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I bit on the bowfishing bug early in life. I am known for taking things to the extreme and bowfishing was no different. It started with carp and then I graduated to sharks, stingrays, alligators, gar and all sorts of fish. It is not only fun but you can also pack some great meat in the freezer. It is just white instead of red.
Traditional Gear and Bowfishing just go together. Fortunately for us there are tons of equipment options available for traditional bows. Like many things, options range from gear for the occasional bowfisherman that doesn’t want to drop a lot of cash, to gear for the addicted bowfisherman that spends more on their bowfishing boat, lights and platform than they do on their vehicle. Yes, I do know people like that…..sorry mom.
Excluding a boat which is nice but not mandatory for bowfishing, you can get all you need to bowfish for anywhere from twenty dollars to a hundred and twenty. The two main types of bowfishing reels are the hand wind or the reel style. Hand reels are inexpensive and great starters. They come in two different types: One mounts to a stabilizer bushing and the other is a tape-on model that works well for longbows and recurves without a bushing.
These hand reels generally retail for under twenty dollars and are a good option for beginners or experienced shooters on a budget. Although this inexpensive system works well, it is slow and makes a quick follow up shot impossible unless another bow and spool are rigged up and ready nearby.
For the reel style bowfishing rig there are two options available. I have used both and would recommend either one. One is the AMS retriever bowfishing reel. The retriever has a handy finger regulated drag and a twist free bottle that your line goes into. It also sports a fast line crank, which speeds up your recovery time. The Retriever reel retails for approximately one hundred dollars.
Another popular choice is the Muzzy Xtreme Duty Bowfishing reel. It comes with 100 feet of braided 200 lb test bowfishing line and is easy to use. It has a familiar push button release and a standard reel adjustable drag. This set up retails for around 45 dollars.
Bowfishing arrows are pretty simple and inexpensive. Most pro-shops usually carry only one or two models. The two most common are all fiberglass shafts or carbon infused shafts. The solid fiberglass shafts I use are extremely durable and retail for anywhere from $15-$25, which includes a bowfishing head and safety slide. Even more important than arrow selection is the type of fish head you choose. There are many bowfishing heads that look great in the display case, but are not so great in a fish. Choose a rugged, functional head. There are few things more frustrating than missing a shot at a darting fish and then pulling up a bent or broken head. One thing to look for is a head that has a short distance from the point to the barbs. These require less penetration for the head to be held securely. This is especially important with large fish or when shooting bows with low poundage.
Traditional Bows are perfect for bowfishing because most of your shots are snapshots at moving fish. Just the ticket for a longbow or a recurve.
Don’t forget that you have to shoot low to compensate for water refraction. That is a fancy word for “the fish isn’t where it looks like it is.” I’m sure a smarter person than me could explain the formula for exactly how low you have to shoot based on how deep the fish is. It is really more a matter of S.W.A.G That’s another term for Just shoot low and hope. I should warn any newbies that bowfishing is an addictive smelly sport. So if your currently having a problem finding a spouse that will put up with your bowhunting addiction, I wouldn’t add this one. Have Fun!
You know what bowfishing is, and you’re interested in trying, but you’re still not quite sure how or where to start. Bowfishing is unique in the world of archery in that it can be practiced day or night, on land, while wading in the water, or on a boat.
To get started you’ll need a bow, a recurve is best simply because smaller bows are a bit easier to manage while bowfishing. There is no need for sites because of refraction and because they can’t account for depth. You’ll probably want a bow that shoots 45 pounds or greater in order to have sufficient force.
You will also need a reel and special bowfishing arrows; typically, bowfishing arrows are heavier, use barbed broadhead, don’t have fletchings, and are longer than traditional arrows. They are also attached to a fishing line. On that note, never tie a line to the back of an arrow, it should always be attached to the slide near the front of the arrow. If tied to the back, the line could get tangled in the bowstring, causing the arrow to snap back at you, resulting in facial injuries and even death.
You might also want to bring a pair of hip waders, some gloves, sunglasses (if you’re fishing during the day), sunblock, and a hat. If you’re fishing at night you’ll probably want to bring a decent flashlight or spotlight.
If you have the option, and if you’re shooting from a boat, you’ll probably want to use a flat-bottom vessel, so you can take it into shallower water. Like sport fishing and hunting, individual states regulate bowfishing, so you will probably have to pickup a fishing license.
When you’re bowfishing on fresh water you’ll be looking for fish like carp, eels, suckers, perch, catfish, gars, or even alligators. If you’re saltwater bowfishing you’ll probably target fish like dogfish, sharks, and stingrays. The exact type of fish that you’re allowed to bowhunt legally is regulated by the state, so check on your local regulations.
Something that seems obvious, but should also be mentioned about bowfishing. there is no catch-and-release in this sport. Bowfishing kills the fish.
If you decide to give bowfishing a try, but you don’t have access to a boat, then you’ll be limited to wading or bank bowfishing. You’ll want to do this kind of bowfishing in the spring, while the fish are spawning, before and after the spawn the fish can be harder to find. If you’ll be bowfishing from a bank, you’ll want to target lakes, rivers, and ponds with shore access. If you’ll be wading, you have the option of heading to a marsh with tall grass, where the fish feel safe.
If you’re having trouble narrowing down a good spot for your first bowfishing trip, just give your local DNR fisheries biologist a call and tell them you are looking for heavy concentrations of carp, eels, suckers, perch, catfish, or gars.
If you’ve got a few places in mind, but you’re still not sure about the perfect spot, the most important thing you should consider is the consistency of water depth and overall water clarity – clear water that is between 3-4’ deep is ideal for bowfishing.
Now, if you’re like me you don’t hunt what you won’t eat. That said, many of the fish that you’ll be after (such as carp) can contain contaminants, so it’s a smart idea to contact your local DNR office and ask about fish advisories before heading out.
When you finally do get to your fishing spot, the main difficulty that most new bowfishers have is refraction. When light waves pass through water they are deflected, which makes things look like they are where they are not. This is most easily demonstrated using a straw and a glass of water.
To compensate for this, you’ll want to aim about 10” below the fish you’re aiming at; keep in mind this is just a general rule of thumb and you should be prepare to miss quite a bit your first time out.
Bowfishing has been growing in popularity in recent years as more beginning archers look for fun shooting opportunities for spring and summer. As with almost everything in archery, you can get into bowfishing at nearly any price point you choose.
Some people who bowfish transfer all the equipment back and forth to their regular hunting bow, or buy a new bow for hunting and put their bowfishing gear on the old bow. Regardless of what you choose to do, our expert techs at 3Rivers Archery can guide you into the right product whether you’re just starting out or looking to upgrade your equipment.
Various species of carp are the most commonly targeted fish. Carp aren’t native to North America. They were brought over from Europe in the 1800s and released across much of the continent.
Because carp are destructive rough fish that reproduce readily almost everywhere they’re found, archers who bowfish typically shoot all they can, often using the fish as fertilizer for gardens and flower beds. Some also are smoked, canned or added to fish stew. About the only requirement is that those who bowfish take home everything they catch.
Bowfishing Is a Good “Next Step” From Recreational Shooting to Bowhunting
Bowfishing provides multiple shooting opportunities. For those archers interested in expanding their interest and archery skill into an outdoor adventure, it’s an ideal stepping-stone between target archery and bowhunting. No two shots are ever the same in bowfishing, and there’s usually much more action than in bowhunting. When bowhunting deer, elk or bears, bowhunters can go weeks – or several hunting seasons – between shots.
It’s also accessible.
Bowfishing can be done from piers, shorelines, and boats. This includes canoes, kayaks, airboats, motorboats, and Jon boats. As paddleboards become increasingly popular across the U.S., bowfishing from paddleboards is also gaining traction, particularly among a younger demographic eager to get outdoors. Several years ago, the Florida-based company, BOTE, partnered with ATA member Realtree, to offer its customers several camo-clad boards.
With bowfishing, you’re seldom restricted to one small area like you are when bowhunting deer from a tree stand or turkeys from a ground blind. If you see carp or gar nearby, you can stalk closer to try intercepting them. Those experiences also help prepare you for stalking or setting up on deer, elk or other game animals.
Carp and other rough fish like gar and buffalo make for exciting bowfishing, but perhaps the ultimate in big-game bowfishing is an alligator hunt. States like Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina allow bowfishing for ’gators, but no state offers more alligator tags each year than Florida. This requires specialized equipment, however, so it’s probably best to hire a guide or hunt with an experienced friend before taking on an alligator.
I recently had the opportunity to pick-up the new Martin Independence Recurve. Speaking with the Martin representative over the phone, he told me that the Independence Recurve’s light weight, small size, and stabilizer bushing made it perfect for bowfishing. I was intrigued, and being that bowfishing season will quickly be upon us, I decided to open one up and share my findings. That being said, this is very much an opinion piece and is far from comprehensive. If you have something you’d like to add, or if you feel I missed something please leave a comment and let me know.
My first thought when pulling the Martin Independence Recurve out of its box was, “Wow, this thing really is small.” However, that’s to be expected from a bow with a 52” AMO. I was happy to see the stabilizer bushing looked clean – like it was born there. I did notice that there are no sight bushings, I expected this, but it does mean that if you want to use side mounted reels, such as the extreamly popular AMS Retriever® Pro Bowfishing Reel or the AMS Retriever® TNT reel, you’d either have to install sight bushings or buy the AMS Bowfishing Traditional Mount Adapter. If I were going to use it strictly as a bowfishing rig I’d likely install sight bushings, but the AMS adapter works great if you want to just try out a side mounted bowfishing reel without having to drill holes in your bow.
Before going any further, I’m going to tell you a little about me (so you have a baseline of where I’m coming from). I’m a bigger guy, 6’ 2” and 225 pounds. I shoot with either an X-large Big-Shot Elk Archery Shooting Glove or a large Safari Tuff 3-Under Finger Tab. Don’t ask me when I shoot with which one, because I really do enjoy shooting with both – just depends on how I feel that day if I’m going to shoot with a tab or glove. Also, because I’m a bigger guy, I have a long 31” draw, which means I have long forearms, so I use the 8 ½” Vintage Leather Stiff Back Armguard. I’m right eye dominant and a right handed shooter. I shoot 3-under, string walk when I’m shooting with a tab, and shoot purely instinctive with a glove.
Moving on, the handle on this bow is tiny. I mean it’s very small; smaller than some longbow handles. That said, my hand does fit comfortably, but I could see my pinky either getting squeezed after a while of shooting or opting to shoot using an open grip. Someone with smaller hands would probably not have this problem. However, most bowfishing is done very quickly – there’s a lot going on and a lot of moving parts, which means the smaller handle probably won’t bother you even if you do have big hands.
Holding this bow it occurs to me that it is light as a feather. I weighed it and it comes in at a little more than a pound and a half. I could hold this thing for a while without worrying about fatigue, which means I could likely be out on the water with this bow all day.
While inspecting the limbs I noticed that the bow is not “stamped” with the standard Damon Howatt logo, instead it looks like it was drawn on by hand. This kind of gives it a nice custom vibe – they might not all come this way, but the one I’m playing with did and I like it.
I really like the cornucopia of colors featured in the riser of this bow, they make it stand out and it makes the bow feel more like a custom bow than a mass produced bow. That said, colors are really a taste thing, and the laminated look might not be for you.
Included in the box are instructions, a bow string, an arrow rest, a strike plate, and a bow stringer. There’s nothing wrong with the included strike plate and arrow rest, but I’d certainly put something on it that is more my taste – something a bit less generic.
The string could benefit from an upgrade. I don’t care for the included 14 strand Dacron bowstring and would probably upgrade to a Fast Flight Plus™ Flemish Twist Bow String if I were going to use it as my personal bow. I don’t care for the Dacron because it seems to give the bow a very low brace height and is a bit more “twangy” when shot.
The included bow stringer is adequate, but there are better ones out there (I use the Limbsaver). It’s pretty much what I’d expect from a free stringer. It was, however, a little bit snug to fit the bottom tip into, but I’m sure that would change with use.
Upon stringing the bow I wasn’t surprised to find that the brace height immediately feels very low (like I said, that can happen with a Dacron string right out of the box), so the string will need to be twisted quite a bit. Out of the box the brace height is 5-1/2” and the manufacturer recommended brace height is between 6-3/4” and 7-3/4”. This just reaffirms that if I were to get the bow for personal use I’d put on a Fast Flight Plus ™ string.
The bow is certainly snappy when shot; it’s a very quick little bow. It’s really easy to get on target quickly, the sight window is just right. That’s important when bow fishing, you don’t want to struggle to get on target. The string has a lot of twang to it, but it quiets down quick. If I were going to use this as my personal bow I’d probably put on felt pads, which would likely fix it right up, but if it didn’t I’m certain that some string silencers would do the trick.
There is quite a bit of stacking, it’s very noticeable. That’s probably because I have a longer draw, but it’s uncomfortable for me to get the bow to anchor. I’m finding myself unconsciously bending my left elbow to reverse the stacking affect. I expect some stacking from bowfishing bows (because they are generally smaller bows), but it would keep me from using the bow for anything other than bowfishing.
I decided to try on a couple of different reels with the bow; one for the seasoned bowfisher and one for the not-so-seasoned bowfisher.
It took a little adjusting to get it set correctly on the bow (and by little I mean very, very little), but it’s certainly nothing an adjustable wrench couldn’t make short work of. The first thing I notice about this rig is the weight. The RPM equipment alone weighs nearly 2 pounds, which is more than the bow. However, it feels SOLID and well-made. This rig would be good for quick shots (most bowfishing shots are quick shots), but would wear on you quickly. If your left arm (or right arm if you’re a left handed shooter) isn’t used to holding the weight I could see stamina becoming a real issue with this setup.
The bow is well made, so it can take a little abuse – let’s be honest, if you’re bowfishing with friends on a small boat going after big Carp your bow is probably going to take a couple of hits. The reel is ready to use out of the box, which is nice. It comes pre-spooled with 125 feet of 200 pound Monkey Wire, an abrasion resistant string made from the same material that goes into creating bulletproof vests.
This rig would be PERFECT for quick shots on big fish in small boats.
The second setup I tried consisted of the Cajun Screw-On Bowfishing Reel and nothing else.
My first thought in looking at the Cajun was, “is this thing going to get in the way?” And the answer was a resounding, “Nope.” It’s much cheaper than the RPM rig, coming in at $24.99 plus shipping compared to more than a $100 for all three pieces of RPM gear.
The next thing I noticed about the Cajun was the weight – or the lack thereof. I weighed it and it came to roughly 6 ounces, which makes the whole bow weigh a little less than 2 pounds (which is less than the RPM rig by itself). However, there is a trade off, it looks and feels much cheaper than the RPM rig. This probably has something to do with the fact that it’s plastic instead of titanium.
Bottom line: if you’re a bowfisher with a standard draw length and you love (NEED) quality this is the bowfishing recurve for you. If you’re looking for a small, accurate, quality bow (one that you know isn’t going to blow-up on you) that gets on target quick and doesn’t look like every other run of the mill bow, then look no further than the Martin Independence Recurve.
If you’re after the big fish and you’re addicted the having the highest quality, best gear then you want the Martin Independence with the RPM rig.
If already you know you know you want the Martin Independence Recurve, but maybe you’re on the fence about bowfishing (or on a budget) then the Cajun is the rig for you.