You can find success bowfishing in freshwater (lakes, rivers or ponds) and saltwater (bays, beaches or estuaries). But whatever body of water you choose, you'll typically fish in clear, shallow areas 3 to 4 feet deep for a few reasons. First, the fish that you can hunt by bowfishing tend to hang out in shallow waters. Second, water is dense and slows arrows down; the less water that your arrow has to travel through, the more force it will have when it strikes the target.
While most find daytime bowfishing success will occur in the spring around spawning time, nighttime bowfishing can be done at anytime, especially in the southern states where freezing lakes are not an issue. The bigger fish are more active in the spring and summer.
As light travels from one medium into another, it bends or refracts, so the fish that you see from the surface is actually the refracted image of the fish in the water (apparent fish). The actual fish is deeper in the water than the apparent fish. If you aim straight at the apparent image you'll miss (or go high). That's why bowfishermen always say to aim low. Exactly how low you aim is part of your hunting skills. Here are a few rules bowfishermen may use to help them compensate for refraction:
- The 10-4 rule: If the fish is 10 feet away and 1 foot below the surface, then aim 4 inches low. If you double either the 10 or the one, then double the four. For example, if a fish is 20 feet away and 1 foot below the surface or 10 feet away and 2 feet deep, then you would aim 8 inches low.
- Aim about 6 inches low for every 1 foot of depth.
- Look at the fish and aim 10 inches low.
- Fill a soda can with water and sink it in a river to practice!
When you shoot at a fish, aim for the front half. This portion contains the brain and vital organs, so you will most likely kill the fish. In addition, remember that fish can swim fast in the water, so you don't have much time to aim and shoot. Also, some large fish, like alligator gars, may take more than one arrow to kill them.