Archery Fishing


Bow fishing is a sport where a fisherman utilizes archery equipment normally used for hunting to catch fish. It involves the conversion of a regular hunting bow into a fishing bow by the attachment of a reel in front of the bow grip. It is growing in popularity in the United States for a number of reasons, despite not being widespread or well accepted within the angling community.

A critical aspect of bow fishing's appeal is that it combines elements of hunting and fishing, an important draw for people who enjoy the thrills of both activities. For anglers who desire a more active pursuit of quarry, it offers a greater challenge than many other forms of fishing. It also allows bow hunters an extra season to keep their skills sharp. An additional attraction is that it is a relatively inexpensive outdoor sport.

Before You Start

Before you jump into bow fishing, it is important to research the laws regulating bow fishing in your state. Licensing requirements and fishing regulations vary from state to state. Most states require a state fishing license, so becoming properly licensed should be one of the first things a bow fishermen accomplishes. Many states will also require the completion of a state-approved archery safety course. Crossbows may not be permitted in some areas, although there may be exceptions made for handicapped persons.

In many states, bow fishing will be limited to certain seasons and to "rough" fish, such as buffalo carp and gar. In fact, in many states bow fishing for certain game fish is specifically forbidden. You may want to assess your interest in these types of fish before you proceed. One would be well advised to contact the appropriate state fish and game agency for the complete regulations prior to engaging in a bow fishing expedition.

Bow Fishing Technique

Once a new bow fisherman has obtained the necessary training, licensing and equipment, there are a number of technical things that can be done to improve bow fishing ability and increase the chance for success. Learning knot tying, tuning, marksmanship and targeting skills are essential. In addition, understanding the choice of fishing methods can guide a fisherman to a successful harvest.

Knot Tying

Knot tying may seem like an unnecessary inclusion in a discussion about bow fishing technique. However, many people are not well trained in tying proper knots. It is important that a bow fisherman learn to attach the line to an arrow with a knot that will not slip. The following is an efficient type of knot for tying line to an arrow.

The first step is to loop the line through the swivel, or if no cabling is being used, through the back of the arrow. The second step is to make a loop around the index and middle fingers with the short end of the line. The short end of the line should be on the top of the loop. At this point, the loop should be around all of one's fingers. Continue by wrapping the short end around the top of the loop, through the center of the loop, and back around the top of the loop. Four of these wraps should be performed when using thick line, five when using thin line.

Tightening down the knot is the next step. This is accomplished by pulling each line, whether short or long, ensuring that the knot is remaining uniform. The short end of the line will cause the knot to cinch down, while pulling the long end of the line will result in the knot moving closer to the swivel. The knot must be manipulated so it is close to the swivel before being completely cinched down. Upon completion, the knot should resemble a tiny noose. If properly done, this knot will not slip and will require cutting to remove.


The margin of error in bow fishing is so small that it is critical to maintain the bow in peak working condition. Generally, this will mean tuning the bow before each outing. Tuning should include adjusting the rests so they are in proper position and calibrating the nock.

You can expedite the tuning process by shooting a regular bow fishing arrow, with the tip removed, into a cardboard target. The plastic fletching found on most fishing arrows should be removed to improve tuning.


The marksmanship required for bow fishing is considerably different than that of bow hunting. To begin with, the equipment is different. Bow fishing arrows are heavier, the arrow tips are larger and there is a string attached to the arrow.

The second obvious difference is that the arrow is being fired into the water, which is quite a different challenge from firing only through the air. As a result, each arrow encounters significant physical resistance upon entering the water.

It is important in bow fishing to minimize the margin of error found in firing a bow. Avoiding obstructions encountered by bow-fishing line during firing is important. Maintaining cabling so that the line remains in front of the bow and unable to snag on anything is also crucial. Using a reel such as the AMS Retriever can reduce the amount of interference encountered by providing a steady feed of line. The more obstruction encountered by the line, the less efficient the arrow's flight will be.

Dealing with light refraction in the water presents a unique challenge to bow fishermen. Successful bow fishermen learn to compensate for light refraction. A general guideline at 8 yards is to shoot 4 inches below where the fish appears for every foot of depth. In reality, however, the only way to consistently shoot fish that are more than 2 feet deep is through practice and experience.

Bow Fishing Methods

There are three basic methods of bow fishing: the still hunt, stalking, and the ambush. Each of these methods can result in a successful harvest.

The still hunt involves selecting a single spot along the bank of a lake or stream and shooting at fish that swim by. This method takes a little more work than just standing there; it also requires some deception. Because bow-fishing water is generally very shallow, fish can see the fisherman. It is advisable to wear clothing that blends in with the immediate environment, perhaps even using camouflage. It is also necessary to stand as still as possible, sometimes for considerable lengths of time. Even the smallest movement on the part of the fisherman can send fish scurrying.

The second common bow fishing method is stalking. In this approach, one moves in an active attempt to locate fish. Stalking may occur on foot (along river banks and lake shores) or in a boat. When on foot, the attempt should be made to walk as quietly as possible. Soft-bottomed shoes are recommended because the noise created by shoes walking across rocky shoreline is amplified underwater. What may seem like a soft sound to the fishermen may be a loud signal to a fish that danger lurks nearby. Also, patience and a slow pace are essential to overcome the inherent difficulty in this method of bow fishing. 

Normally, fish are alert to activity, but one can ambush a large harvest by successfully locating a spawning ground. The frenzy of spawning activities can mask the noise created by a fisherman. Because the fish are so focused on swimming upstream and their defenses are down, ambushing spawning fish swimming upstream can be a productive bow fishing method. Taking fish during spawning is illegal in many areas and should be researched prior to fishing.

Exploiting Your Catch

An issue that confronts bow fishing enthusiasts is the consumption or disposal of caught fish. Unfortunately, there are too many incidents of fish being left on a riverbank or lakeshore or being dumped in dumpsters and trash cans. None of these is an acceptable method of exploiting your catch. However, there are a number of good alternatives.

Obviously, a great number of bow fishermen prepare the fish for their own consumption. There are many good recipes available to those who wish to eat their catch. If this is not your desire, appreciative diners elsewhere can still consume these fish.

You could donate or sell the fish to a restaurant. Korean and Chinese restaurants may be especially anxious to buy carp for the food source is revered in that culture. One wishing to sell the catch should check with the proper authorities and inquire as to the governing regulations. Some states require commercial fishing licenses in order to do this; they may require certain handling activities to ensure the fish remains fresh.

If consuming them yourself or selling them are not options, there are still viable alternatives for properly disposing of these fish. They can be used as fertilizer, although one should be careful to bury them at proper depths to prevent odor problems in the surrounding area.

Farmers may also accept your catch. In particular, pig farmers will include these fish in the pig food because of their high concentration of protein and other nutrients that promote larger, heavier pigs.


There are a number of organizations that can provide additional information, support, and contacts for those interested in becoming involved in bow fishing. These groups seek to promote the sport and ethical fishing:

Bowfishing Association of America
470 Mohawk Road
Janesville, WI  53545
Phone - (608) 756-5605
Fax - (608)-756-8522
Email -

International Bowfishing Association Inc.
1049 Crystal Court
Lino Lakes MN 55014
Phone - (651) 653-3279
Email -

North American Bowhunter
P.O. Box 251
Glenwood, MN 56334
Phone - (320) 634-3660
Email -

Texas Bowfishing Association
P.O. Box 1273
Georgetown, TX  78627
Phone - (512) 863-4385

South Dakota Bowfishing Association
PO Box 68
Hartford, SD 57033
Email -