For many years, bowfishing was only considered an archery enthusiast’s pastime, or maybe a bowhunter’s offseason method of practice. But over the last few decades, this incredible fishing technique has quickly become a beloved sport for thousands of outdoor enthusiasts, both fishermen and hunters alike. Fun and challenging, bowfishing requires virtually zero previous angling experience and is the perfect pastime for new fishermen.
But what exactly is bowfishing and is it even legal in most places? When does bowfishing become illegal? What are some of the laws pertaining to bowfishing? In this post we'll cover what exactly bowfishing is, when it is legal, and some things to remember before you head out on your next (or maybe even first) bowfishing adventure!
What Exactly is Bowfishing?
As most people already know, bowfishing is simply using a bow and arrow to shoot and catch fish. Sounds pretty basic and simple right? While the overall premise is easy to understand, bowfishing does come with plenty of challenges and twists as well. While it is very similar to bowhunting, there are a few key differences between the two.
Unlike in bowhunting, which takes place on land and after game animals, bowfishing will take place on or near a body of water like a river, lake, or swamp. This is where the fish live, so it is where you must concentrate your efforts to have any sort of success. Shallow water is the perfect place to start, as it is easier to see the fish and they are usually more accessible than other places in the water.
Aiming is also very different between bowhunting and bowfishing. When you are bowfishing, you will generally have to aim much lower than your target appears. This is because the light is refracted when it hits the water. Refraction makes a fish appear to be much farther or closer than it actually is. When you are bowfishing, you cannot always trust your eyes. If you do, you are sure to have some misses. Instead, shooters must account for this difference in the water and adjust their aim in order to accommodate for the effects of refraction. In traditional bowhunting, this is not something you ever have to worry about.
When Is Bowfishing Legal?
Some people assume that bowfishing is illegal, mainly because it usually results in the death of the fish after it is shot. While it is true - the fish typically do not survive - bowfishing is completely legal in most of the United States and is in fact getting more and more popular. Seasons are getting longer and more bodies of water are opening up to bowfishing.
This is because bowfishing usually targets “non-game” fish species, namely invasive fish species that need to have their populations controlled. The most commonly pursued bowfishing species are buffalo, carp, goldfish, gar, sheepshead, and suckers. Legal species, however, can vary depending on where you are in the country. Many of these fish will fall under the category of rough (or trash) fish. Rough fish are given this name because they are fish that fall outside the category of sport or game fish. These are the fish that are not commonly eaten and are most often an invasive species.
In order to legally bowfish, no matter where you go, you will usually need a sport fishing license as well. Always check to make sure that you have the right licenses and permits for bowfishing in your area. Each state has its own fish and game laws that you must follow, and you are responsible for knowing these laws before you head out on the water. You can find this information online by visiting the state's Department of Natural Resources or fish and game website.
In addition to the proper permits and licenses, some states will also have requirements and limitations on the equipment that you are using. For example, in the state of Georgia, your arrows must be equipped with barbs or similar devices for recovering fish after they have been shot, and they must be attached to a person or bow by a line. Many states will have similar equipment rules and requirements, so make sure you are using the proper gear wherever you might be bowfishing.
One of the last things to be aware of when bowfishing are the seasons or times of year when it is allowed. There are usually legal hours for fishing with a bow and certain months of the year where it is allowed. Many states offer a year-round season on bowfishing non-game species because it helps control invasive species numbers and improve the water habitat of native species. If you are not sure about the state regulations where you plan to bowfishing, consult the DNR website or call them to clarify so you can be a good conservationist and sportsman.
When is Bowfishing Illegal?
So now that we've talked about when you can bowfish legally, let's talk about when you can't. Bowfishing is illegal when you do not follow the rules and regulations outlined by the state that in which you are bowfishing. Bowfishing also is generally illegal for sport fishing species and endangered species.
As long as you follow and understand the rules for which species and how many fish (quantity) are allowed to be targeted, when the seasons run, where you are allowed to bowfish, and you have all the proper licenses and acceptable equipment, you'll be ready to go.
With bowfishing becoming more and more popular, it is no surprise that questions continue to pop up about what exactly it is and its legality. Thankfully bowfishing is completely legal and even encouraged in many areas, and it is a great way to not only enjoy the outdoors but keep invasive fish species’ population in check.