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Getting Started into Bowfishing

April 21, 2011
By Brian Miller
The water temperatures are rising each day with the warm spring sun and the carp are spawning. As our boat slowly inches closer to the shallows, I see them swirling the top of the water in the backwaters among the lily pads. My heart rate picks up as we float closer to the swirling backwaters. Today we are chasing a different fish in a very different way – bowfishing!

For those of you who have never tried, it is addicting. If you love shooting or fishing this combines the best of both worlds. More shots, time on the water, and loads of fun. This sport attracts both hunters and non-hunters into the world of archery. Stepping into this sport there are some basics to becoming successful and the rest comes with a little experience.

Right now is the best time to bowfish. The temperatures are increasing with each day, carp spawn when water temperatures rise just over 60 degrees. In the Midwest this often happen in May. This offers many great opportunities because the fish are pushed up into shallow areas. Some of the best places are shallow areas with grass and lily pads. It will be easy to spot because male carp often roll in the water creating a large commotion. Other areas are in the shallows near dams. Often moving right up on the base of the dams can provide some hot action. Backwaters of river systems also hold a number of fish. Do not think it is easy sneaking up on carp. Polarized glasses will drastically cut down on the glare to see the fish before they spot you. Then it takes stealth to move in for a close range shot.

Getting a glimpse of your target is great but getting close enough to sink an arrow is another task. Bowfishing is often done from a boat but this is not the only way to partake. A ground assault can be just as much fun. Walking the creek banks, irrigation ditches, or shallows can provide some excellent fishing. Jeff Braun, CEO of AMS and avid bow fisherman, says, “Bow fisherman do not have to have a boat but this allows you can cover more area. Wade or walk the shorelines. If you can find an area that you can walk the shores there can be some excellent bowfishing.” The difference is that you cannot cover as much ground walking the shoreline. While moving along the shoreline, move very slowly while looking for dark shadows or backs (fins) to surface. In the right location it can be easier sneaking up from the shore then floating into position. Even while using a boat there are times that getting off the boat and walking into the backwaters can provide additional opportunities. Sneaking up on a fish is simply fun.

If you choose to bowfish from a boat do not think you need to get fancy. When Braun first started they simply strapped two canoes together and floated down stream. Two canoes added stabilization when they stood for shooting. Today Braun uses a boat designed specifically for bowfishing. His boat now has higher platforms and lighting for night fishing which offers better visual into the water. Whatever you have access to will work perfectly.

It is not hard to start into the sport. There are many organizations that are working to provide helpful laws for the sport. With a growing community there are many online resources and local bow fisherman that are happy to introduce newcomers. Braun said, “It is fun for many different people and intrigues the non-hunters. The kids do not have to be dead silent. And even when bowfishing gets slow the kids can have fun playing on the boat.”

Braun himself did not grow up bowfishing. He was an avid bowhunter but his wife grew up bowfishing and got him involved in the sport. Once you try this sport it becomes addicting. There is nothing better the extending an archery hunters season into times of the year that would otherwise be dead.

For newcomers the equipment needed is straight forward. Start out with a bow, bowfishing arrows and a reel. Some of the top end bowfishing bows are smooth drawing with little let off for finger shooting. Compounds specifically for bowfishing often have zero let-off so that any draw length can be used. Snap shots are common in the sport. Both recurve and compound bows are ideal weapons. Any bow that you’re not worried about taking aboard will work perfectly when beginning. Kids can have a great time because lower poundage bows work well.

For beginners the necessities come in the arrows and a reel. Bowfishing arrows are not fletched, fiberglass arrows with a solid point. Braun indicated a short stout point is a good all around arrow. The short stout point will not bend and will fly better out of lightweight bows. If you are looking for additional grasping power then upgrade your arrow point to a three barbed grapple point. This provides a wide blade which will hold onto the fish better.

Currently the reel comes in a wide variety from simple spools to more advanced retrieval systems. Hand wrap reels are great for beginners and the most economical reel available. Another option is spin cast reels similar to fishing reels, and finally there are retrieval systems with larger diameter line. It is a personal preference and the nicer the reels the more costly the rig becomes.

Now with the equipment in order the focus is hitting the target. Braun suggests that you “Aim Low!” If you think you are aiming low enough then aim lower. The refraction and depth-perception effects of water make fish appear higher. The distance and depth of the fish changes the aiming point. The rule is for every 10 feet away aim four inches low. For deeper or farther fish, the aiming point needs to double pushing eight or more inches low. That seems drastic but aim low and let it go. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Article Photos

This is a trophy buffalo carp Jeff Braun killed while hunting on the water. A different fish in a very different way.
Photo courtesy of AMS Bowfishing

Fact Box

“It is fun for many different people and intrigues the non-hunters,” says Jeff Braun, CEO of AMS Bowfishing.

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