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How To Start Bowfishing

Certain hunting sports – most namely gator hunting – combine elements of both fishing and hunting into a unique outdoor experience, so why shouldn’t anglers have a similar opportunity to blur the lines? Enter bowfishing, a fishing/hunting hybrid sport that could stand to unite the two outdoor pursuits in a way that they never have been before.

While bowfishing certainly isn’t in the public eye – not even for those of us who live and breathe fishing and hunting on a daily basis – it’s actually been around for decades now. The concept, at least on the surface, is pretty straightforward. Bowfishing uses many of the same ideas that have defined traditional spear fishing for ages. Instead bringing in traditional rods and reels, these fishermen tote heavy-duty compound bows that we would normally think of as deer hunting gear. When they see a fish swimming in the water, they take aim and fire an arrow into the depths.

Of course, as with any sport, bowfishing is not as easy as it sounds. You can’t just fire loose arrows haphazardly into the waters. Even if you struck a fish, no one wants to have to dive into the depths every few minutes to retrieve their kill. Worse, it’s easy to picture a sea floor punctured by dozens or hundreds of stray arrows. Trust us, derelict fishing gear is a big enough problem as is, no one needs razor sharp arrows adding to the issue. (No bowhunter needs to be consistently losing their arrows in the water, either.)

With all of this in mind, bowfishermen and women have figured out ways to form a better balance between the strategies used for fishing and the traditional elements of archery. In other words, you aren’t just going to want to haul out your expensive deer-hunting compound bow and carbon arrows and start firing at fish.

If you are serious about bowfishing, you are going to either need to modify your equipment or buy new equipment entirely. Particularly, you are going to want to have a bow meant specifically for bowfishing. A bow can take a lot of wear and tear on the fishing boat, whether you are throwing it down to quickly reel in a fish or plunging it into the grimy water to finish the battle. So buy a different bow or use an older one that you don’t care as much about. Otherwise, you might be a little bit disappointed when you pull out your bow next fall for deer season and find out how much damage it’s taken.

Next, you are going to want to pick up some equipment geared specifically toward bowfishing. While bowfishing isn’t a commonly-discussed sport, that doesn’t mean that hunting and fishing vendors don’t offer bowfishing items for sale. Specialized bowfishing reels that allow you to retrieve your fish and your arrows, fiberglass arrows, and spools of tough fishing line are among the essentials for the bowfishing sport.

Once you have all of the necessary equipment, you are ready to start learning the bowfishing basics. Unless you know someone who can show you the ropes, the best way to master bowfishing is often to get out on the boat and start shooting.

If you’re an experienced bowhunter, you should find that bowfishing is a great way to improve your accuracy. The water – especially in heavier depths – will change the game a bit, as will the presence of the reel and the spool of fishing line. But with a bit of work and trial and error, you should be well on your way to becoming an accomplished bowfisherman.

And to serve as some inspiration, check out this video of Team INSTIGATOR at the 2013 BAA World Bowfishing Championship. These guys are amazing!

Do you have any bowfishing experience? Would you like to write a story about it to be featured on Wide Open Spaces? Leave a comment below or check out our contributor page.

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How To Start Bowfishing