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Bowfishing 101: How to Get Started on a Budget

By: Tom Claycomb

Bowfishing is a blast. Most of our hunting and fishing trips can be intense. And I have some buddies who have carried bowfishing to a new level and are now known as “The Carp Cartel” guys.

But if you’re just thinking about getting into bowfishing, don’t be intimidated. It truly is a sport for paupers on up to princes.

Sure, the princes may have sweet flat bottom river boats decked out with night lights, but in this article, we’re going to cover bowfishing on a budget.

When I started bowfishing 40 years ago, this was the required gear:

A pair of cut-offs.

Tennis shoes.

A bow, Fred Bear spool (reel), and a couple of fishing arrows.

Things have changed somewhat in the last four decades, and I’ve got you covered:

What to Know about Bows

I don’t use my good compound hunting bows for bowfishing. A bowfishing bow has a rough life. It’ll get thrown in the bottom of the boat while pulling in a big carp, and for sure will get covered with fish slime. But you could argue for using your good bow because you’d get practice with it and be comfortable taking fast shots.

Which is best to use, a compound or a recurve? Both! I take both and will shoot both. A recurve is nice because they’re fast to use. Also, if a fish is in shallow water, you don’t have to pull full draw and bury the arrow in the mud. Just pull it back ¾s of the way. Or if it is in front of a rock, same thing, don’t zip through it and shatter your arrow. I shoot a Center Point Aspen recurve. But compounds are popular, too. I have a Mathews Craze II I like. The poundage is easy to adjust.

Most people recommend using a bow with only 40 lbs. pull because you’ll be shooting a lot. Also, most people don’t use sights, so there is less to hang the string on. And if you’re a kid on a paper route budget, don’t panic. Pick up a bow at a garage sale. My first bowfishing bow was a $12 recurve I bought out of an old Herter’s catalog.

Tom-w-carp2

The Reel Deal
There are basically three types of reels. My first one was an old Fred Bear spool. They work, but there are better ones. I like the Muzzy fishing reels. They look like an old Zebco reel. You’ll have to buy a short stubby rod and screw into your bow and then mount the reel on the rod.

There are two kinds of Muzzy reels. Buy the one with the flip switch and not the push button release. In the course of a hunt, you’ll hit the handle, which will lock it, and then the first shot you’ll rip the guts out of the reel. With the flip switch, you’ll have to consciously flip it back.

Then the bottle reels are popular. I have one, but I’ve never used it, so I can’t tell you much about them.

Arrows
There are a lot of varieties of arrows on the market. I like the stingray type, where you can twist the tip and slide the arrow back out in a hurry. But … the old carp point arrows are cheaper. Carry a half-dozen arrows in case you lose some or break off a nock.

String
It is hard to find, but I like 60 lb. string. You do not want a bounce back. That’s where you shoot, your arrow goes flying for about 10 feet, and then the string hangs something on your bow, and bounces back right at you. That will wake you up!

You can do a few things to prevent a bounce back. Shoot more poundage, so it will snap the string, or use lighter string. Also, remove clutter off your bow so the string has nothing to hang on.

Spring is the best time to hunt carp while they’re up shallow spawning, but you can pick them up later in the summer, too, while they’re feeding.

I’ve shot tons of carp in the daylight wading rivers, creeks, and sand pits, but the ultimate way to hunt them is at night hunting on a flat bottom boat decked out with lights and with an elevated platform. That way you’re up high and you can see them. What we do is float down the river along the edges and around the islands. But I’ve also done good floating in the daylight.

So, just because it’s summer, don’t think your hunting is over. Grab a bow and go bowfishing. Unlike normal fishing, they don’t have to be hungry and bite. Force feed them an arrow! And, as always, have fun.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.