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
Raised decks for bowfishing
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
Advantages of using a raised deck when bowfishing
- One advantage of a raised deck is you can attach your lights directly to the deck, or the platform, and they won't get in the way. You won’t be kicking them or getting your line tangled in them if you design the layout correctly.
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.
- Keep in mind that when you shoot from a raised deck, your shot angle is straighter. As bowfisherman, we are constantly dealing with refraction. Refraction occurs when light goes through a water surface. Light rays bend as they move from the water to the air. Once those rays each our eye, the eye traces those rays back as straight lines (lines of sight). The lines of sight intersect at a higher position than where the actual rays originated. This causes the fish to appear higher and shallower than it actually is. Reducing the angle (see below) to the water reduces the refraction, and therefore the adjustment needed, making it easier to see and hit the fish you are aiming at.
Disadvantages of using a raised deck when bowfishing
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…
Flush decks for bowfishing
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
- The center of gravity is much lower, making the boat more stable. A flush deck might be the way to go if you have a smaller boat, as a smaller boat can't handle a high center of gravity as well as larger boats.
- As a numbers shooter, I like being closer to the fish. A flush deck will get you closer to the fish, which can increase your odds of hitting it. Shooting from a flush deck gets you an extra foot or so closer to your target. When I am shooting 5" suckers, that small change can be a big help!
Photo Credit: Justin Walden
- It's much easier to get on and off a flush deck. A flush deck is usually only about a 20-30 inch step up from the floor of the boat, this is much less of a chore than a raised deck which can be 40-60 inches off the floor. This doesn't seem like it would make a big difference, but it’s a factor to consider if you plan on bowfishing in tournaments. Also, it’s much easier to navigate your boat when it's just a small step off your deck. You're that much closer for grabbing tools, arrows, reels or anything else.
- Another advantage is being closer to the barrel/trough to throw the fish into. It might not seem like an inconvenience initially, but when you have a week old shad in your boat because you missed the barrel, you’ll understand.
- It is much easier to see where you are going with a flush mount deck. You can sit down comfortably while motoring to wherever you need to go.
Disadvantages of using a flush mount deck when bowfishing
- You will have to deal with more bugs with a flush mount deck. You will be closer to your lights, which will mean you are also closer to the bugs that the lights attract.
- Your lights won't spread out as far, which will limit your field of view at night. The lower height also limits your field of view during the day as well, as it will be difficult to see further out when you are closer to the water.
- Your angle to the water will most likely mean you have to adjust your shot lower to hit the fish. Being closer to the water will make it much more difficult to gauge the depth of the fish.
Which deck is right for you?
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.