Bowfishing Laws in the United States

Bowfishing Laws in the United States

March 23, 2021

Bowfishing is a fun hobby that combines two great things: fishing and archery. As the weather warms up, lots of people are looking for ways to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, and interest in bowfishing has surged as a result. Add in the continued efforts to control invasive fish species, and the bowfishing world is on track to experience a popularity explosion.


But before you get out on the water and start shooting, you must become familiar with the local and state laws regarding bowfishing. Bowfishing is legal in many states for non-game fish species.

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Legal fish species vary depending on where you are in the country. Some of the most common freshwater fish shot are bighead carp, common carp, grass carp, catfish, buffalo and several varieties of gar, including the massive alligator gar. Many of these fall under the category of rough (or trash) fish. Rough fish are those fish which fall outside of the category of sport fish. They are species not commonly eaten and are often invasive species. Because they are not typically targeted by fishermen, bowfishing is a very good means of population control and removal of these often undesirable fish.

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To help you get started, we have compiled a quick list of every US state and whether or not bowfishing is legal, some of the rules, and what you should be aware of. We've also included links to each state's fish and game or department of natural resources website for more information. So let’s get started!

 

Bowfishing Laws in the United States (alphabetical by state)

Alabama - Alabama allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. You can also bow fish in salt water for select species with the proper license.


Alaska - Alaska allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species in certain areas, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Arizona - Arizona allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Arkansas - Arkansas allows you to bowfish for rough fish and catfish. Alligator gar may be taken by bowfishing but special regulations apply to the taking of alligator gar. 


California - California allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Colorado - Colorado allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Connecticut - Bowfishing for carp is a legal method for taking common carp in Connecticut and can be done either day or night. Bow fishermen must be well versed in the specific regulations and possession limits at each body of water they fish. 


Delaware - Delaware allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Florida - Florida allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species in most bodies of water both during daylight and night hours.


Georgia - Georgia allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Hawaii - Hawaii's Division of Aquatic Resources website lists no regulations for bowfishing.


Idaho - Idaho allows you to bowfish for nongame fish (carp, suckers, tench).  All you need is a current Idaho fishing license. There are have no rules on arrow types, weights or tips. There are also no rules on bows such as let-off or weight.


Illinois - Illinois allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Indiana - Indiana allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Iowa - Iowa allows you to take rough fish and frogs by bow and arrow and spear with a valid sport fishing license. Bow fishing and spearing are allowed on public lakes, reservoirs and rivers, private ponds with permission and border waters. Some state parks, federal refuges and lakes controlled by city and county governments may have additional regulations specific to bow fishing and spearing.


Kansas - All waters are open to bowfishing, unless posted otherwise. Some bowfishing is permitted at city, county, township, or private lakes, but regulations vary, so consult local rules. Nonsport fish can be legally taken by bowfishing wherever bowfishing is allowed. Blue catfish, channel catfish and flathead catfish may not be taken by bowfishing in rivers and streams but may be taken by bowfishing in other waters where no length limits for these species are in place. Crossbows are legal. Bowfish anglers must have in possession a valid Kansas fishing license, unless exempt by law. Arrows must have barbed heads, and each arrow must be attached by a line to the bow. Waters within 50 yards of an occupied boat dock or ramp, occupied swimming area, occupied picnic site or camping area, and other occupied public-use areas are closed to bowfishing.


Kentucky (301 KAR 1:410) Rough fish may be taken year-round by bow and arrow with line attached. Sport fish may not be taken with a bow and arrow. Bow anglers may use a long bow, recurve bow, crossbow or compound bow. Arrows must have a barbed or retractable style point that has a line attached for retrieval. Catfish have a daily creel limit of 5 (in aggregate) and paddlefish have a daily creel limit of 2. There is no limit on other rough fish. Bow anglers may fish within 200 yards of a dam, except by boat in boat restricted areas. Bow fishing is prohibited on the Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam downstream to the Tennessee line, including Hatchery Creek and all tributaries for ½ mile upstream of their confluence with the Cumberland River.

Persons using a bow and arrow for fishing must have the appropriate fishing license and may take rough fish from bank or boat. There is no limit on other rough fish. Bow anglers cannot sell paddlefish (or their roe) taken by bow and arrow. Paddlefish and catfish taken by bow and arrow must be taken into immediate possession and cannot be culled. Fish taken by bow must not be discarded on the bank. Bank disposal is littering and subject to a fine.

Louisiana - Louisiana allows you to bowfish for certain species of freshwater and salt water non-game fish with a valid basic fishing license. 


Maine - Maine allows you to bowfish for non-game species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Maryland - Maryland allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Massachusetts - Massachusetts allows you to bowfish for common carp and white suckers. Carp and suckers shall not be taken from the inland waters of the Commonwealth to be sold or offered for sale. (321 CMR 4.00).


Michigan - Bow and arrow and crossbow may be used on certain waters for certain species. Anglers should contact local enforcement offices for information concerning local weapons ordinances banning the use of bow and arrow or crossbow in some locations. 


Minnesota - You can bowfish for rough fish over open water or through the ice in a fish house or shelter, day or night, with or without lights, during the open season. A valid fishing license is required unless you qualify for an angling license exclusion. Arrows must have a barb and be attached to the bow with a tethered line. See page 67 of the Minnesota Fishing Regulations for additional information.


Mississippi - Mississippi allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Missouri - Bowfishing is a legal method to pursue nongame fish, including bluegill, green sunfish, carp, carpsuckers, suckers, buffalo, drum, gar, and all other species not defined as game fish or listed as endangered in the Wildlife Code of Missouri. A valid fishing license is required.


Montana - Montana waters are split into three districts (Western, Central and Eastern). Regulations vary by district but bowfishing is allowed for certain species. A valid fishing license is required. Bows count as lines for the purpose of determining line limits. See website and download the Montana Fishing Regulations PDF for detailed information.


Nebraska - Nebraska allows you to bowfish for non-game fish year-round, 24 hours a day; game fish from July 1-December 31 from sunrise to sunset; Archery Paddlefish from June 1-30 from Sunrise to sunset. Other regulations apply. See website for details.


Nevada - Nevada allows you to spearfish/bowfish for unprotected species. Regulations vary by region. Download the Nevada Fishing Guide for details.


New Hampshire - New Hampshire allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


New Jersey - New Jersey allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


New Mexico - Bow fishing and spearfishing are legal means of take for game fish species and unprotected species in lakes and reservoirs open to angling. Bag and size limits for bow fishing and spearfishing are the same as angling. Bow fishing and spearfishing for game fish are not allowed in any river, stream, Special Trout Water or Trophy Bass Water (for largemouth bass). Arrows for bow fishing must be attached by a line, string or rope to enable retrieval of fish. Crossbows can be used for bow fishing. Legal means of take for spearfishing include spears, arrows with barbs and gigs. Spears can be discharged above or below the water surface. Local ordinances and/ or prohibitions may apply at specific locations or waters, and the local managing agency should be contacted prior to bow fishing or spearfishing. 


New York - Any person who has a fishing or small game hunting license, or is entitled to fish without a license, may take carp of any size and in any number by longbow (recurve or compound) from May 15 through September 30 from any water of the state where fishing and the discharge of a bow is permitted. The Fish Carcass Disposal Law (page 52) must be followed. Taking fish by bow is otherwise prohibited. Taking fish by crossbow is prohibited at all times.


North Carolina - North Carolina allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


North DakotaGame fish may not be taken with bow/arrows or spears. It is illegal to return fish to the water after they are shot or speared. All fish must be used and/or disposed of properly and not left in the water or on land. Archery fishing is legal from April 1 through March 31 of each fishing year. Archery and spearfishing are open in all waters as specified on page 10, except for the following area which is closed:

  • That portion of the Missouri River from the Garrison Damdownstream to the southern boundary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Downstream Recreation Area.

Legal archery equipment is any hand-drawn and released long bow, recurve bow, compound bow or rubberband-assisted (sling) bow to which an arrow is attached by a line and equipped with a harpoon- style point or wire-barbed point. The use of night vision equipment or electronically enhanced light-gathering optics, including all lights used for locating and shooting at fish, is legal. Crossbows are prohibited except with a special director’s permit that may be issued if an individual is permanently disabled.


Ohio - Archery anglers may use bows of any draw weight. A fishing license is required. Archery equipment may be used to take bullfrogs, green frogs, and forage fish.


Oklahoma - Bowfishing may be used to take nongame fish only, throughout the year in all waters unless restricted under Tailwaters in the "Public Fishing Waters" special regulations. Legal bowfishing is restricted to: any bow (including a crossbow). Devices that permit a bow to be held mechanically at full or partial draw are permitted.


Oregon - Oregon allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. 


Pennsylvania - Bow and arrow (including compound bows and crossbows) may be used for taking ONLY carp, suckers and catfish on all Commonwealth waters, day or night, with the following exceptions: (1) bow fishing is strictly prohibited in stocked trout waters during the closed season and (2) bowfishing is strictly prohibited in special regulation waters.

 

Rhode Island - Suckers, fallfish, and carp may be taken by snares, spears, or bow and arrow. 


South Carolina - South Carolina allows bowfishing year-round on all freshwater except SCDNR Managed State Lakes.


South Dakota - South Dakota allows bowfishing with some restrictions for specific seasons and dates for game fish and rough fish. 


Tennessee - Bowfishing (including crossbow) season is open year round in all waters with a few exceptions. Nongame fish may be taken without limit. Game fish, sturgeon, and alligator gar may not be taken. Catfish, paddlefish, and skipjack may be harvested according to local limits. See the Tennessee Fishing Guide for detailed regulations.


Texas - Fish may be taken with longbow, recurved bow, compound bow, or crossbow. Bows are legal for taking nongame fish such as gar, buffalo, mullet and sheepshead. 

No minimum lengths or daily bag limits apply to non-game fishes in fresh water, except: 

  • For alligator gar, there is a statewide limit of one (1) per day, with the following exceptions:
  • On Falcon International Reservoir, the limit is five (5) per day. o On portions of Lake Texoma, harvest of alligator gar is prohibited during the spawning season in May. Other areas may be temporarily restricted when optimum spawning conditions occur. 
  • For Lady Bird Lake in Austin, there is a daily limit of one (1) trophy-sized common carp measuring 33 inches or more. No limits apply to smaller carp.

Limits exist on some nongame fishes in salt water. Any fish that is edible or can be used for bait (includes all gar species, common carp, and buffalo) may not be released after being taken by bow.

 

Utah - Fishing with archery tackle (bowfishing) is allowed in most Utah waterbodies but only for nonprotected, nongame fish such as carp. And within that limitation, there are waters where you may bowfish for carp only (see page 17 for details). In most areas, bowfishing is allowed at night with the use of spotlights. There are a few notable exceptions: The tributaries of Utah Lake are closed to bowfishing at night (sunset to sunrise) from May 1 until 6 a.m. on July 10. A few other lakes, including Lake Powell, have closed areas. If you’re wondering about a specific waterbody, see the section that begins on page 25 or call the Division office that manages that particular fishery.


Vermont - A person is required to hold a fishing or combination license to take fish by bow or crossbow. A person who takes a fish by hand-held spear, spear gun, bow or crossbow with line attached to arrow, in accordance with 10 V.S.A. App § 122, shall keep the fish in his or her possession until the fish is permanently removed from waters of the state and used or disposed of properly.


Virginia - Bow and arrow (including crossbows) may be used to take common carp, grass carp, northern snakehead, and gar (fishing license required) during day and night hours (24 hrs.), except from waters stocked with trout. Bowfin and catfish may be taken in tidal waters (below Fall Line). Spearguns and poisoned arrows are prohibited. Snakehead must be immediately killed and reported to DWR. Must comply with creel limits on fish.


Washington - Washington allows you to bowfish for non-game and invasive fish species, but you cannot bowfish for game fish. See regulations for Bow-and-Arrow Fishing.


West Virginia - Carp may be taken by bow year-round; other nongame fish may be taken by bow during all months of the year except May and June. All anglers must have a valid fishing license in order to fish using a bow. All persons using a bow to fish must observe all applicable fishing regulations. See details under Regulations: Other Methods of Fishing.


Wisconsin Catfish and bullheads can be taken by bow, crossbow or by hand. The bow/crossbow season coincides with the rough fish spearing season in most cases. The hand fishing season runs from June 1 to August 31. For more detailed information, see the latest regulation fact sheet [PDF].


Wyoming - It is legal to take nongame fish with archery equipment without a license or permit, but it is always unlawful to take game fish with archery equipment. Artificial light may be used while fishing with legal fishing methods except as prohibited for Underwater Spear Gun Fishing in the WY Fishing Regulations Brochure.

 

Please note: Information provided above was gathered from publicly available resources in March 2021 and is accurate to the best of our knowledge. Rules and regulations change regularly so always consult the local DNR or Fish and Game authorities if you have any questions. You are responsible for following all local laws and regulations. Being a responsible archer-angler will help us conserve our waterways and ensure the future of the sport. 



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