You don't need all those lights to shoot a fish.
Like anything in the outdoors industry, bowfishing has gone way over the top. People see expensive, tricked-out boats and feel an attraction to bowfishing that just isn't worth it.
I'm here to tell you a boat with a raised platform and a fleet of generator-powered floodlights pointed at the water is completely unnecessary. In fact, you don't even need a boat.
A friend and I each chipped in for a cheap, used bow and an entry-level bowfishing kit when we were 18 years old. To this day, we still use that bow, and we only started using a boat last year. I'm 26.
To be fair, it certainly would've helped to have all those lights back then, but I'm honestly glad we didn't.
I think we learned as much as we did because we started with the bare minimum. I'm talking, like, a total of $40 in gear.
We used an old Bear bow from the 1980s that sported a wood grip and a dry-rotted cable we still haven't replaced. We attached a plastic, hand-wound reel, which came with maybe 30 yards of non-buoyant string.
Because we didn't have the money for a boat or even a kayak, we just waded into the upper James River in central Virginia, wearing only swimming trunks and headlamps.
We prioritized the headlamps above all else, as they were our only chance at shooting a fish at night. And, after some trial and error, we found lights that could do the job.
He and I stuck with that same model for years, landing countless fish with perhaps the most primitive approach anyone's ever taken to the modern bowfishing concept. And, I promise we had more fun.
As boats began to sport bowfishing modifications, we'd dream of the day we could afford our own. We'd calculate how many more miles we could cover, how many more fish we could see and how many new places we could try.
Now that we're here, though, it almost seems corny.
I don't have anything against bowfishermen using boats with lights; I still need to try that at some point. But I do know for a fact you can have just as much fun without them.
Find your spot
I won't pretend we didn't have an advantage because we did. We grew up in spitting distance of the upper James, which featured waist-deep water, good visibility and a rock bottom. It was ideal for wading.
However, you can find bodies of water like that everywhere.
Not only that, but we would often bowfish in the winter when it was too cold to wade, walking along banks of creeks where longnose gar often retreated.
The point is we found our system because we spent the time studying every accessible inch of that river.
Put in the time and find your spot.
Buy a bow
Or don't buy a bow. If you have an old bow lying around the house, put that thing to use. If you're following our model, use something you aren't too worried about because it's definitely going to get wet, but don't ask me how the Bear is still going.
You want something with about a 40-pound draw weight, although you could go up to 50 without an issue. If you go out with a hunting bow, though, you're probably going to shatter your bowfishing arrows.
Newer bowfishing-specific compound bows are solid, but you're going to drop a few hundred dollars.
Because of the rough nature of doing it without a boat, I'd recommend something like the PSE Kingfisher, which is a recurve bow that won't run into any mechanical issues.
Buy a bowfishing kit
Down the road, you're going to want to add little things here and there. But if you want to rig something up ASAP, I suggest going with the classic AMS Bowfishing Retriever Pro Combo Kit.
It includes a bowfishing reel, an arrow rest, two arrows, line, slides and Sting-A-Ree tournament points.
For less than $200, you can completely rig up a bow for the water.
Buy a headlamp
Obviously, the more lumens the better, but we always found a lot of success with Black Diamond headlamps.
We tried using spotlights here and there, but we ran into two problems: size and battery life.
Even if you have someone else holding the spotlight for you, they don't last long. So after about an hour, you just have a giant weight to carry around.
Go with a solid headlamp; it'll do the trick.
I'd go with something like the Black Diamond Revolt.