Can You Bowfish With A Hunting Bow?

If you have been into archery for a while, there is a good chance that you might want to extend your hunting abilities by taking part in bowfishing.

You already have a bow and more arrows than you can count. You have the skills and the knowledge to hit a moving target so the next thing you need to do is to get out on the water and bowfish, right?

Maybe not, first, you need to consider whether you can bowfish with a hunting bow. In this article, we are going to be exploring this so that you can get ready to experience a whole new way of shooting.

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What Is Bowfishing?

Where hunting with a bow is normally done on land, bowfishing takes it to new heights and archers go to the water to target fish.

It might seem like the two are similar but this is only because the same weapons are used; a bow and arrow. However, bowfishing is a lot more fast-paced than its land-based counterpart and as such, even seasoned archers may find it vastly different.

Can You Use Any Bow For Bowfishing?

There are many bows that are designed purely with bowfishing in mind but if you already have a hunting bow, it might seem pointless investing in another piece of equipment. The good news is that you can use any bow to do bowfishing. However, you may need to alter the bow slightly.

What is even more exciting is that you can modify any type of bow for bowfishing so whether you shoot with a recurve or a compound, you can still get in on the action.

All it takes is adding a few essential accessories onto your bow and you’re good to go. But aside from this, you should consider the fact that this sport is a lot harder on your bow.

If you have a prized or expensive bow that you do not want to become scratched or damaged, it might be best to avoid using this for bowfishing.

When you are on the boat, there is a very real risk of the bow being banged around. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for the bow to fall into the water and while in the main this won’t cause too much damage, it is something that some people may not like.

Finally, if your bow falls into the lake at a great depth, short of jumping in and going looking for it, you might have to admit that it is gone forever.

Can I Use My Hunting Arrows For Bowfishing?

While you may be able to adapt your bow so that it is suitable for bowfishing, there is no getting away from the fact that the arrows you typically use may not be suitable for bowfishing. For this reason, this is something that you will need to invest in.

Arrows that are used for bowhunting are not designed to move through the water and this can render them almost useless when it comes to bowfishing. If you want to be successful then you will need to look for alternative arrows.

Unlike hunting arrows, bowfishing arrows tend to be made of much heavier materials and do not have fletchings, this helps them to move through the water more efficiently.

Furthermore, bowfishing arrows feature a mechanism that allows you to attach a line, in a similar way that you would attach a hook to a traditional fishing line. They are also barbed so that once they hit their target, they will not dislodge, allowing you to reel in your catch.

But Wait; Is Bowfishing Legal Everywhere?

If you are keen to get out on the water and try your hand at bowfishing, you are going to need to make sure that you are doing it within the law. The last thing you want is to incur a penalty but the good news is that there are not too many restrictions on where you can and cannot bowfish.

In the USA, it is legal to bowfish in all 50 states as long as you are shooting non-game fish species. However, in some states such as Nebraska, there are game reserves where you can go to take part in an organized event. But it is worth keeping in mind that many of these reserves prefer you to use a more traditional angling method.

It is also worth considering the type of fish that you are permitted to legally catch when bowfishing. In the main you can count yourself as being within the law when shooting common carp, grass carp, buffalo, gar, and catfish but this can vary depending on your location so it is helpful to explore this before getting started.

Many of these fish are large species which is a huge advantage when bowfishing as it means that you have a better target. It is no secret that shooting a quick moving fishy target does take some practice, so the bigger, the better.

The early spring is typically the best time to go bowfishing since this is when the fish are spawning and can be found in shallower water. There is very little point trying to bowfish in deeper water as you will likely not get very far.

Fresh water is usually the location where bowfishermen can be spotted but there are several salt water locations where bowfishing can be done. In Louisiana, you will find some particularly lucrative spots.

Again, the targets that are legal will vary depending on where you are but in the main, things like flounder, sharks, redfish and rays are all acceptable fish for bowfishing.

Bowfishing Bows

Now that you know where you can bowfish and what type of fish you are allowed to target, you will likely be keen to get your bow set up and get started.

As we mentioned, it is possible to use a normal hunting bow to do this activity, but you will need to add a few things.

Bowfishing is a lot more fast-paced than traditional archery so if you have been used to carefully lining up to hit your target, you will need to shake that habit right away. WHen bowfishing, you will make a lot of speedy, off the cuff shots. If you don’t, you’ll likely miss your target.

It would stand to reason, therefore, that a lighter bow would be more beneficial when bowfishing. Most people would recommend using a bow with a draw weight between 30 and 50lbs as this can be the most effective. Something with a heavier draw weight may be too challenging for this fast action sport.

The type of bow that you use for bowfishing comes largely down to personal choice. Many people prefer a compound bow because they are much easier to use. Conversely, a recurve bow tends to be shorter and a lot easier to take apart, which is essential if you are going to be travelling around a lot.

You can, of course, use a longbow which is typically much more lightweight but these are also much bigger so can be difficult to transport on a boat, especially if it is a smaller vessel.

What Accessories Do I Need?

When you switch from bow hunting to bowfishing, you will need to be prepared to modify your bow and there are some accessories that are crucial for this sport. Adding these to your bow will mean that you don’t need to invest in an entirely separate piece of equipment.

But before you begin adding accessories, you might want to think about removing some of those that are already installed as you might not need these.

Primarily, you will need to remove your sight, sight rest and peep sight; unlike regular archery, these are not necessary for bowfishing and will only serve one purpose – getting in the way.

You can also remove other components such as the D-loop and stabilizer as these are not needed either.

Bowfishing Reel

One of the key differences between a normal bowhunting bow and one that is used for bowfishing is that the latter makes use of a reel.

This add-on is very similar to the reel that you would be a traditional angler using and without it, your bowfishing trip would not be hugely successful. It allows you to reel in your catch.

There are three different types of bowfishing reels to choose from and which you go for will depend on your level of experience and your personal preference.

The three main types are spinning reels, bottle reels and hand reels.

  • Spinning reels are very similar to push-button fishing reels and are attached to the bow using a device that is similar to a stabilizer. They use a braided fishing line and if you prefer, you can add a laser sight or other accessories.
  • A bottle reel is a very convenient type of reel since, as the name suggests, the reel is kept inside a plastic bottle, keeping it out of the way. Many bowfishers use this type of reel for this reason. They use a heavy braided line and are attached to the bow using screws.
  • Hand reels are very lightweight and easy to use. They are popular with people who are using a more traditional type of bow. You can install the hand reel using screws in the location where your stabilizer would typically be located.

Arrow Rest

You may already have an arrow rest installed on your bow but it may not be ideal for bowfishing. With this sport, it is widely accepted that something simpler is better than a complex piece of equipment.

One major consideration is that if you have a drop away rest, this can be dangerous when used in bowfishing so it may be wise to remove this and go for something a lot more straightforward. As the drop away rest comes away, there is a risk of it becoming tangled in the string attached to the arrow and this could cause an injury.

Otherwise, you are free to choose the type of rest that feels most comfortable to you. SOme people prefer something that encloses the arrow completely, whereas other people like an open or shelf rest.

Additional Equipment

Aside from the essential pieces of kit that you will need to convert your bow from a regular hunting bow to a bowfishing bow, there are a few optional extras.

If you plan to do your bowfishing at night, and a lot of people prefer doing it this way, you might need to install a light. These lights can be installed in the same location as your stabilizer and are normally operated by batteries.

Furthermore, a lot of people like to install a laser sight. While a regular archery sight will be useless for bowfishing, a laser sight is great for refracting the water, making it a lot easier to hit your target.


Bowfishing is a great alternative to normal hunting, especially out of season and more and more people are taking an interest in this fast-paced and exciting sport.

However, there is a lot of misunderstanding where the equipment is concerned. While you cannot use the same arrows that you would when hunting, you can use the same bow. But there is a catch; you will need to add some accessories.

Once you have done this, you can get out onto the water and enjoy your newfound hobby. The good news is that there are many locations around the US and the globe where bowfishing is perfectly legal. You must check local regulations however, as there may be some restrictions as to the type of fish you are permitted to target.

About Brad Harris