5 Tips for Bowfishing on a Budget: Where you can and can NOT cut costs
First and foremost, thank you to all those who have served and given their lives to protect this nation we love. Enjoying the outdoors is one of many freedoms the angels in camo defend.
This week we managed to make our way to the creek to sling some arrows at common carp and spotted gar. We used minimal resources to reel in our fair share of carp and gar, without even having to pay for gas in the boat. The focus of our trip this weekend is to prove that you don’t need the $20,000+ boat or $900 bowfishing bow to get started in the sport and be successful at it. We’ll share with you 5 tips for bowfishing on a budget, where you can cut costs and where you shouldn’t.
1 - Bowfishing Bow
Having a good bow that operates well is crucial to your bowfishing trip. Craigslist is a great source for finding local used bows for cheap, there are many quality used bows out there for less than $100. That said, don’t buy one bow over another strictly on price. Do your homework to understand the specifications for the bow your buying. We recommend bottle bowfishing reels, but most bow fishing reels will work for starters. Most importantly: make sure the bow strings are in good shape. Re-stringing a bow can be very expensive. Dried out and frayed bow strings are unsafe to shoot, they can cause serious injuries. If the strings are in good shape, continue taking care of them by applying bow string wax after using it for the weekend. I usually wax my strings before storing the bow.
2 - Bowfishing Arrows and Bowfishing Tips
You can find fiberglass bowfishing arrows with the conventional 2 prong “classic” bowfishing tips for under $20 at most local stores such as Academy, Bass Pro Shops, or a local specialty shop. These are good for learning but if you want to save the heartache of losing a big fish, it is ok to cut costs on arrows but I strongly recommend not cutting costs on arrow tips. Fiberglass arrows are ok, the only problem we have had with them is the slide screw coming out or stripping out. Fiberglass simply does not hold threads as well as stainless. Make sure the screws are tightened down prior to heading out and you should be ok, otherwise spend the extra ~$10 on some fiberglass/stainless steel combination arrows such as Innerloc’s Unity line of arrows. Bowfishing tips are only second to the bow itself in importance of a successful bowfishing trip. Do not cut costs here. The conventional “classic” bowfishing tips with the U shaped 2 prong tips work on smaller gar, but that is all. Spend the extra $5-10 on some quality 3 barbed bowfishing broadhead tips that expand on impact. The amount of big fish you will save will be well worth the extra money you spend. This weekend, I dusted off some classic tips from the back of the closet and used them. I lost several 20-30 lb common carp because the arrows pulled straight through their soft flesh. Our field staff along with most other bowfishing professionals will strongly support this information.
3 - Bowfishing Lights
Finding quality bowfishing lights can be extremely expensive, especially when you start talking about outfitting a boat. When you’re just getting started, a good alternative to boat mounted lights such as our Swamp Eye Lights are bow mounted lights. We are currently prototyping a color tone adjustable bowfishing bow mounted light, with a name along the lines of Swamp Eye Bow-Mounted Light or similar (if you have ideas - comment below or email them to us for a chance to win one!!), that will output over 1,000 lumens. Our target price point is under $100, but we haven’t finalized the design yet. These new lights will be good for the budget conscious but also engineered to perform better than the competition. Save the money on a boat and walk the river banks with this light to reel in gar and carp.
Another option for bowfishing on a river bank at night is mounting a single Swamp Eye Revamped light to a t-post or tree on the bank, use a little 12 volt deer feeder battery to power it, and light up the river. We’ve noticed that both gar and carp are attracted to the light and even if none are there at first, they will come swarming in. While we were fishing the Concho River, we had swarms of 10+ gar coming into the light.
4 - Bowfishing Boat
If you really want to be budget conscious here, just get a 12 ft jon boat, put a Swamp Eye Revamped light up front and one on each side, and mount a 12 volt trolling motor to it and you can get just as shallow but quieter than the guys with the big bowfishing rigs. This is actually the setup we use for bowfishing narrow creeks and rivers. It’s much less of a headache than a big boat with outboard or crate motors.
However, if you want a boat with a motor, there is absolutely nothing budget friendly about owning one of these. As my dad always told me (who has and will always own at least one boat), it’s a hole in the water you throw your money into. That said, craigslist is a good source for finding a used boat as is Facebook for sale groups or Facebook marketplace. Some key items to consider with used boats:
A - The boat and motor MUST be titled and if you are in Texas the Hull Identification Number MUST be on the rear, right side of boat. A trailer with a license plate and bill of sale is good enough. My first bowfishing boat was seized by a game warden for a motor with no title and a non-existent Hull ID number. We eventually got the boat back but it was a hard lesson to learn. Many of times, the really cheap boats you see for sale end up not having a title. Think long and hard about the legal and financial risk you are taking when acquiring one of these boats.
B - Do a compression test on the motors. If you don’t know how, look it up on YouTube. Good compression ranges from motor to motor but generally above 100 psi is good (look up for your specific motor). A motor with low compression is as good as the scrap yard brings in most cases. It may start up and run at half power but it will only get worse as times goes on and it takes a lot of time and money to fix this. This was another lesson I learned the hard way, one of my first boats had a 70 HP motor that could barely push a 16 ft boat. After consulting with a mechanic, I was told it had low compression and was just a matter of time that it would no longer work. A couple weeks go by and the time finally came - I blew the motor at 2:00 AM while heading back from flounder gigging, about 4 miles from the house, and had to use the pusher fan to get back home. Needless to say, we "floundered" a long stretch of the intracoastal waterway and didn't get back until 5:00 AM. And no, we didn't see a single flounder on this stretch.
C - Take the boat out on the water and run it. Running it on a water hose or in a barrel proves it starts but there are so many additional factors such water leaks, throttle control issues, tilt and trim operation under load, power steering, water pump issues and more that will be exposed which you never thought of.
5 - Bowfishing Locations
Unlike hunting, almost all places you would go bowfishing are available to the general public so owning property is not crucial to the sport. Gar and carp are abundant in rivers, creeks, lakes, and streams across the United States. Search for a local water body with good clarity and start scouting. Make sure its available to the public of course, don’t be trespassing! Gar and carp will come up in the shallows and spend more time at the top of the water feeding on bugs at night. During the day, you can still see them but they are not near as active.