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From coast to coast, you’ll find guys and gals spending summer days (and nights) shooting arrows at fish. It’s fun and one of the most available and affordable forms of “hunting” you’ll find. While it’s possible to repurpose your old hunting gear, some specialized bowfishing archery tackle will make it a lot easier for you to get started. To help you let the air out of some fish, here is a gear primer with nods to some of the best equipment for your money and a few notes on how to use it. —Tony Hansen
October Mountain Products
When I started bowfishing, I managed my line with a Fin Finder spool, which is nothing more than a plastic spool with a concave rim that holds line as you wrap it on while retrieving an arrow. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it works for just about every type of bowfishing scenario you can conjure just as well as the most sophisticated setup.
It has a threaded anchor that fits into the same port you’d use to attach a stabilizer on the front of a bow’s riser, so you can use whatever bow you’ve got on hand. However, if you plan to use your dedicated whitetail rig, that’s fine, keep in mind that you’re likely going to bang the bow around in the boat when the action gets fast and furious (and it almost certainly will), and you don’t need substantial draw weight, so feel free to decrease the pressure on the limbs. If you have an old-school recurve around, use it. There is no better beginner’s bowfishing bow than a recurve. They’re easy to draw, aim, and shoot. —T.H.
A few years ago, the Ogden, Utah based bowfishing company RPM made its debut with a unique lineup of bowfishing accessories that not only had a different design, look, and feel compared to traditional bowfishing gear, it had a reputation for being some of the most well-built, durable equipment on the market. So when they unveiled their latest arrow retriever, the M1-X trigger reel, I wanted to take a test drive. Since then, I haven’t used anything else. Because the reel is always in freespool mode, you don’t have to worry about pushing a button before shooting like other spinning reels. When you want to wind line back on the spool and bring in your arrow, pull and hold the T-shaped handle with two fingers from your bow hand while activating the crank handle with your drawing hand. Able to hold 150 feet of the company’s 200-pound-test Monkey Wire and geared to collect line at a lightning pace, the M1-X also has an unbelievably strong drag system, which is also never a bad thing. –Ben Romans
For years, the AMS Retriever Pro has been the gold standard of bottle-style bowfishing reels. They’re not cheap, but they are darn near impossible to break or malfunction. Simply attach the line to the slider on an arrow, nock the arrow, draw, and shoot. The arrow freely pulls line from the bottom on its way to the target. When you need to retrieve the arrow, pull the reel lever with one or two of your fingers holding the bow, and crank on the reel handle like you would a conventional fishing setup. Once engaged, wheels inside grab and feed the line back into the bottle as you crank. After grabbing the arrow, nock it again, and you’re ready for another shot. The bottle system is a definite upgrade over a standard, manual spool, and it keeps line out of your way. But more than anything, there’s something stupid fun about reeling in a skewered fish. –T.H.
I suppose that if you bowfish long enough, eventually a piece of gear will break or become loose, but that should only happen at the end of that piece’s lifespan. If it happens earlier than that, it makes for a frustrating outing. For a while, I struggled with reel seats. Either they twist and turned free from the threaded connection with my bow, some thin piece of aluminum sheared off, or I simply couldn’t get it to grip the foot of my bowfishing reel enough to bring in a big fish. I eventually slapped down some cash and tried RPM’s Vise reel seat. In the packaging, it looked big and bulky. But after a few shots, I learned big and bulky was a good thing because it also meant the mount was sturdy and strong. The locking nuts are huge and easy to tighten by hand, and thanks to the compressible rubber washers, once you crank down and lock it in place, it stays cranked down and locked in place. I’ve used the Vise seat for several seasons now and have not yet needed to make an adjustment because I mistakenly torqued it one way or another. It’s quite simply one of the strongest bowfishing reel seats I’ve ever used. Pair it with an RPM M1-X reel and bowfishing rod on the end, and you’ve got one sweet setup. –B.R.
Bowfishing Arrows and Points
When it comes to bowfishing arrows, there are a lot of options between the inexpensive and costly models, so rather than judge an arrow by its price, study its design and remember that, simple is sometimes better. I’ve used the carbon/fiberglass shafts and Piranha Points from Cajun Bowfishing for years. The barbs on the head hold on to fish, and the tip is replaceable should it get dull from plowing into one too many rocks. Whatever arrow and point combination you choose, make sure (extra sure) it is a dedicated fiberglass bowfishing arrow with a safety slide, which is nothing more than a tether point for your line that can freely move up and down the arrow shaft. A slide keeps the line out of the way when you shoot and greatly improves safety. Moreover, you’ll want to carry at least two bowfishing arrows with you. Having a spare just in case your line breaks and you lose an arrow will save your day. —T.H.
If you enjoy arrowing carp during the day, bowfishing at night will blow your mind. I made the jump to nocturnal bowfishing a few years ago when the wife requested that I spend less time on the water and more with the family, especially on weekends. Rather than forgo my favorite summer activity, I built a deck for the bow of my boat, lined the perimeter with LED floodlights, powered it all with some deep cycle batteries, and gave birth to my newfound love of spearing buglemouths well past the midnight hour. The only thing that’s made the experience better has been the advent of carp arrows with lighted nocks like Muzzy’s Lighted Carbon Composite arrow. Under cover of darkness, the glowing light pops like a star, and since it’s waterproof, you can still see it several feet under the surface or when a fish makes a mad run well beyond the range of your lights. They are a little pricier than the average bowfishing arrow, but they’re so much fun to shoot, it’s worth the expense. —B.R.
I love spotting fish (especially for friends who have trouble seeing them), I love shooting at fish, I love an accurate shot on a fish, and I love reeling fish in. But my least favorite part is getting a heavy, flailing, stinky sewer bass off my arrow. Holding the arrow with one hand while reaching around to disengage the barbed point is a physical act I have not mastered, and I typically make a bloody, slimy mess on my clothes, the boat, or both. Thankfully, TRUGLO is making things easier. Early in 2019, the company unveiled its new Spring-Fisher point at the annual ATA Show in Louisville, Kentucky. The design is amazingly simple. Press down on the spring-loaded point to take pressure off the barbs, flip the barbs forward, and slide the arrow out of the fish—easy peasy lemon squeezy. No more loosening tips or unscrewing heads to reverse barbs, and more time nocking arrows and shooting fish. I’m still just as stinky and dirty after a long shoot as I’ve always been, but my friends say that’s more of a hygiene problem than a bowfishing one. —B.R.
It’s hard enough to aim at the right angle and hit a fish in the water. So, when you do strike your mark, you don’t want it to writhe free. One key to success is using barbs that are aerodynamic enough to penetrate a fish, but wide and strong enough to hold it. That’s where the Sting-A-Ree point from Cajun Bowfishing really shines. Deployed, the barbs span several inches. Twist the head one or two turns, and the barbs fold forward into a recessed slot, making it easy to slide fish off. If you have mad skills like me, you’ll learn that if you hold the arrow vertical and put the weight of the fish against the barbs while spinning it, there’s enough pressure to rotate the point, so the barbs fold forward. Done correctly, you can remove fish without ever having to touch one. If there is one caveat about the Sting-A-Ree, is that its wing-shape barb design is sometimes known to cause the arrow to plane off course once it enters the water. I’ve personally seen it happen, but it was typically because someone was making a long shot to begin with. Up close to fish though where shots are at steeper angles, it’s hard to use any other head because they’re just so easy to extract from non-game fish. –B.R.
After you’re hooked on bowfishing (which will occur about midway through your first outing), you might want to upgrade to a more advanced setup. You don’t need a dedicated bowfishing bow and can get away using your big-game archery gear, but know that you can find some awfully good deals on old, used bows in pawn shops, at garage sales, or on Craigslist. The ideal rig is one with either a single-cam or dual-wheels with a peak draw weight of 50 pounds because they draw smoother and easier than bows with hard cams. If you’re willing to crank it down to 40 or 45 pounds, it’s still enough power to penetrate a fish, and you’ll be able to shoot many, many times without getting overly fatigued. The lower poundage also makes it easier to draw and shoot with fingers rather than a release, which is a bit quicker and more conducive to instinctive shooting.
After you get a season under your belt and you’re a full-on bowfishing addict, you’ll likely want to go all-in on a dedicated bowfishing setup. Bowfishing-specific bows are designed for instinctive snap-shooting and feature minimal letoffs and countless draw systems scaled for the task. If you’re interested in getting a complete package purposely built for bowfishing, here are a few to consider. –T.H.
I’ve used a Cajun Sucker Punch for several seasons and have zero complaints. The package includes everything you need to start shooting—a bottle reel, bow, arrows, and safety slides. The Sucker Punch is a bowfishing-specific bow and, as you’d expect, every feature on it is meant for that purpose. The draw weight maxes out at 50 pounds but the draw cycle is not like your typical bowhunting rig. You can opt for a constant draw system with no letoff (perfect for snap shooting), or a more traditional setup using draw length-specific modules with up to a 60 percent letoff. There are 15 inches of draw adjustment so this is one bow that can be customized to fit just about anyone. All the components are solid, and it takes very little time to adjust it to your preferences and start killing fish—well, shooting at them anyway.
Oneida bows have long been a bowfishing cult favorite and for a good reason. They’re super fun to shoot, look crazy cool on the water, have a smooth draw, and are ideal in a boat because of their short axle-to-axle length. However, they’re not cheap—the Osprey might be the most expensive on the market, and you’ll still need to equip it with a reel and accessories, but serious bowfishing diehards swear by Oneida bows. Oneidas also have about as unique a system as you’ll find in archery. They aren’t styled after modern compounds, but they aren’t traditional bows either. The mechanical advantage comes from a series of pulleys in the middle of the bow limbs. There is some draw letoff, but it’s more of a constant-draw system compared to a standard compound. The result is a bow that aims quick and shoots fast. Shooting with fingers is easy, and I’d suggest grips that attach directly to the string, but a release and D-loop works well too.
AMS has been in the bowfishing business for a long time, and they just know what bowfishermen need and want in a complete setup. The Hooligan is just one of their bundles that’s ready to shoot out of the box. It includes a compound bow that’s just under 35-inches long axle-to-axle and adjustable for draw weights between 25 and 50 pounds. But what makes this bow truly unique is AMS’s Rapid Adjustment Post (RAP) cam system, which lets you make draw-weight adjustments with a single tool—no bow press needed. Also included is an AMS Tidal Wave arrow rest, a bottle retriever reel, Chaos FX Arrow with an EverGlide Safety Slide, and an arrow holder which helps prevent line from spilling out everywhere when you’re not shooting. There’s no letoff, so drawing and shooting in one fluid motion is easy. The package is a little pricey, but if you’re an instinctive shooter that prefers a compound bow on the water, the Hooligan is a terrific option. –B.R.
Muzzy says they created the Vice bowfishing bundle to bring in big fish, and it’s one reason why they loaded 150 feet of line on their famous XD Pro push-button reel with 150-pound test line. The reel is attached to the Vice bow, which is 30-inches long axle-to-axle, has an adjustable draw weight of 30 to 60 pounds, propels arrows at speeds up to 320 fps, has a 75 percent letoff, and fits shooters with draw lengths between 24 ½ and 31 inches. The kit also includes an integrated reel seat, classic White Fish arrow with a carp point and nock, glove-free finger guards on the bowstring, and Muzzy Fish Hook rest. It’s a reliable, durable setup, which is why a lot of bowfishermen have taken a lot of fish with this setup the last few years. –B.R.
If you’re looking for a simple, no frills, but effective way to begin bowfishing, then the Fish Stick package from Cajun Bowfishing is your type of rig. The recurve bow is 56-inches long and has a peak draw weight of 45 pounds, so you won’t exhaust your arms and shoulders drawing and shooting it all day long. It also comes with a Sping Doctor reel, a reel seat, a Piranha arrow and point, and the company’s Brush Fire arrow rest, which has a Teflon impregnated insert on the bottom for durability and replaceable bristles. But one of the best things about this combo is the no-slip rubber grip and the Blister Buster finger pads so your wet hands won’t develop those nasty little water bubbles all over your palms and fingers. –B.R.