I remember building my first boat deck like it was yesterday. The whole time, I was imagining all the fish we'd catch and good times we were going to have on it. Before, all we used were the bench seats in a jon boat. This wasn't ideal because it only gave one person the opportunity to shoot at a time. The idea of having room for two or even three people on the deck shooting at the same time really got us excited.
Fast forward a few years and we've learned a few things about decks, especially after building our own and being on countless other boats. So today I'm sharing some advice to help you get a head start on building your own bowfishing deck. Whether you choose to build a raised deck or a flush deck, I'll outline some of the benefits and considerations for each.
Photo Credit: Austen Daniels
A raised deck, like the name implies, is a deck that is elevated off the top of the boat. I’ve seen them raised up just enough to fit a light bar underneath. I’ve also seen them tall enough that a full grown person could walk under. Commonly, raised decks are about 10-24 inches above the top edge of the boat.
Photo Credit: Kevin Scroggins
Photo Credit: Mike Snuggs
Using a raised deck also gives you many different options for light height. This can be a big advantage for bowfishing at night. When the lights are lifted high or further away from the water, the light becomes diffuse and spreads out over a greater area, giving you more visibility while shooting at night.
Additionally, if you're bowfishing in a state like Michigan, when the bugs hatch in the early summer, they will completely cover your boat and lights. Having your lights below the deck keeps the swarm beneath you instead of at your legs or waist.
As I mentioned earlier, raising the lights higher up gives you a larger visible area to shoot, but this works just as well during the day (minus the lights). When you are higher up, you have a larger field of view which makes it easier to spot fish before they spot you. Raising your deck an extra foot can give you more of an edge on easily spooked daylight fish. You might take longer shots, but you won't be trying to hit a fish going Mach 3 right in front of you.
Having a tall deck is cool, but it also raises the boat's center of gravity, which makes it more prone to tipping. If you tip too much in either direction, it can cause the edge of the boat to go under. There is a good chance this will happen when your buddies decide to jump to your side of the deck to shoot your fish.
Getting on and off a raised deck can be a challenge the higher it rises, so make sure you think about how you will get up onto the platform and down after shooting when designing your deck.
As your deck gets bigger, driving your boat using the main motor starts to get challenging. A raised deck can obstruct your view of what's in front of you. This makes it harder to drive but also could be dangerous. It can also be a comfort issue. You might find yourself standing a lot more while motoring to your bowfishing spot.
The problem I tend to have with raised decks is being too far from fish. Which brings me to…
A flush deck is a deck that sits directly on top of your boat. These decks have a lot of the opposite properties of a raised one.
Photo Credit: Wolfgang Heppermann
Advantages of using a flush deck when bowfishing
There are pros and cons to every setup. I’ve shot on countless boats throughout my years and each and every boat owner has a reason for why their boat is the way it is. I personally choose to have a flush deck. My favorite fish to shoot is suckers, so being closer to them allows me a greater hit percentage. That said, our tournament boats are all raised platforms.
I’ve given you some options for your setup, but find some new people to go out with on their boats. Take notes on what you like and don’t like from a few other setups and build yours into what works best for your style of shooting. That’s the fun in all of this, making it uniquely yours.
- Jonathan Beebe
Johnathan Beebe is an expert bowfisherman from Michigan with 20+ years of experience. He was the winner of the 2019 Great Lakes Bowfishing Championship (GLBC) and is a proud member of the Loxley Bowfishing team.
Bowfishing is a great way to spend quality time with your bow each summer. It’s also a good workout and fun way to spend time with your friends. Before heading to the lake or river with hopes of filling your boat with carp, ask yourself: Just what will you do with all those dead fish? Craft a plan to use the fish you shoot productively.
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.
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!
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