The Ultimate Guide to the Best Bowfishing Boat for Sale
The best bowfishing boat for sale will have strong bare bones and be properly titled, but may not necessarily be a complete bowfishing boat setup with top of the line bowfishing lights. There are key features every bowfishing boat must have and a strong foundation is at the top of that list. Other items such as bowfishing lights and a shooting platform are considered add-ons and if the boat happens to have a good setup, then good for you. Don't choose a boat with a low quality hull to get a decent set of lights and a platform though.
Whether you are buying new or used, the rules are the same with regards to choosing your next bowfishing boat. Let's talk about some of the key features you must account for when choosing your next boat.
If you're new to bowfishing, then this article on bowfishing may be a good one for you to read next.
Bowfishing Boat Hull
You can swap out the bowfishing deck and shooting platform relatively easily, but you can’t swap out an entire hull if you’re on a budget. The hull of the bowfishing boat is the single most important item for you to consider, don’t skimp on cost here if you want a boat that will last a lifetime.
Bowfishing boats are typically run in shallow waters, where it is fairly common to scrape the bottom of the boat against sand, rocks, logs and other debris laying on the bay or lake bottom. The two hull materials of choice are fiberglass and aluminum. Fiberglass does better for boats that stay on open water and do not run into shallow structures, which is not very common in the bowfishing world. Aluminum seems to have better longevity and hold up to the abuse associated with bowfishing in shallow water. The most common hull material we see on tournament winning bowfishing boats is aluminum.
Aluminum Hull Thickness
The standard thickness for aluminum boat hulls is 0.10”, 0.125”, or 0.19”. The thickness of the aluminum will determine how much the boat flexes in open water, how it handles stress cracks, and ultimately how it holds up for the long haul. If you compare a 3/16-inch thick hull (0.19”) to either of the other two options, you will see a significant difference in terms of the ability to handle rough waters, resist stress cracks, and ultimately handle the abuse associated with bowfishing. We do not recommend going with a boat hull with a thickness less than 3/16-inch if you plan to use the boat for bowfishing.
Hull Type: Modified V or Flat Bottom?
Modified V and flat bottom hulls are both very common for bowfishing boats. A bowfishermen can make the case for both hulls, so we will present the most common pro’s and con’s of each for you to decide.
Pro: Handles open water well, makes for a smoother ride due to the ability to cut through waves
Con: Not as efficient shooting space, less room for shooters to go after fish coming in front of boat.
Pro: Makes for a very efficient shooting platform, the wide square body allows for the boat to float better in shallower waters
Con: A windy day can make for a rough ride, flat bottoms slap the waves instead of cut through them.
The most common design we see along the coast is flat bottom boats, because they are typically running in shallower waters. The most common design we see in freshwater lakes and streams seems to be modified V boats, because they are typically able to bowfish in deeper waters. My personal preference is a flat bottom boat because I am more concerned with the ability to get shallow and have as efficient shooting space as possible. A rough ride can make for a tough trip with the wife, but most of our spots are relatively close to the boat ramp.
Bowfishing Boat Trailer
The bowfishing boat trailer is less important than the quality of the boat hull, but still very important. The key feature to look for is to make sure the axels are in good shape and not rusted. If the boat was used in saltwater, check the lief springs to see if they are rusted. Leif springs are relatively cheap to replace and easy to do yourself, but they can become a costly pain if you wait to replace them when they break while you're going 70 mph on the highway and your boat drops to the ground. The cost behind a rusty Leif spring is associated with the damage done to the boat, not the trailer itself.
The second thing to look for is the tires. If you are taking the boat out of town on a road trip, make sure you have good tires and it's good practice to grease the hubs before heading out. A good rule of thumb to check tread is to put a penny in the tread and if you can see Lincoln's head, it's time for a new set of tires.
Typically, aluminum trailers make for the best boat trailers. If you decide to go with a steel trailer, make sure it has a google paint job if you plan to use it in saltwater. Saltwater will eat up a steel trailer quickly.
The bowfishing deck, or shooting platform, will depend upon the style of bowfishing boat that you decided to go with. Many modified V hulls have bowfishing decks that follow the contour of the boat, while others have square bodied platforms that give the boat the efficiency in terms of shooting that a flat bottom boat has. Most modified V hulls require a raised bowfishing deck, while flat bottom boats can get away with a flush mount bowfishing deck. This is a great read for more information on bowfishing decks and platforms.
There are many different bowfishing light setups to choose from, and ultimately it is important to find a light that will suit your needs that is in your budget. If you are in muddy waters, a warm white light in the color temperature range of 2000k-2400k works best. If you are in clear waters, a cool white light in the color temperature range of 5000k-6000k works best. If you are in a variety of water conditions, then I would recommend the Swamp Eye Light Bar. These bowfishing lights are color tone adjustable for clear or muddy water, making them universal for all water conditions. If you compare these lights to other quality LEDs or even HPS lights, they are pretty competitively priced and very low maintenance. Street light such as HPS and Halogen lights are also a good option but the biggest downfall to them is they are very heavy and high maintenance. If you plan on hunting light sensitive fish such as bighead carp, you won't have much luck with the HPS or halogen lights. We believe LED bowfishing lights will light the future of bowfishing. Literally.
Trolling Motor / Fan Motor / Kicker Motor
Outboard motors are good for getting you to your bowfishing spot, but once you're there they aren't the best option for running shallow. There are 3 options to choose from, and each have their own pro's and con's: trolling motor, fan motor, and kicker motor.
Trolling Motors work great for bowfishing, especially on a calm night. A properly sized troller can quietly pull a bowfishing boat across the lake. The downside to a trolling motor is they draw a lot of juice and typically need their own battery bank if you want to be able to run all night long. The other problem area is that most bowfishermen are utilizing the trolling motor constantly, going from one spot to the next, and they keep the trolling motor close to max speed to chase down fish. Eventually, this can wear on the trolling motor and cause the control board to get hot and blow. Almost every guide I've ever talked to has blown a control board on a trolling motor from running it so much. They don't always get rid of their trolling motor, they usually just learn how to replace the control board themselves.
If you want to avoid the hassle and battery draw associated with a troller, then you might like a fan or kicker motor better.
Fan motors are my personal favorite because you can run in shallower waters in comparison to a trolling motor, and it runs off of gas rather than battery. Some fan motors can even have an alternator hooked up to them, and you can run your bowfishing lights off the alternator. This is a great way of shedding battery weight. The downside to a fan motor is they are pretty loud and can be a safety hazard for those not paying attention.
If you don't like the battery draw of a trolling motor and don't want the safety hazard associated with a fan motor, then a kicker motor might be your best bet.
Kicker motors are small outboard motors, which literally mount next to the outboard motor. These small motors operate similar to an outboard but are smaller in size to allow you to troll at low speeds and chase fish down the bank. The upside to these motors are they do a great job at pushing a boat even if its windy out. The downside is they don't have the ability to run on an alternator like a fan can and they aren't as portable and compact as a trolling motor. Most guys who run kicker motors are focused on bowfishing deeper lakes and rivers. The typical kicker motor is a small outboard motor, but some people opt to run a mud motor as their kicker. The small outboard kicker motors are not able to run in as shallow of water as the mud motors. The mud motors can literally run through a swamp, which makes them ideal for the shallow saltwater areas.
In summary, the kicker motor will do the best job if you plan to run at relatively high speeds all night long chasing down fish. The trolling motor is a good compact and quiet option for running in shallow waters, the only downside is the weight due to additional batteries. The fan motor is loud, but it will push you into shallow waters easily and adding an alternator onto your fan can help shed battery weight for bowfishing lights.
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