The history of bowfishing is a fascinating subject. Early humans around the world used bows and arrows and developed fish hunting techniques to find food to survive. Keep reading to learn and understand how bowfishing went from a survival tactic to a popular sport.
To understand the history of bowfishing, we first must talk about the history of fishing and how the bow and arrow were developed by early cultures.
Fishing is an ancient practice that has been an essential part of human life for over 40,000 years. In many parts of the world, fish was the primary food source available, so local populations needed to be well versed in catching them. Over the centuries, different peoples developed different fishing techniques to survive in the distinct environments they inhabited.
Likewise, the history of the bow and arrow is the history of humankind. These simple, primitive hunting tools date back more than 15,000 years and can be found all over the world. Our ancestors used a bow and arrow for hunting food on land, but they soon realized they could also be use this same equipment for fishing. And that is where bowfishing began.
Early Bowfishing History
Throughout history, people of all different cultures and beliefs took to bowfishing in order to provide themselves with another food source, from the Aborigines to the Aztecs and even the Inuits. Early bowfishing setups were simple devices that were designed to throw a spear (or short arrows) much faster and at a longer distance with greater force. Scientists are not sure exactly when bows were created, but estimates begin at least 15,000 years ago.
Tribes like the Negritos in the present-day Philippines traditionally used bowfishing to fish the clear-water shallows of their land. Although the tribesmen mainly fished in shallow waters, they still needed to employ a great deal of skill while aiming, primarily because of the way the light refracted as it hit the water. They fished for Giant Trevally, Grouper, Kingfish, and many other species.
In many parts of world, bowfishing was becoming an important source of food and often more successful than hunting wild game with bows and arrows. As ancient cultures incorporated bowfishing into their regular hunting habits, the tools they used evolved, too. Bows were developed with specialized purposes. Techniques were also developed to help early bowfishermen be more successful.
A great example of this is the Karankawa Native American people who, according to historians, were some of the first people to bowfish and gig on the ocean. These indigenous people settled the Texas Gulf Coast as early as the 15th century. They would commonly use torches that were constructed with tar and oil obtained from natural seeps for a light source to see fish at night. With sharpened cane stalks as gigs and arrows, they would search for flounder all along the coast.
Of course, this is definitely not the earliest known instance of bowfishing but it is a great example of how ancient peoples used bows, arrows, and light sources in order to hunt for fish. This practice continued throughout time, and in the late 1800s, the simple torch and the flame light source was eventually replaced by lanterns. Lanterns were very portable and the warm light that they provided did a great job at lighting up the water for people who were out bowfishing.
These days, bowfishing has experienced a huge surge in popularity. This giant growth spurt has largely been attributed to the introduction of invasive species like Asian carp in the lakes and rivers across the country. Many states have given bowfishermen and women the green light to take out unlimited amounts of Asian carp to help control their populations.
Throw in a large number of movies and TV shows that show the fun and challenge of archery sports, magazine articles about the importance of conserving our water eco systems, and the rise of social media attention that bowfishing has received, the upgrades to the technology, and it is easy to see why bowfishing has quickly risen in popularity.
Carp is one of the most pursued bow fishing species, and they are easily accessible. You don’t need to have expensive equipment to hunt and shoot them. Not all species of fish that are targeted with the stick and string are classified as invasive, but a majority are considered invasive, rough, or non-game species.
In this way, bowfishing for certain species can help clean up natural waterways, such as local lakes and streams, and help native fish species survive. For instance, the predatory longnose gar, or garpike, commonly eats smaller game fish species. Similarly, non-native common carp can have devastating effects on sunfish and crappie beds.
While the reasons for bowfishing have changed since it was first discovered, it's a tradition you can participate in and enjoy with friends or family.
Due to a new rise in interest in the sport, the Bowfishing Association of America was founded in 1990. Its purpose was and still is to protect both the fishing species and fishermen’s rights. It also took charge of bow and ribbon fishing tournaments and made them more accessible to the general public.
Nowadays, bowfishing is an activity the whole family can enjoy, and there are many charters and guide services available for those who want to try it out without the commitment of investing in their own gear. Bowfishing equipment has also improved and become more widely-available with a range of options at every price point.