If you're an avid bowhunter, the spring and summer months can be excruciating. Flinging carbon at foam in preparation for a season that remains months away can get downright dull. Fishing helps scratch the outdoor itch, but nothing compares to shooting your bow.
That was my attitude until I discovered bowfishing, which quickly became my passion and now summers don't last nearly long enough. The rivers and creeks became my home away from home, and somehow the late night spotlighting trips started competing with slinging arrows from the river bank.
I encountered innumerable surprises along the way—many of which I wasn’t prepared for, all of which I wish I had known about ahead of time. It’s time to learn from my mistakes.
1. You Don’t Need Expensive Gear
Most people are under the impression that bowfishing must be an expensive sport. Fact is, it doesn't have to be. My first setup only cost me about $80. I searched the internet for used gear to get my feet wet. The bow wasn't the greatest quality, but it got the job done and helped me grow through the "learning curve". Nowadays, you can easily put together a decent starter setup for about $200. Craigslist and eBay are a great source for used bows, as are pawn shops and yard sales.
We are currently prototyping a bow-mounted light for bowfishing bows and we are working hard to make it affordable to even the new guys just starting out. The new Outrigger Outdoors Bowfishing Bow Light will be capable of changing color tone from bright white to warm white to optimize the transparency of different water conditions. Powered by lithium-ion batteries, the light will broadcast over 1,000 lumens while mounted to your bow. The light comes with hand controls making it easy to have full control over the functionality of the light while aiming at the trophy alligator gar swimming by. Join our email list to stay up to date and receive additional discounts on this light.
2. Eat What You Shoot
Contrary to popular belief, many fish targeted with a bow are great to eat. Despite their somewhat hideous appearance, long-nosed gar taste great, especially their deer-like backstraps. They are easily my favorite to clean and cook. You must use caution when cleaning female gar, as the eggs are poisonous to all mammals. Take care to rinse the meat well. Gar skulls also make a killer European mount.
The idea of cleaning and cooking carp may not seem appealing, but I enjoy smoked carp which tastes a bit like beef jerky. Simple carp patties, made with ground carp, chopped onion, celery, lemon juice, egg, mayo, and seasonings are also good. Suckers are also tasty, and produce a flaky white meat with very little of the fishy flavor that is so often associated with freshwater fish.
If you do not care to eat the fish you shoot, they also work great for catfish bait and fertilizer. Chopped gar and carp make for some really great catfish bait, whether it be used for rod and reel or on trot lines. We regularly use it for trot lines and have had great success catching catfish, which are easier to clean and many argue to be a better tasting fish. As for fertilizer, carp and gar make for a great supplement for your home lawn or garden. Despite the harsh smell, it will help promote a healthy lawn and garden. Much cheaper than the expensive bags of fertilizer from Home Depot.
3. Failure Is Necessary
Be prepared to miss—a lot. Because I share a good portion of my bowfishing adventures on social media, many people are under the mistaken impression that I don’t miss. Well, I most certainly do.
Aiming is the most difficult aspect of the sport. Light refraction on the water makes judging depth for precise aiming points a bit tricky. A good pair of polarized sunglasses helps for bowfishing during the day. A solid rule of thumb for beginners is to aim low. When I first started bowfishing, I would practice on water bottles and soda cans in the yard. Even practicing at small targets on land can greatly improve your shooting, and when teaching others to bowfish I found this is a great exercise.
Much like bowhunting, you want to make sure that you are consistent. Although proper form and follow through aren’t quite as important, being consistent when it comes to anchor point and release makes a big difference.
4. Know The Regs
It’s critically important to check your local regulations regarding bowfishing. In Texas, it's legal to use a fishing license to bowfish, but you can't bowfish catfish. Other states, there are different fishing regulations on licensure and you are allowed to bowfish catfish among other species. Within Texas, there are more variations dependent on water bodies. For example, Lake Conroe does not allow bowfishing grass carp. It is important to understand the rules and regulations for every water body you intend on bowfishing on. Most of all, be respectful of those around you.
5. Rig For The Night
I have always preferred bowfishing at night—I enjoy being on the water and gar and carp seem to come up to the surface and shallow areas more often at night. However, bowfishing during the day is also an option. It is easier to see fish during the day, but many times the fish are more scarce or in deeper waters.
Shooting from a boat creates options when it comes to mountable lights that can be secured out of the way of the action, such as the Swamp Eye Revamped Bowfishing Lights. If you are wading the shallows, however, you’ll need to plan ahead by bringing along a friend to act as a spotter, mounting a light on your bow, or wearing a headlamp. No matter which you choose, know that a bright light with a wide beam makes it easier to spot fish.
Finally, don’t forget bug spray or a Thermacell. The lights attract fish, but more so attract bugs and gnats.
6. Find A Hot Spot
If you don't have a boat, wade the banks of rivers and creeks. Become familiar with the types of water that are good for bowfishing, as well as which species would inhabit the water. It is fairly easy to find good areas to bowfish once you know what types of fish are in your area. Dams and overflows are great places to find fish, particularly during the spawn.