Bowfishing with a Traditional Bow – The ‘Must Have’ Gear

The height of bowfishing season will soon be here and just weeks away from some of the best bowfishing action. So let’s talk about the essential items you’ll need. Regardless of whether you’re after rolling carp from the bank of a river or somewhere on the coast looking for stingrays, the right bowfishing gear will make a difference.

Below is a list of what I consider necessary items. First and foremost is the fact that each state has their own set of rules that can differentiate on individual lakes. Be sure to check local regulations for licensing and species information before heading out.


The sport of Bowfishing is tough on gear and you can expect for items to get scratched and dinged along the way. Here’s what I look at in the way of equipment for bowfishing.

Cajun Bowfishing Fish Stick BowBowfishing Bows:

As mentioned above, you can expect your gear to take some abuse. I don’t want to take an expensive bow with me and have it get damaged on the inside of a boat. Worse yet, it could get broken because I set it down in the wrong place during the excitement. There are many options to choose from when looking at a new bowfishing bow. The truth is most any bow can be used for bowfishing, but some have distinct advantages over others.

Bowfishing is often fast action and a traditional bow lends itself well to this style of shooting. When you first see a fish, it can disappear as quickly as it appears, especially in dark murky water. So most of your shots are going to be in the form of snap shooting. This is what makes traditional bows well suited for bowfishing.

Longbow: Longbows offer a lightweight bow, so it can be less tiresome when bowfishing for long periods of time. However, just like the name, they are typically longer in length. This makes them a little more difficult to maneuver in places such as a boat.

Recurve: I feel the best choice is a recurve bow. They come in different lengths allowing you to select the ideal size that’s suited to your preference. They can also be found in takedown models that can be disassembled for easy storage and transportation. The bear Super Magnum is only 48” in length and one of my favorite for bowfishing.

Regardless of your personal choice, I recommend considering a bow that has accessory bushings such as the AMO sight bushings, stabilizer bushings, and plunger hole. There is the Traditional Gadget Adapter if you find yourself wanting to add a stabilizer bushing without altering the bow. If you don’t mind installing them yourself, it’s fairly easy to add the sight bushings and stabilizer bushings.

Bowfishing Reels:

There are a number of bowfishing reels on the market. These reels commonly mount to the stabilizer or sight bushings and have their advantages and disadvantages as well. A quality reel should hold up over time and it’s the one place where I prefer to spend more on my equipment.

Cajun Archery Bowfishing Drum Style reelDrum Reels for Bowfishing:

Using this style of reel, the fishing line is manually wrapped around the drum and spools off once an arrow is released. The advantage of these reels is that they are cost effective when compared to other reels. However, these reels tend to be slow as you pull the line in by hand and then rewind it on the drum after each shot. Since Bowfishing can be a fast pace sport with multiple shots appearing at one time, this can be a problem. Another issue is that the line can tangle easily causing some frustration. These reels have different mounting options as some will mount to the stabilizer bushings and others mount by taping the reel to the bow. If you have a limited budget, this reel can be a good option. However, you will most likely want to upgrade at some point.

Cajun Archery Bowfishing Spincast ReelSpincast Reels for Bowfishing:

Spincast reels are similar to reels frequently found on fishing poles. Usually, they come pre-spooled with bowfishing line and ready to go. Just like a standard spincast reel, you have to push the button to release the line prior to shooting an arrow. One of the advantages of a spincast reel is the drag adjustment. This option allows you to tire out the fish, making it easier to reel them in. By just simply spinning the crank on the side, you reel the line back into the spool. Some of the better reels have different gear ratios to make it even faster to retrieve the fish. Most of these reels are mounted to the bow using a reel seat that fits the stabilizer bushing in the riser.

AMS Pro Retriever Bowfishing Reel mounted to bowRetriever Reels for Bowfishing:

Retriever reels have become popular over the last several years. They often use a heavier braided line stored in a plastic bottle and work well with larger game fish. There are no buttons to push before shooting, making it quick to operate. The line easily spools out after releasing an arrow. Experiences with tangling issues are few and by squeezing the trigger, you reel in the line. The only disadvantage is the fact that it can be a little slower winding when compared to a spincast reel due to the gear ratios. This style reel normally connects to the bow using the AMO sight bushings.

Bowfishing Arrows

Muzzy Carbon Classic Bowfishing ArrowBowfishing arrows are typically heavier in weight than a standard hunting arrow. Shooting distances are often shorter and penetration becomes the most important factor. Usually these arrows are made of fiberglass or solid carbon. Under normal circumstances, you won’t lose a lot of these arrows. So I don’t mind paying a little extra for one that’s durable.

AMS Safety Slides:

AMS Safety Slide on bowfishing arrowRegardless of the type of reel, I highly recommend using Safety Slides on your fish arrows. Safety Slides are designed to eliminate the “snap back” of an arrow should the line get hung up. They don’t interfere with arrow flight, are inexpensive, and help prevent possible injuries. In my opinion, this should be a mandatory part of your bowfishing gear.

Bowfishing Points:

Bowfishing 3 Barbed Grapple PointFor bowfishing points, you want one that penetrates and is able to hold on to the fish. There are many options to choose from and everyone is going to have an individual preference. I look for something that’s easy to use and has proven itself over time, like the 3-Barb Bowfishing Grapple Point. These points penetrate great and have three barbs, so you’re not likely to lose a fish after it has been shot with one these. The barbs are easily reversible making it simple to remove the point after hauling in the fish.

Other Bowfishing Gear

Bowfishing Rests: There are a lot of options for a rest and even some prefer to just shoot off the shelf. The plastic/rubber flipper rest or weather rests are easy to use, but the longevity is generally short and they don’t hold the arrow in place. Roller rests are another popular design that’s simple to install and allows for centershot adjustments. The Cajun Brush Fire Bowfishing Rest is the design I prefer. It’s offers fast shooting and holds the arrow in place until you’re ready to shoot.

Polarized Sunglasses: These make a big difference by reducing the glare on the water. Using a good pair of polarized sunglasses enables you to see fish that you might ordinarily miss. A good pair of sunglasses should be a necessary part of your gear.

One last item to consider is Finger Savers. This can solve the problem of sore fingers after a long day of shooting. They are easy to install, waterproof, and inexpensive making it a worthwhile addition to your bowfishing gear list.

It’s hard to beat a day of bowfishing on the water with some friends. Getting started doesn’t take a lot and you just might find it addictive. However, paying close attention to some of the essential items might make a difference to your success.

By R. Strong