Bowfishing: The who, what, why, where, when, and how?
Let me start off by introducing myself. My name is Sam Wood, and I have been bowfishing for over twenty five years. I am lucky enough to have been one of the few who has seen the sport evolve from basically being unknown to becoming a well-known sport with many state and national clubs and many manufactures who cater to sportsmen and women who bowfish. People and companies are now realizing bowfishing’s potential as a multi-million dollar industry.
I started my bowfishing career in Montello, Wisconsin, standing on the banks of the Fox River with an old recurve bow and a wrap-around reel. I was happy to get one or two carp an outing back in those days. Since then, I have gradually improved my skill level and my equipment. I transitioned from shooting a recurve into shooting the AMS Fire Eagle, a bow actually designed with bowfishing in mind. I went from a wrap-around reel to a AMS retriever and from standing on the bank to a twenty and one-half foot custom built bowfishing rig with a thirty-one horsepower air fan, a two hundred horsepower motor, and eleven, three hundred watt lights. As my skills and equipment improved I started taking hundreds of carp in one night and eventually went on to win many tournaments and hold state and world records for the size fish I was able to shoot.
Now lets get down to the nitty gritty; the who, what, why, where, when, and how.
First, the WHO. Well that’s an easy one: ANYBODY. Yes, anybody, young and old, man and woman. There is bowfishing equipment out there today designed with every person in mind.
In fact, this year I got an AMS Mini Hawk for my eight-year-old nephew. While I was at the ATA (Archery Trade Show) show, everywhere you looked there were pink colored bows aimed at females, and I even helped Fin Finder Bowfishing develop a pink bowfishing arrow. There are also adaptors out there that will allow you to mount a reel on a crossbow. As you can see, the bowfishing world has grown to incorporate every person who has an interest in the sport.
Ok, now the WHAT. I once heard bowfishing defined as, “the thrill of hunting and the skill of archery combined with the sport of fishing,” and I feel that captures the true essence of the sport.
When you first think of bowfishing you likely think of carp. While carp are the number one targeted fish in the bowfishing world, they are not the only target. There are thousands of species spread across the United States, and the world, that are prime bowfishing targets. This means that depending on government regulations, bowfishing can offer some great opportunities.
I have been very lucky to have traveled around the country and shot many trophy fish, such as a 175lbs. alligator gar in Texas, 130 lbs. stingray in Maryland, 56lb bighead carp in Kentucky, and a 40lb paddlefish in Oklahoma. I have shot catfish, turtles, alligators, and much, much more. Many states allow you to harvest fish that are great table fare, including tilapia, redfish, and catfish. Most states allow you to harvest carp, gar, and buffalo which all make great dinners if prepared correctly. Even the now famous flying silver carp make for some great eating if you use the correct recipe.
WHY should we bowfish? The answer to that may seem easy, but there are many reasons to list; the first being that it is a blast!
Another reason to bowfish is the opportunity the sport gives you to spend quality time with family and friends. I have been very fortunate that bowfishing has allowed me to spend hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of quality hours with my kids. We have built bonds and memories that will last a lifetime.
Another added benefit, bowfishing is a great way to keep your archery and hunting skills tuned up and sharp even in the off seasons. Stalking close enough to a big, top feeding carp can sometimes be as hard as getting close to a big ol’ whitetail buck. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather shoot one hundred arrows at moving targets like carp and gar than stand in the backyard shooing at the same old square target for hours.
Although this may be a reason than many never think of, many people bowfish because they are conservationists. Bowfishing is a big help to the ecosystem in most of your local lakes and rivers. Many fish, including carp, are not native to our water systems. They do a lot of damage, which in turn costs millions of dollars in taxpayer money and leads to poorer fishing for game fish enthusiasts chasing bass, perch, and walleye. One prime example is the silver carp; just this year alone, Congress has allotted $73 millon to help stop invasive carp from traveling up the Illinois River. In conjunction with this effort, many states and lake associations spend the biggest part of their budgets in just trying to control the carp population problems on a local scale. Now I know you may be thinking, “How can a beginner taking a couple carp an outing make a difference?” Well, think of it this way, can you eat an elephant? Yes, if you do it one bite at a time. It is the same way with the carp problem. Every carp harvested is one less carp that will spawn, and one less carp that the general public did not have to pay to remove.
Alright, now to tackle the next question, WHERE is a good place to bowfish? That is a tough question that has so many answers. I guess for starters, I would say dang near anywhere. Check your state laws find out what you can shoot and any restrictions on location, and then start looking. Every year I find new spots, and I travel to new places in pursuit of fish with a bow and arrow. If you have a spot that you have seen carp, gar, or any other legal fish, that is a good place to start. From there it is just like any other outdoor sport; you will learn more and find more spots the more you do it. The number one spot here in the Midwest is at the edge of a flooded marsh sometime in May. The carp will spawn, and if you catch it at the right time the action will be fast and furious.
Another great way to get on trophy fish in other states is to hire a guide. There are many great guides who specialize in bowfishing and will be able to take you out and show you the ropes. A bowfishing guide can cut your learning curve drastically, and a guide will allow you to try some of the bowfishing gear before you spend hundreds of dollars on the wrong stuff
WHEN should you bowfish? For me, that is a simple answer: any time I get a chance. You see, I bowfish night and day (most states allow for nighttime bowfishing, and it can offer you a unique opportunity to see not only large numbers of carp, gar, and other fish, but also lots of the other things mother nature has to offer like muskrats, beaver, otter, and deer. It is a whole different world after the sun goes down) all year-round. Even in the winter there is some great bowfishing to be done. If you are a true “diehard” and don’t mind putting in the legwork to find the fish as well as brave the frigid temperatures, winter can offer some of the best shooting of the year.
Now we get to the meat of the sport; HOW do you do it? You can keep it as simple as I did when I first started and get an old recurve bow with a wrap-around reel, or you can go all in and buy top of the line equipment and a huge boat; it’s completely up to you. Here is what I recommend for the beginner: Buy an AMS Retriever Pro Kit. You will get a reel, line, arrows (I recommend Shure Shot fish points on the arrows), a Wave rest, and a video. You can mount the reel on any bow with sight mounting holes. If you want to invest in a bow as well, most manufactures of bowfishing bows also offer complete kits with a bow, reel, and rest. I recommend the AMS Fish Hawk or AMS Fire Eagle. Start with this gear and build from there, you won’t be sorry. After you get all your gear set up, just get out there and keep building up you list of spots and learn as you go.
For all you Facebook folks, we have the largest bowfishing group on Facebook, “Bigtime Bowfishing,” so look us up and join in. We offer contests, and it’s a great place to post photos and join up with lovers of the sport from around the world! Thanks, and I hope to see you on the water!