Bowfishing 101: All the basics you need to know before bowfishing

Some people know what bowfishing is and have first-hand experience with it; if you're part of the Loxley Team you fall into this group of awesome people. But, in general, how many people don't know what bowfishing is? We would be willing to bet there are a lot of folks who have never heard of it. This would be a great article to share with those friends and family members to teach them a little bit about the sport you love.


What is bowfishing?

Bowfishing is the act of hunting for fish by using a bow and arrow. Just like its name implies, bowfishing combines bow archery and fishing into one sport. That's why we sometimes call those who bowfish archer-anglers. The targeted species of fish are normally considered rough, invasive species like Asian carp. It's a fast paced and exciting sport. Often, after we take someone out for the first time, they are hooked for life!


How do you bowfish? Is it hard to shoot a fish with a bow and arrow?

When it comes to bowfishing, you are usually going to be shooting at much closer ranges and greater frequency than if you were bowhunting. Fish are generally a little easier to approach than a deer. Because of how close and frequent the shots are, many beginners find it much easier to get acquainted with bowfishing and can have great success on their first outing. Shooters don't have to worry about long, accurate shots and there is not a need for specialized equipment which makes it an easily accessible sport for most beginners.

This doesn’t mean, however, that bowfishing is easy. Because you are shooting at a fish underwater, you have to aim correctly and be quick with your shots before the fish swim away. The refraction of the water makes it difficult to know exactly where to aim, but if you do a little bit of homework and get plenty of practice, you can master the techniques you need to in order to be successful while bowfishing. 

 Where to Bowfish

Where can you bowfish?

Bowfishing can be done in both freshwater and saltwater. Plenty of lakes, streams, rivers, creeks, and ponds have places in them that are conducive to bowfishing. The majority of bowfishing will take place in clear, shallow water. These conditions allow you to see the fish so that you can shoot at them.

Saltwater can be productive too, especially with its flats, bays, and estuaries. These waters are usually flush with fish which means plenty of targets and plenty of practice. 

Two of the most popular bowfishing locations in the country are found along the Gulf Coast in the states of Florida and Louisiana. Both of these states have freshwater and saltwater fishing opportunities. Plus, they are home to the Mississippi, Missouri, and Trinity River systems. All of these are filled to the brim with fish and are great bowfishing destinations.

If you don't live in those areas, there are other great bowfishing spots across the country. Loxley's home state, Michigan, has great bowfishing in many areas including the Saginaw bay, Saginaw River and along the parts of the Huron River. If you're not sure where to go, check out our blog about finding new bowfishing spots.  

Wherever you choose to go, make sure to follow all local laws and regulations. Those who are new to the sport might think you can simply grab a bow and start bowfishing, but that is not the case. Bowfishing is regulated by state and only certain species can be targeted. In addition, as with fishing and bow hunting, there may be limits on the number of fish that you can shoot. This doesn’t mean that you will have trouble finding fish, it just means that you will have to properly identify your target before shooting. When in doubt reach out to a local DNR officer for any questions.

Types of fish you can shoot while bowfishing

When it comes to freshwater bowfishing, most bow fishermen start out hunting carp. Many will always target these fish, simply because they are abundant in numbers and fun to shoot. There are many different species of carp as well. Carp is a widespread invasive species across the country, and by shooting them, you'll be helping keep their populations under control. 

Gar is another freshwater favorite for bowfisherman. Like carp, there are many different species of gar, such as the spotted, longnose, shortnose, and alligator gar. Tilapia and drum are two other common targets, but fish like catfish and buffalo can only sometimes also be shot depending on the location. Be sure to check your local regulations to know what is legal and what is not legal to shoot. As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities to be had!

In saltwater, bow fishermen will generally target species that stay closer to shore like flounder. Some will even venture out after things like sheepshead or small sharks. In Louisiana, you can even target redfish. No matter where you go, there are sure to be a few species that you can legally target with your bowfishing equipment.

Bowfishing Equipment Bowfishing Bow

What gear or equipment do you need to go bowfishing?

When it comes to bowfishing equipment, you do not need to have the most expensive or luxurious gear. To bowfish you need only three basic components: a bow, an arrow and a reel. This is great news for beginners. 

Virtually any compound or recurve bow will work for bowfishing. In fact, some folks convert their hunting bows to bowfishing bows in the spring. There are a few different types of bows used in bowfishing. Recurve bows are more traditional and are a little more basic, while compound bows will have some more strength and speed but require a little more maintenance. Many beginners might assume that they need the biggest, fastest, or most powerful bow in order to go bowfishing. This is not the case. While hunting animals like deer may require more speed and power, shooting at fish that are close does not require the same velocities. Many archer-anglers opt for a 30 to 40-pound draw weight for bowfishing, though just about any draw weight will work just fine. 

Bowfishing arrows are much different than arrows used for hunting. At the most basic, they are made from fiberglass shafts with a special point that allows the arrow to pass through a fish but not come back out. This allows you to retrieve the fish using a reel. There are many different brands and types out there, but they all function the same. It is important to note that you cannot simply use old hunting or target arrows for bowfishing. The fletching on normal arrows will pull the arrow in the wrong direction when it hits the water, causing you to miss your shot. 

The last piece of equipment you need to bowfish is a reel. A line attached to the back of the arrow and will allow you to retrieve your arrow after each shot. There are multiple types of bowfishing reels on the market including drum reels, spin-cast reels, and bottle style reels. Check out our beginner's guide to choosing a bowfishing reel if you're setting up your own bowfishing bow. 


No matter how you do it, bowfishing is a great way to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. It can be a very addictive sport that can be enjoyed by many!

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