Buzz Off! How to Limit Bugs when Bowfishing

When bowfishing at night, bugs are a part of life. The lights on your boat will attract mosquitoes, gnats, mayflies and other nuisance insects. On particularly bad nights, bugs can sour the experience if you aren’t prepared. The type of insects you may have to deal with depend on the location where you are bowfishing and what time of year it is.

Here’s some info to help you get through the buggy season and make the most out of your trip. First we'll talk about some common pests you might encounter if you’re bowfishing at night, then we'll talk about what to wear and other tips to protect yourself. 


Bugs You Might Encounter While Bowfishing at Night


If you’re unfortunate enough to live in a state with mayflies (we know your pain), you know how many there can be during a hatch. Though mayflies only live a few days, they can produce upwards of 400 eggs on average during their short lifespan. Swarms of mayflies have even been known to register on the weather radar during bad years.

It should be no surprise that the mayfly hatch tends to happen in May and oftentimes overlaps with some of the best times to bowfish - spawning season. Though they are a nuisance, the presence of mayflies indicates a healthy and clean aquatic ecosystem. Thankfully, mayflies are harmless (bonus fun fact: adult mayflies don’t actually have mouths) so other than being a nuisance, you don't have to worry about bites or stings.

Like many insects, they will be attracted to the bright lights on your bowfishing boat. One of the better ways to keep them at bay is to keep the boat moving. A slight wind will also keep the bugs at bay but obviously isn’t something you can control. A cheap box fan hooked up to your generator for a slight breeze might be enough to make the swarm manageable; always be sure to be safe with electricity around water.  



Mosquitoes, unlike mayflies, bite. Everyone knows them, everyone hates them and they can make bowfishing a chore. Mosquitoes are most active around the dawn and dusk hours - so you will have a short window of time to bowfish in peace before they return to feed.

A bug spray or lotion with DEET is the best solution for mosquitoes and many other insects. There are several products on the market that balance the concentration of DEET with long-lasting protection. It’s also worth noting that the EPA stresses DEET is perfectly safe when used in accordance with the directions on the label.

While DEET-repellents have long been the favorite choice for outdoorsmen, there is another option to consider - picaridin. Picaridin insect repellents were developed in the 1980s. They're widely used in Europe and Australia but only became available in the USA in 2005. According to studies, picaridin has been shown to be as effective as DEET but less likely to cause irritation. It is also nearly colorless and odorless.  

As with mayflies, you can avoid becoming a mosquito snack by keeping the boat moving as much as possible.


Another commonly encountered insect while bowfishing is the gnat. When gnats swarm, it is almost impossible to not swallow a few. Some gnats even bite. DEET deters gnats just as well as mosquitoes. Picaridin products also work against these pests.

For a natural alternative, gnats do not like the smell of vanilla so a homemade solution with this scent should do the trick. It’s worth reiterating a third time, keep the boat moving to help cut down on insects. 

Wear the Right Apparel to Beat the Bugs

No matter the bug, it is important to wear the right gear when bowfishing. Here's what we recommend for a comfortable night of bowfishing.

  • Hat - Wearing a hat while bowfishing will keep the bugs off your head.
  • Neck Gaiter - A buff or bandana will keep the bugs away from your mouth and off your neck.  
  • Long Sleeve Shirt and Pants - Even though it may be warm enough for a t-shirt and shorts, a thicker long sleeve shirt and ankle length pants will better protect your arms and legs from bug bites. 
  • Glasses - Keep the bugs out of your eyes. Be sure to choose a clear lens for night shooting.
  • Head Net - Only needed for particularly buggy nights but be mindful that your bowstring doesn't get tangled with the netting.

A final thought on your light setup - Keep your lights positioned low. This keeps the bugs lower so there’s less chance of swallowing one. 

Have a tip that we didn’t mention? What other bugs or pests do you encounter when you're bowfishing? Share it in the comments below!

Leave a comment