Bowfishing is a hunting season for the summer months, and it’s extremely addicting. Hunting carp, gar, and suckers on the river is a great way to get outdoors and keep your archery skills sharp. And, it’s a whole lot of fun. But after you get into it, you’ll soon want to step up your game and start piling up a lot of fish.
Here are a few tips to help you kill it on the water this summer.
1. Get Good Glass
If you bowfish a lot in the daytime, make sure your polarized sunglasses are, in fact, polarized. I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of buying that $5 pair of “polarized” sunglasses at the drug store or Walmart, thinking, What the heck, I’m just going to break them anyway. But to be honest, these cheap glasses aren’t even worth $5 to a bowfisherman. Before purchasing a pair, try them on and compare them. Most sporting goods stores will have a hologram to test the glasses so you can see what strength they are. I’ve always preferred a warm tint, but it all comes down to personal preference. Ensuring the glasses fit your face and you don’t get a glare at the edges is also crucial. If you can’t see the fish, you can’t shoot the fish.
2. Pick the Right Tip
Make sure you are using the right bowfishing tips for the species of fish you are targeting. I’ve learned this the hard way: I’ve lost a lot of fish and some big gar by simply using the wrong tips. Small-prong tips don’t work well on large, soft-bodied carp and will rip right out. Flimsy blades will snap off in big gar, thanks to extremely tough scales. My go-to is a 2- or 3-prong with sturdy, spring-loaded blades that are wide enough to hold a carp and stout enough to hold a big gar. Cajun Garpoon or Cajun Sting-A-Ree Tournament points are two of my favorites. Test out a few different tips to decide which work best for you.
3. Stay Sharp
Keep your bowfishing tips sharp! If you shoot in rocky, shallow areas, you’re going to eventually dull your tips. Once the tip dulls, it will create a much larger hole on impact, allowing the arrow to pull out more easily and the fish to slip off. The points on the end of a lot of bowfishing tips can screw off and be replaced, or you can simply use a file or grinder to sharpen them.
4. Switch It Up
Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone—and out of the boat. If you are primarily bowfishing from a boat, you are missing out on a lot of great shooting in small coves and creeks that are too tight for a boat. These small waters can hold a lot of fish and, occasionally, some really big fish. My biggest gar to date was shot out of a little creek inaccessible to any boat. Likewise, if you are primarily wading and bank fishing, you are also missing out on all the access a boat can get you. This situation can be a bit harder to remedy—boats are expensive and it’s not always possible to just run over to Bass Pro and buy one on a whim. But, there are cheaper alternatives. Canoes, row boats, kayaks and even paddle boards are great choices for bowfishing. They’ll get you onto new waters without breaking the bank.
5. Dial in Your Reel
If your bowfishing spots hold a lot of fish, make sure you’re using a reel that won’t bird’s nest the line. For high-volume shooting, you need a reel that allows you to get off a lot of quick shots. Maybe that hand reel isn’t ideal for you, or maybe you need to clean and oil your spinner reel from last year. Consider replacing the line in your bottle reel before the season starts. Nothing is worse than spotting a giant carp and having your line tangle or the push-button release stick because it’s dirty.
6. Learn to Scout
Explore new bowfishing areas. Don’t be afraid to get online and pull up maps. Your state’s DNR website should have maps of public waters with a list of the fish that are in each body of water. If you’re driving down the road and see a public water that looks like it would hold fish, pull over and check it out. It helps to become familiar with what species of fish are common in your state and what types of water they inhabit. For example, suckers prefer clear running water, where common carp prefer murky, muddy water. Gar and buffalo fish prefer rivers and creeks. I’ve happened into some of my best bowfishing spots by accident, so get out and explore.
7. Snap Shoot
This tip might draw a little ire from the archery-form fanatics out there, but snap shooting is a really useful skill for bowfishing. Snap shooting really only works if you are shooting a recurve or a bow with no letoff. To those unfamiliar with the term, I consider snap shooting to be when you only draw your bow back part of the way and release without coming to full draw. Without worrying about having perfect aim, you can shoot much faster, which can be the key to killing those quick-swimming grass carp. No, you don’t want to use this shooting method during deer season, but it can be absolutely deadly on carp.