Can I Do Bowfishing With A Crossbow?

To me bowfishing crossbow adventures are some of the most fun I’ve had with any type of bow.

Yes you can bowfish with a crossbow and there are some things you need to know before you get started.

Some we will cover are setups, reels, line, bolts, rules and licenses, and places to fish for best success like shallow or deep water.

Done correctly and being mindful of safety you will find bowfishing with a crossbow lots of fun and excitement!

Ever wonder other ways to practice your archery other than on your targets or stump practice in the woods? Crossbow fishing is a great way you can use your crossbow when you’re not out in the forest.

If you’re looking for a way to stay sharp before game season, or you are simply tired of looking at the same target day-in and day-out then bowfishing with a crossbow might be a sport that fits you perfectly. Keep reading because there are some important pointers and tips we’re going to cover below about licenses needed, your setup, best waters to fish, and about specific rules that apply to the crossbowfishing sport.

Good Things About Bowfishing With a Crossbow

Getting started can be really inexpensive if you already have a crossbow. When you are participating in the crossbow aspect of the sport you just need a few barbed bolts that join a special fishing line (usually made of dacron fiber) on a reel. That bowfishing reel is mounted onto your bowfishing crossbow at the lower front below the trajectory of the bolt path.

If you don’t want to attach a reel with dacron line to your crossbow you can use your existing rod and reel instead. I’ve added more information about doing this in the tip later in this article but here is a simple how to. Simply open the bail or push the button on your reel as if you are going to cast a lure. This allows the line to free flow out. Then pull out enough line to attach onto your crossbow bolt.

You have two options for tying your line to the bolt. First is the slide ring option. The second is the safety slide. Both pictured below. For knots you can use any good fishing knot you know will hold.

Slide Rings
Crossbow fishing bolt safety slide
Safety Slide

What Type Of Bolts Do I Need For Crossbow Fishing?

Crossbow fishing bolts are heavier than regular game bolts. This is so they penetrate the water better and most of the fish you harvest will be well within 20 yards in distance. Below is a video that shows you an example of what to expect in a good crossbow fishing bolt.

Another pro to crossbow fishing is the various different species you can pursue in the sport and you don’t need to worry about what bait to use or if they’re feeding. Many fish eat at specific times of the day or night so you’ve got to be at the water during these periods. Many people like to crossbow fish for ones that are considered invasive species, only because most of them have few restrictions, but it’s best to check with your local DNR or DEC to check exactly what you can crossbow fish for.

Check your local regulations but most places let you fish at night with these exceptions. It’s illegal to crossbow fish for game fish at night except hickory shad, American shad,  channel catfish, blue catfish, or flathead catfish. So it’s best to limit the night fishing to non-game fish unless you are certain you know the type fish you are harvesting. All you need is a nice light to shine in or above the water. Lots of fish are attracted to light which definitely works in your advantage.

*Quick Tip: Here is a way to use the rod and reel you already have in tandem with your crossbow. This will eliminate the need to purchase and attach a reel to your crossbow. You just tie your rod and reel fishing line, preferably at least 10 lb. test, to the safety slide on your crossbow bolt. I would recommend using 50 lb. test to ensure your success. In the below video they are using a standard rod and reel instead of one attached to their crossbow. This was taken at a private sandpit near Gothenburg, Nebraska.

https://youtu.be/iHI53TsUXAk

What Are Some Bowfishing Crossbow Cons?

It is illegal to put the fish back into the water. Harvest all fish you hit. Some of us like to fish for sport only and catch and release but in crossbow and regular bowfishing we are required to keep all fish we strike.

Some states do not allow you to do any kind of bowfishing for sport fish like bass. Check your regulation locally. It’s not always the same as if you are fishing with a rod and reel.

Another con to using a crossbow for fishing is it’s really heavy weighted as compared to modern compound bows. An obvious reason is they just overpower the fish and the bolt penetrates completely through them, especially surface fish like carp. This can easily fray the line and also damage the bolt as it comes into contact with surfaces below or around the fish if they are in the shallows.

They would be great for alligators but that’s not the scope of our conversation since we’re specific to fish. I imagine they would be awesome on sharks because they’re pretty tough but when it comes to species like carp, rays, redfish and flounder your talking about a 100 pound bow when we do perfect with a 50 lb. draw or even 40.

Another reason a crossbow for bowfishing would not be as good as a compound bow is because they are much slower than drawing a normal bow. Not meaning the speed of the arrow but to redraw and the ability to try again. Also fish move in schools many times so although retrieving the arrow takes some time when bowfishing with a compound or recurve bow, the crossbow would be noisy and time consuming to draw back and aim a second time.

What Is The Best Bowfishing Setup?

Most reels come with 200 lb. dacron line that is 25 yards long. The bolts come with a safety slide to attach the line to for retrieval. There are many crossbows to choose from. You can spend over $1,000 or as little as $100. You can even buy a used one and make it work. You just need to make sure you can attach the reel to it. Even if you can’t attach a crossbow fishing reel, in this content I’ve talked about how to use a standard fishing rod and reel by tying the line to the safety slide. It is recommended however that you attach a bowfishing reel with dacron line to your crossbow. This makes it easier to do everything on your own. Even though you can lay the rod and reel down as you aim it could get tangled or other problems can occur. The other option is to have a partner hold the rod and reel for you as you point the crossbow. It’s always better to be safe and since crossbow fishing reels are relatively inexpensive and should last many years, I recommend you use one made specifically for crossbows.

Do I Need a Sight For Crossbow Fishing?

Bowfishing is such a quick and instinctive sport that having a scope sight on your bow is not recommended. Although you can do it but unlike deer hunting, you do not get the chance to scope out your target very long before you have to release the bolt. If a scope is already attached to your crossbow it’s easy to remove. You don’t really need a sight to use your crossbow effectively either for bowfishing since it is more of a quick instinctive release. Once you’ve used it a couple times you will get the feel of how to aim at your target. Most fish will be within 20 yards of you so it’s pretty easy to align your arrow very quickly with where you want it to go.

Are There Specific Rules I Will Need To Follow For Crossbow Fishing?

Always call, contact via email or read on the website of your local fish and game authority to ensure you are following the guidelines for your state and specific area. Some people may say it’s ok to use a crossbow for fishing where they are outlawed for hunting. You need to check information related to your state to get the exact answer to prevent problems. Also it’s good to print out and carry a copy of the regulation with you. The game warden may not know the exact law so this is a good way to cover yourself. Never argue with a law official. Just show them your paperwork and explain you do care. Tell them that’s why you took the extra step to seek out the information you are showing them.

What Type of Fishing Licenses Will I Need To Get?

You will need a standard fishing license for bowfishing crossbow success. Some states don’t allow bowfishing for sportfish. Check your regular fishing regulations in your area to see if you need specific stamps or sportfishing permits. It’s always good to check online or call before going out to the water. It only takes a few minutes to get the information you need. It could save you embarrassment and possibly hundreds of dollars. Plus remember these regulations are in place for the purpose of protecting our waterways and ensuring we can participate in the sport we love for many years down the road.

Places To Fish, And Should I Choose Shallow or Deep Water?

You can crossbow fish in freshwater rivers, ponds or lakes. In the saltwater environment you can choose beaches, bays or estuaries. You just need to be able to see the fish. Whatever body of water you choose, you’ll usually fish in clear, shallow areas 3 to 4 feet deep (0.9 to 1.2 meters). A couple reasons are: first, fish that you seek by crossbow fishing tend to hang out in shallow waters. Second, water is dense and slows crossbow bolts down fairly quickly; the less water that your bolt has to move through, the more force it will have when it strikes the target. Of course if the water is too deep the bolt will lose trajectory altogether. Some people think that although a crossbow has a higher poundage than a compound bow the bolt will travel farther underwater. This isn’t the case.

How To Setup a Crossbow For Bowfishing

Are you ready to use your crossbow for bowfishing? All you need are some accessories and a little know how on installation which you will get below! We’ve found a great choice in crossbow bowfishing mounts. It’s durable, time tested and guaranteed.

AMS Crossbow Bowfishing Mount

That bowfishing reel is mounted onto your bowfishing crossbow at the lower front below the trajectory of the bolt path.

Click image to see price.

The best way to rig your crossbow for bowfishing is with the AMS Retriever Pro Crossbow kit. It has everything you need to convert your crossbow into a bowfishing machine.

This Retriever Pro kit includes the best-selling, time-tested Retriever Pro reel filled with 25 yards of 200 pound braided Dacron line.

The Sleek-X Crossbow non-handed mount allows installation of Retriever reels to a crossbow. Just mount the base block, install handle with t-screw and attach the Retriever.

You also get 3 Chaos FX Crossbow Bolts which are 24” long, 22/64” diameter, solid fiberglass with half-moon nock and AMS Ring System installed. The stainless steel, Chaos FX point is great for all fish and shallow water. They have a short length and pivoting, heavy-duty barbs.

These high quality bolts require minimal penetration to engage, and are easily released by loosening the tip.

Quick video shows how to install the AMS crossbow bowfishing mount to your existing crossbow.

If you need a great highest quality crossbow that’s 400 fps, then go here.

Take a Peek Below At This Muzzy Standard Bowfishing Setup

Click image to see price.

Want to take a look at a top-of-the-line bowfishing setup? This is a little off track from crossbow fishing but if you want to expand your skills out and get really good at standard bowfishing this is the setup you want.

Take a look at it by clicking the picture or link and see how the Muzzy bowfishing setup is a custom luxury bow. It’s got some great reviews and we recommend it here at Archery Support. Happy bowfishing!

If you’re looking for a great and inexpensive boat that works great for bowfishing, check this article out here.

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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