

Some states do not want you to throw carp back into water since they are an invasive species. There may also be federal regulations in your area, depending on the body of water. If you don’t want to eat them, that’s OK. Invasive species like Asian carp need to be removed anyway, so use them for composting and garden fertilizer.

And that underscores the many benefits of bowfishing. Whether it is for fun, exercise, staying up on your hunting and shooting skills, or providing yourself with alternate food sources, bowfishing ensures there is no “off-season” for the dedicated archer.

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