Bowfishing 101: How to Bowfish Light Sensitive & Highly Pressured Fish
Bowfishing highly pressured and light sensitive fish species at night can seem impossible if you don't have a good strategy. If you come rolling along with bright lights, you may be lucky enough to see them for a split second otherwise they may never even show themselves.
The purpose of this article is to discuss why these fish act the way they do, and what we can do to find success bowfishing them.
Bowfishing Highly Pressured & Educated Fish
Highly pressured fish include those on water bodies that are bowfished often - such as water bodies that have a bowfishing tournament going on. These fish are typically highly pressured due to bowfishermen constantly targeting them, pushing them to greater depths than normal.
Educated fish include the big monsters that have seen it all so-to-speak, and other fish on water bodies that are bowfished often. It's similar to deer season; when the season first opens up, you see every deer around. By the end of the season, you're lucky if you see a deer in the daytime because they've all been educated by hunters to only come out at night.
Both of these types of fish are more leary to bowfishermen. The number one strategy to successfully targeting these fish is to only turn your bright bowfishing lights on when you need them. It can also help to run silent, eliminating the noise of a generator in the back of the boat. The less you do to frighten the fish, the better off you will be.
Bowfishing lights such as the Swamp Eye HD Bowfishing Light or Swamp Eye Gen 2.X Bowfishing Light Bar work phenomenally for these type of scenarios. These lights are capable of running on battery or generator, so when the time comes to run silent you can do so. They come standard with an instant on-off switch which also adjusts color for clear or muddy waters, making it easy to dial the lights in to the proper conditions. They are also compatible with a Foot Control Switch, which acts as a momentary foot controlled pressure switch to only turn your lights on when you need them. As soon as you let go of the foot control switch, the lights turn back off.
If you're not looking to outfit a full boat of lights to target these fish, last years winners of the Missouri State Bowfishing Tournament were running Bow Mounted Bowfishing Lights to strategically shoot big fish. They rarely used their boat lights.
As you can tell, having the right tools for the job can make life much easier when targeting highly pressured and educated fish while bowfishing.
Bowfishing Light Sensitive Fish Species
There are three (3) main light sensitive fish species targeted for bowfishing - those are silver carp, buffalo, and bigheads. Each fish species has a little different strategy and technique to successfully bowfishing them. We'll talk through each species, why they do what they do, and ultimately what strategy it takes to successfully bowfish these species.
Also known as "Jumping Silver Carp", these fish will literally launch out of the water and can reach heights of up to 10 ft above water.
One of the main reasons behind why they jump is because they're frightened by bright lights or boat motors. When they're frightened, they attempt to dive down deep into the water to hide. In order for them to dive, they have to regulate (remove) the air in their swim bladder. The fastest way for them to do this is by jumping out of the water, landing on the water surface, which then pushes the air out of the swim bladder and allows them to deep dive. It's a pretty crazy technique.
There are other reasons they jump out of the water, including cleaning their gills after rummaging the bottom; but the most common reason they do this while bowfishing is due to being frightened by bright lights or the noise associated with an outboard motor.
The strategy behind bowfishing silver carp is to cause commotion to make them jump out of the water, then shoot them mid-air. This can be done by revving up your outboard motor as well as flashing your bowfishing lights. You can do this with the Swamp Eye HD or Swamp Eye Gen 2X Bowfishing Lights by simply pressing the control dial switch over and over to make them flash. Another solution is to use a Foot Control Switch to strobe the lights with your foot.
Largemouth (Bigmouth) Buffalo
Largemouth (or Bigmouth) Buffalo are commonly mistaken as a carp species, although they look similar, they are two totally difference species. Buffalo are actually in the sucker fish species, and use their "terminal lip" to scrape algae off rocks and suck up aquatic vegetation.
Many avid bowfishermen refer to Largemouth Buffalo as "floaters". Largemouth Buffalo are light sensitive, they will dive down to great depths within seconds of a high output lights hitting them or noise triggering them. Their name "floaters" comes from them putting their mouths up to the water surface, as if they are ready for someone to feed them. This creates the illusion that they are floating at the top of the water column, resulting in their nickname.
The trick to bowfishing buffalo lies in keeping quiet, while only using light when you need it. The ideal setup is Swamp Eye HD Bowfishing Lights or Swamp Eye Gen 2X Light Bars controlled by a Foot Control Switch. The reason for this is these lights are capable of running on battery, and the foot control switch allows the lights to instantaneously turn on when it's pressed to pull off a shot, but then when it's released the lights turn back off. This helps bowfishermen pull off a shot without sending them all diving deep.
The Missouri State Bowfishing Tournament top 5 placing bowfishing teams not only had a light setup like mentioned above, but they were also running Bow Mounted Bowfishing Lights. These lights attach to your bowfishing bow and come with a "Bighead Switch" which is a momentary switch that allows users to quickly turn the light on and off.
The bighead carp is a cousin to the jumping silver carp. Although they are related, the bighead carp does not jump like silver carp do. They are, however, light sensitive similar to silver carp.
In the darkness of the night, bigheads feed with their lips up to the water surface similar to buffalo. The main difference in the two is bigheads are pushing and moving, while buffalo stay put.
If bighead carp are alerted by a boat motor or bright lights, they'll dive down within seconds - so it's important to run a trolling motor when you're near your target area.
The strategy to bowfishing a bighead carp once you spot them is very similar to bowfishing buffalo - keep quiet and only use your lights when you're ready to pull off a shot. The main difference is bighead carp are constantly moving, while buffalo stay put. That being said, trolling motors are often used to stay on pace with bigheads where as you can float into buffalo.
Once you're on a school of bighead carp, hit the foot control switch to instantly turn on your Swamp Eye HD Bowfishing Lights or Swamp Eye Gen 2X Light Bars, take aim and send your arrow down way.