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Bow Fishing Gear: What to Buy and Why

When most people think of bow fishing, they tend to envision expensive Bass boats with the hunter standing in the bow and a partner poling the boat from the stern. However, many non-game species of both fresh water and saltwater fish move into shallow, grassy, coves to spawn in the Spring and thus, they are readily accessible to wading bow fishermen during this period. Consequently, all you really need to pursue this super exciting sport is a bow, a bow fishing reel, half a dozen bow fishing arrows and appropriate points for them, and a pair of waders and you too can follow the age old technique of pursuing “coarse” fish in the shallows with a bow and arrow. However, because the gear you choose will either positively or adversely affect your bow fishing experience, it is important that you purchase the correct gear. Thus, in the following article, you will find the information you need to make an informed choice.

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Since choosing an appropriate bow is the first step to becoming a bow fisherman, let’s start there. So, first of all, it should be noted that while you can use a Compound Bow, a Recurve Bow, or a Long Bow for bow fishing, both Compound Bows and Long Bows have certain disadvantages. For instance, although a Long Bow may be suitable when hunting fish from a boat, when wading, most Long Bows are too long because their lower limb extends either to or beneath the water’s surface when the bow is draw; thus causing it to slap the water when the string is released. On the other hand, although Compound Bows are much shorter than either Recurve Bows or Long Bows, compound bows designed for big game hunting must be drawn all of the way to the wall prior to releasing the string and thus, in order to be appropriate for bow fishing, a compound bow must be specially designed for the intended purpose. However, Recurve Bows are absolutely perfect for bow fishing as they are because they lack cams and thus, they can be “snap fired” at a fleeing fish without the need to fully draw the bow. But, when choosing a recurve bow for bow fishing, you should choose models that have AMO lengths ranging from 48 inches to 54 inches so that the lower limb of the bow will not slap the surface of the water or the gunwale of your boat when you shoot.

Another factor to be considered is that of draw weight. Therefore, you should be aware that unlike big game hunting, when hunting fish with a bow and arrow, you will be presented with multiple targets at any given time and, you will likely be making numerous shots during the course of a hunt. In addition, since the fish are well aware that they are vulnerable to aerial predators when in shallow water, they are very wary and thus, the bow fisherman is often required to “snap shoot” at fleeing fish without coming to full draw. Furthermore, shots at fish are generally a very close range affair seldom taken at more than ten yards with twenty yards being an extremely long shot. Therefore, most hunters choose draw weights between 30 lbs. and 50 lbs. depending on their physical stature. However, while most bow fishermen tend to agree that a recurve bow with a draw weight of 30 lbs. is a good choice, some species of “coarse fish” such as Shad and Carp have relatively soft scales that are easily penetrated by an arrow whereas, other species such as Alligator Gar have very tough scales that are difficult to penetrate. Thus, both larger fish and those with tougher scales require heavier draw weights up to 50 lbs.

In addition to an appropriate bow, you will also need a bow fishing reel. Therefore, you should be aware that bow fishing reels are divided into three different categories which consist of simple, aluminum, drums to spinning and spincasting reels, to specialized bow fishing reels made by AMS Bowfishing. While the drum-type bow fishing reel is very lightweight, mechanically simple, and inexpensive, it does require the archer to rewind the line by hand to retrieve either the arrow and/or the fish and, they tend to seriously limit the distance over which the archer can shoot due to the greater degree of friction caused by the large diameter drum. Whereas, spincasting reels such as the RPM Synergy TI-20 and spinning reels such as the Bohning Aqua make both arrow and fish retrieval much easier and, they enable the archer to shoot much farther than they can with a drum reel. However, it should also be noted that separate, specialized, reel seats designed to screw into the stabilizer hole in the front of your riser are required to mount this type of bowfishing reel on your bow. Then, there is the bottle type bowfishing reel made exclusively by AMS Bowfishing which stacks the line inside of a plastic bottle instead of winding it on a spool. Surprisingly, this type of bowfishing reel actually presents the least amount of friction to the line and thus, it provides the archer with the greatest range and the least amount of drag. Plus, the crank handle enables the archer to retrieve either the fish or the arrow quickly.

Speaking of arrows, although many manufacturers are now offering lightweight, carbon, and carbon/fiberglass bow fishing arrows, most bow fishermen still prefer the tried and true solid and hollow fiberglass bowfishing arrow because they are both tough and inexpensive. Therefore, most bow fishermen use the lightweight, hollow, fiberglass arrows for recurve bows with lower draw weights and the heavier, solid, fiberglass arrows for recurve bows with heavier draw weights and for compound bows. In addition, you should always carry more than one arrow when bow fishing because, occasionally, you may forget to push the button on your spincast reel or trip the bail on your spinning reel and thus cause the line to snap when you shoot which, of course, results in a lost arrow. Or, you may actually shoot a fish that is capable of breaking your line which will also result in a lost arrow. Consequently, most bow fishermen opt for toughness and lack of expense over high tech materials and excessive price when choosing a bow fishing arrow.

Of course, once you have chosen an arrow, you will need an appropriate point for it. There again, because bowfishing points necessarily have barbs to enable them to hold the fish after impalement, they are divided into two different types consisting of those with fixed barbs and those with reversible barbs. Also, while points with fixed barbs such as the Steel Force “Carp” and “Gator” broadheads are often significantly less expensive than those with reversible barbs, they also require the archer to unscrew the broadhead from the shaft in order to remove the fish which is time consuming and can be annoying. Points with reversible barbs such as the RPM Fathom on the other hand, are often significantly more expensive than those with fixed barbs but, they usually only require two or three twists of the arrow’s shaft to reverse the barbs which enables the archer to remove the arrow from the fish without removing the point which is far more convenient. Therefore, price does matter when choosing points for bowfishing because, in this case, you are paying for performance.

Consequently, unlike big game hunting, bowfishing does not require an expensive bow, expensive accessories, or expensive gear; nor does it require a hunter to draw a bow with an excessively heavy draw weight. Therefore, an old recurve bow purchased at a local yard sale, a simple drum reel, and a single fiberglass arrow and point can get you started and then, if your passion for the sport grows, you can upgrade your gear as available funds allow. Consequently, bowfishing is a sport that is open to hunters of all ages and statures and, because the action is often fast and furious and the hunters do not need to be either quiet or still, it is an excellent way to introduce youth to the sport of bow hunting.

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