Bow Fishing Setup

Bow Fishing Setup

Bowfishing is a fun activity that gets you outside, you can catch some fish, and it helps you practice archery for other reasons. If you haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for? Let’s talk about what you need to get started.

Bowfishing Equipment

Bowfishing gear doesn’t have to be expensive or even extensive. Necessary items include a bow, a reel with line, arrows and special tips, and a fishing license for the area you will be bowfishing with your new setup. Optional gear would include a pair of gloves, some towels, polarized sunglasses, and a gaff to help secure larger fish.

Older bow hunting bows can be easily converted for bowfishing. You can also buy an inexpensive used bow as long as you ensure it fits your draw length, and adjusts up to at least 25 pounds. That’s enough to use for bowfishing and you will get less muscle fatigue. If you buy a used bow, ask a bow technician at an archery shop to inspect it before use.

Reels, lines, arrows and tips can be purchased separately or in packages. Some packages even include a bow. Many beginners start with bottle-style reels and switch to spincast reels later. Some reels require you to pull fish in by hand, but others have a reel mechanism on them. These reels, like a spincast reel, allow you to play the fish almost as you would with a fishing rod.

Bowfishing Arrows 

▶ Bowfishing arrows need to be heavy and tough to allow quick penetration of the water and withstand impacts with rocks, logs, the bottom and other underwater objects. They’re often made of fiberglass to ensure heavy abuse. You’ll also need screw-in barbed tips for your bowfishing arrows. These tips keep fish from sliding off the arrow after they’re impacted. You can buy specialized tips for specific fish species, or multipurpose tips for all species of fish.

▶ Fish can move super quick and dodge your arrow. Contrary to bows for large game, you won’t need sights or a release aid. They only slow your reaction time, which can cost you opportunities to get fish. Learn to use your instincts and fingers to make quick and pinpointed shots. You may want to consider wearing a glove or finger tab to protect your fingers and keep in mind you will use your bow much more than if in the field where you may only shoot one arrow all day.

▶ If you’re not entirely sure what type of gear to purchase, visit an archery shop where a knowledgeable staff can help you select the right bowfishing gear setup. They can equip and even set up your bow so you’re ready to begin immediately.

Setting Up a Bowfishing Bow

Even if you are new to the sport of bowfishing, buying a bowfishing bow and putting it together doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task!

Getting a bow to the point of shooting accurately doesn’t take a lot of work or tons of equipment!

This blog article should help you find a bow that works for you and help with setting up your bowfishing bow as we are going to cover more in the following paragraphs, so please keep reading while we cover just a few more things for your information and options.

Converting a Bow or To Buy a New Bowfishing Bow

One of the most common questions is “do I need to buy a new bow for bowfishing?”

Although in reality you don’t need to buy a new bow (you can likely use your hunting bow if you own one) we recommend that you have a separate bow for bowfishing.

Bowfishing can be quite messy, and the corrosion of dirt, seaweed, blood, and fish slime can definitely be hard on your bowfishing equipment. This is especially true if you use a high-end compound bow with expensive accessories. Here, you may want to seriously think about getting a second setup for bowfishing.

If you have an old bow lying around your home that you can put a bowfishing reel on, that works too.

You can visit yard sales, the Facebook Marketplace, and eBay, which are all great places to locate a cheap compound or recurve bow that is very suitable for the sport of bowfishing.

If you choose to purchase a new bow to use for bowfishing, then you have some options.

You can use a recurve or a compound bowfishing bow. Nowadays, as the sport has become more popular, there are a variety of bows that are designed for bowfishing specifically.

The Compound Bowfishing Bow

We believe a good compound bowfishing bow is an excellent choice for any bowfisher. These bows are suitable for beginners and experienced bowfishers. They last many years and just require the bowfisher to keep nearby tall grass from entering into the cam as they draw. If you are looking for a compound bowfishing bow, then consider one of the F-31 and the various F-31 bowfishing bow packages.

The F-31 is a great all-around ready-to-fish bowfishing bow.

The packages make it super easy to get your bowfishing bow setup and ready to hit the water in no time!

*Click image for F-31 current pricing

Recurve Bowfishing Bow

If you are looking for a recurve bowfishing bow or recurve bowfishing bow package, the Bankrunner recurve bowfishing package is a great option that can be customized to fit your particular style, including several options in riser colors.

The great thing about using a bow designed specifically for bowfishing is that they have very little to no let off.

This means you will be able to take quick shots without needing to come to full draw. This is called snap shooting. With your bowfishing bow set up properly, you can take hundreds of these type shots every outing without wearing yourself out. 

Bows specifically designed for bowfishing are also designed to stand up to the elements which are part of the bowfishing experience.

Take a look at the Fin-Finder Bank Runner Sidewinder Recurve Bow Package.

*Click the image for current pricing.

Waterproof and rust-proof parts will make cleaning up your bowfishing setup easier, and the bow will last much longer and not cause problems while on your bowfishing outing.

Bowfishing Bow Draw Weight

The ideal draw weight for a bowfishing setup is generally around only 30-40 pounds. Don’t worry if it’s a little more or even a little less because you can still harvest fish. 

If you have a youth who is going with you, then using one of the youth bows to convert into a bowfishing bow works well. These can be converted to bowfishing bows for young bow fishers who wouldn’t be able to pull a 40-pound draw weight bow effectively.

Whether you choose a compound bowfishing bow or a recurve bowfishing bow, the equipment used on them is the same.

Converting a Hunting Bow to a Bowfishing Bow

If you are converting an old hunting bow, you will want to remove all the accessories on the bow first thing.

The arrow rest, peep sight, D loop, bow sight, and stabilizer will all be useless on a bowfishing bow. You also won’t need a release.

How To Set Up A Compound Bowfishing Bow

Here is the meat of the article and in order to set up your bow, there are a few things you are going to need that differ from a hunting bow. The first and most obvious item is going to be a reel.

A reel is necessary to retrieve your arrow or a fish after taking a shot. Reels come in three basic varieties: hand reel, spinner reels, and bottle reels. While these three reels are covered more in-depth in our other articles on bowfishing, without question, the most popular reel is going to be the bottle reel. 

A bottle reel is a superb choice for beginners since it is a point and shoot model. The biggest positive is you don’t need to worry about threading the line each time you launch your arrow. Reeling back in is very simple too. All that’s required is to pull the trigger and then reel.

No matter which reel you choose, all three will fit on a compound bow. Just make sure the trigger is easily reachable by your non-dominant hands index finger.

*If you’re looking for a very high quality, long lasting bowfishing setup you may want to take a peek at this PSE ARCHERY D3 Bowfishing Compound Bow Cajun Package. It has up to 30″ Draw Range, comes with an installed reel with line. It’s highly adjustable and made in the USA. It’s versatile while accommodating right & left hand bowfishers.

*Click the image for current pricing

What About An Arrow Rest?

Another item to consider is an arrow rest. The arrow rest is the portion on the riser where the arrow sits as you are lining up your shot.

Investing in a good arrow rest allows for cleaner shots and acts as a safety device and prevents the line from being tangled in the bowstring. This tangling is a hazard known as “snap back” and is where the arrow stops mid-flight and shoots back towards you. 

Using A Safety Slide

This is another safety item that prevents bowfishing arrow snapbacks. Safety slides are sold by most every arrow manufacturer and slip onto the shaft of the arrow.

The safety slide works by keeping the line out ahead of your bowstring. This process ensures that when you let the arrow fly, it doesn’t get caught and snap back. A proper rest combined with a safety slide helps add additional safety measures while you are bowfishing. 

What About Using Finger Savers?

While not an item for safety, finger savers, or finger guards, are great to use for comfort and to protect your fingers from wear and getting bruised and blistered during prolonged bowfishing outings. A lot of bow hunters use release aids when hunting for larger game animals in the woods, but those are unnecessary for bowfishing because you are taking a lot of shots fairly quickly.

The repetition of launching many bowfishing arrows with nothing to protect your fingers, especially for someone not used to it, can cause arm and shoulder injuries and, at the very least, be uncomfortable. This will affect your aim and even put a damper on your fun. Finger savers attach to your bowstring, which eliminates the worry of needing to bring something additional on your trip.

How Do I Attach A Bowfishing Reel To My Compound Bow?

Attaching a reel to your compound bow is quite easy, so don’t let it seem like a huge undertaking. The mounting process for every reel type is basic. Let’s talk about the simple process in more detail: 

Attach the screws of the mounting bracket through sight holes

Adjust mounting bracket so you can place reel closer or farther away from your hand

Install the T-post in the mounting bracket

Now attach the reel

That is about all there is to it! You’ve got plenty of YouTube videos online that show people doing this in just a few minutes’ time. While there might be variations from company to company, the basic process is the same, and it should not involve hole drilling. 

A word of caution!! If there is not enough space between the reel and riser, then take the entire assembly off, add a space, and then reattach it.  

Tips And Tricks For Setting Up Your Bowfishing Bow 

During and after your setup, you might want to customize or adjust your bow for various reasons. Below, we have compiled some of the best tips and advice for setting up your new bow: 

Move the arrow rest further out or closer in on the riser.

Do not settle with the initial position you first put it at since arrows perform differently depending on what kind of bow you have.

Some trial and error may be necessary here, but you should keep adjusting until you get as little arrow bobble as possible. When the arrow wobbles after shooting, you will get an off target result.

Consider buying newer arrows made of composite materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber.

You can definitely use traditional wooden or even aluminum arrows, but these are more likely to break or warp when hitting the water or bouncing off the bottom. Fiberglass and carbon fiber arrows are usually lighter than the older style arrows. Using these may take some time to learn to use properly, but they will last longer than older style arrows. Usually when you purchase new bowfishing arrows, you won’t need to worry about this issue.

You can also shorten your arrows.

One benefit of shorter arrows is a shorter draw length, allowing ease of shooting. It also prevents accidentally overdrawing on your bow and is a great alternative to buying another bow or paying to have the draw strength reduced.

Buy arrowheads that are light in weight.

While it is suggested for beginners to not tinker around with mixing and matching arrows and heads, it can make a difference if you can find a lighter, sharper head. This will stiffen the spine of the arrow, giving you a straighter and longer shot. 

To increase accuracy, it might be beneficial to lower the nocking point on the bowstring.

The nocking point is that part where the end of the arrow seats onto the string. Doing so will help the arrow enter at a shallower angle and make it plane less when it hits the water. 

Do away with the idea of using fancy sights.

Many times you won’t have time to track a fish in a sight. The best way to shoot them is to react. Work on instinct shooting and learn how to judge the point of aim based on the angle and depth of the fish. 

When you are first starting out, buy arrows that already have points attached.

As long as the point is barbed, it will suffice for bowfishing. After you get more experience, you can then swap combinations of heads and arrow shafts. 

Use a top quality line made for bowfishing.

The type of fish that you harvest while bowfishing is known for putting up a strong fight. Carp are definitely heavy and puts up a good fight as well as larger fish like alligator gar. Investing in a quality line of at least a hundred pounds is a smart move.

See this video: How To Increase Your Bowfishing Accuracy below.

Where Can I Go Bowfishing?

Once you’re geared up for bowfishing, where should you go? If you’ve studied your options online or talked with experienced bowfishers, you might already know where to start. If not, check your state’s fish-and-wildlife agency website to learn where bowfishing might be restricted. Most lakes, ponds and rivers are accessible, but some areas are off limits. Use maps, talk to your archery shop or any archery retailer in your area, and learn how to identify a fish habitat for bowfishing.

Have several options. Chances are you’ll stumble upon other suitable spots through persistent exploring. Mark each site on your map, or in your GPS unit, smartphone app, or field notes.

Keep in mind you don’t need a boat to bowfish. Although boats are popular for bowfishing, bank fishing is just as fun. Simply walk slowly around the water’s edge while looking carefully for sunning, feeding or spawning fish that are legal to arrow. Be sure you’re on land where you have permission to bowfish. If on private property, ensure you’ve gotten permission before going there.

Martin Hamilton

Archery lover and compound bow enthusiast. Love all types of archery. The current technology in compound bows, crossbows, recurve bows and arrows is truly amazing. I was an airline mechanic for years and got introduced to advanced composites. Great to see them put to use in this amazing sport.

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