Bowfishing, What Is It and How To Do It Like A Pro

Do you know what bowfishing or arc fishing is or fishing with bows and arrows?

When we think of a bow and arrows , the famous West Indians from those American Wester movies or even the ancient hunters who used rudimentary hunting tools to capture their prey come to mind.

If you are a hunter, without a doubt the use of the bow for hunting is much more common than the discipline that I am going to tell you about, since bowfishing is an incipient technique that has been in vogue in recent years.

The most purists can say that this has nothing to do with traditional angling, and they may be right, but to ignore this technique would not be a good idea, since knowing new styles, modalities and ways of practicing our favorite sport is the best way to know how to choose what we like and what we don’t.

Basically, archery consists of launching an arrow from the fishing position that we have chosen, towards a point where we see a school of fish, this arrow is connected by means of a line to a reel located in the arc itself, like this after launch it, we can pick it up without problems, with the luck or not of having captured a specimen.

This technique is originally from the United States , there they call it Bowfishing and it is very popular especially among the youngest, who are looking for new forms of fun. But in reality bow and arrow fishing again has nothing, since as we have said, Native Americans, whether North or South, used these tools to bring home the food of the day.


Necessary equipment for bow and arrow fishing

This technique requires a certain aim since the launches are made at several tens of meters, from land or boat, and usually in calm water areas such as lakes, swamps, reservoirs or rivers. Some commonly hunted freshwater species include common carp, grass carp, bighead carp, crocodile, and paddlefish. In the salt water, stingrays and sharks are regularly hunted.

The arc

Bows are generally very simple. Most do not have a peephole, some of them incorporate a long-range Led flashlight to be able to see at night. Most of the bows do not have much weight, since the lower weight makes it easier to use, and when we have made several shots a light weight will be appreciated. There are two main types of bows.

  • The traditional bows
  • Compound bows with pulleys, these use a pulley system to help the archer, modern bows can weigh up to 50 kg.

The arrows

Bow fishing arrows are considerably heavier and stronger than arrows used in other types of archery and are most commonly constructed of five to sixteen inch fiberglass , but materials such as aluminum, carbon fiber are also used. and fiberglass reinforced with carbon fiber to give it greater consistency.

The arrows used to fish with bows usually lack fletching , these are the “feathers” that accompany the arrow at the bottom of these, since they can cause the arrow to change direction to one side or the other under water and not they are needed at relatively short distances associated with fishing using these bows.

The line is attached to the shaft by tying them to a hole in the shaft of the shaft or by using a sliding system.

Fishing line

The archery line is often made of braided nylon, Dacron or Spectra . The resistances or weights of the lines commonly used range from 35 to 180 Kg (80 to 400 pounds of weight), or up to 275 kg (600 pounds of weight) in the case of wanting to go hunting with alligator bows , very common in the southern United States. The color of the line is normally lime green, white or neon orange.

The reel


Two types of reels are commonly used in bow fishing:

  • Case
  • Retriever

The reel housing are the simplest; They consist of a circular spool with internal spool, the line is wrapped by hand and then fixed in a groove of the line. When the arrow is fired, the line leaves the support and is exiting the reel at high speed.

The fish are caught by pulling the rope manually; Casing reels are the least effective in this style of fishing, an alternative is to use these reels together with a float system so that when the arrow falls, the collection is easier and this also allows us to catch heavier fish.

The reels retriever have a “bottle” that holds the line in place. When fired, the rope pulls out until the arrow goes too far and the line runs out or the hunter / fisherman pushes down a stop or brake device that can be used to prevent a fish from swimming longer distances.

Some retriever reels have slots cut into them and are known as slotted retriever reels . They are commonly used for alligator, crocodile, shark and other large catch fisheries.

Polarized sunglasses

One of the keys to being successful when fishing with a bow is having a good view of the target. To be able to see the fish in the water on a sunny day, polarized sunglasses are useful. They eliminate glare on top of the water so it’s easier to see what’s below the surface.

Different shades and colors of lenses allow to appreciate the difference in the color of the water in the area where the hunter is fishing, from dark brown to the lightest blue and green. At night obviously, it is not necessary to wear glasses, as the lights and flashlights will be used to see through the water.


Although bow fishing can be done from shore , bow fishermen often shoot from boats. Boats and canoes are used in shallow water areas as they have less traction, but are not suitable for open water. Larger boats can accommodate multiple hunter / fishermen.

Many of these boats are highly customized, specifically for bow and arrow fishing, with raised firing platforms, and generators to power multiple lights for bow fishing at night . “ Hovercraft ” also incorporate some form of fan propulsion to operate in very shallow water. The fan and motor are generally mounted on a raised platform at the stern.

How to bow fish? Bowfishing technique


Also from the boat and shore, using a fishing wader to practice this modality can be a good and effective option as long as the hunter / fisherman does not mind getting soaked. Wading in rivers allows the shooter to get much closer to the fish , as long as it is done stealthily and skillfully.

Another technique is to stand on large rocks in the shallow parts of rivers . This provides a better view higher out of the water. Going from rock to rock in a river with two hunters causes the fish to move if they are inactive. It is good to go in pairs , while one hunter is wading, the other stands motionless from a rock.

Fishing Hooks

All these fluvial techniques work best for carp or catfish and depending on the area we are in.

Do we know where to aim to be successful at bowfishing?

Knowing where to target a fish can be one of the most difficult skills to master in bow fishing. Due to the refraction of water and the way it optically distorts the location of objects in the liquid element , aiming directly at the target will generally result in failure.

Aiming well below the target compensates for the optical illusion . The depth and distance of the target also influence the direction the arrow should take in the shot.

Aiming 10 cm down for every 3 meters of distance in which we are located from our objective can compensate for this distortion effect of objects in the water, although the real compensation of refracted light must be taken into account not only for distance and the depth, but also the angle.

As always happens in fishing, practice will tell you the optimal measurements and distances to have a correct shot and to increase the possibility of being successful.