If you thought deer hunting was tough, try sneaking up on a carp in shallow water with full sun, getting about 10 feet away, and trying to account for refraction just to get a chance at a good shot. In my mind, there is little more exciting and challenging in the hunting or fishing world than bowfishing. It takes some skill and knowledge to do right but is surprisingly cheap on equipment.
You need a bow. Something durable but there is no need to spend a ton of money, the bow you use isn’t that important. Something in the 40 – 45 lb range does great! Recurves tend to do very well. It turns out that a slower speed bow is more accurate through water.
You need a reel. It can be as simple as a spool mounted on your bow or a dedicated, purpose-built reel. Some people do DIY rigs or retrofit a large fishing reel for the purpose. As long as it holds a high strength string in sufficient quantities, you should do fine. If you stick a bigger fish, you are going to be pulling it by hand anyway. I use a Zebco 808 that comes pre-spooled with 200lb line. I bought mine on Amazon for a great price and had it delivered in two days. To check the current prices of a new 808 on Amazon click Here.
Most importantly, you need an arrow. Not just any arrow but one that is designed for the rigors of bowfishing. Slamming an arrow into the bottom of a rocky stream is pretty rough and it’s going to happen. Bowfishing is surprisingly hard on equipment. Bowfishing arrows aren’t your tube body affairs sold by the dozens at every hunting store. They are solid to stand up to the beating they will take.
A bowfishing arrow has to be heavy to better penetrate the water. They need to be more rigid so they don’t deflect as easily. There are no fletchings because you don’t need to stabilize an arrow for a 15-foot shot. The tips are barbed and much heavier than a standard arrow tip. And most importantly they have some form of safety mechanism to avoid the arrow snapping back if the line gets tangled.
Unlike deer hunting where a hunter may take a dozen arrows with him, a bowfisher may only take a couple. The arrows are more of an investment, sometimes costing $20.00 or more apiece, but they are far more durable and losing one rarely happens. Dulling of the tip is pretty common but all good fishing tips have changeable points that are very affordable, carrying a few spares in your pocket is a good idea.
Like any hunting or fishing trip, it’s a good idea to plan your target ahead of time to make sure you get the right setup. This is especially true when considering the cost of a bowfishing arrow. Below are some of the tried and true arrows along with some on a budget and a few of the best in the business to help you tag the fish you are after.
I don’t know if the Muzzy arrow was the first bowfishing arrow or not but it seems like these may have been handed down from our ancient ancestors. They have become almost synonymous with bowfishing and tend to spontaneously turn up in old sheds and used boats everywhere. They are a very good, well-rounded choice and affordable to boot. In fact they can be found online for around $20.
Let’s be clear that when we talk about Muzzy, we are really talking about the head design and not the shaft which is just a fiberglass rod. The Muzzy head is a standard two-pronged head that can be flipped around for easy fish removal by loosening the tip a couple of turns. The barbs are plenty strong if a bit narrow and thin. For smaller species up to 10 to 12 lbs, you shouldn’t have any issues.
For larger species, this isn’t the best choice. It may not penetrate the fish or a very large species may bend the barbs straight, strip off the tip, or just break the arrow. A heavier tip or one without fixed barbs is probably a better choice.
Since this is our first arrow, let’s talk about the ubiquitous white fiberglass shaft, often called a standard shaft because you will see it again and again. These shafts are very strong if not the most rigid option. They don’t often crack from hitting a hard surface instead of a soft fish. They can take a beating and never bend or break. They are a good solid choice and are often cheaper than more high tech arrows.
On a budget, this is a hard arrow to beat but be warned that this particular choice does not come with a safety mechanism so it’s highly recommended to add an AMS Safety Slide. Even after adding that you will come in cheaper than most any other bowfishing arrow. To see current prices click HERE.
If you want a slightly different flavor served up on the same ‘Standard White Fiberglass Shaft’ then check out the AMS Chaos Point. It may look just like the Muzzy point but the devil is in the details and this is a devilishly good point. At least for smaller fish and shallow water.
Unlike the Muzzy point, the AMS Chaos has barbs that swivel to the side after penetrating the target. This creates a larger overall profile and prevents the arrow from pulling back through. Release is the same as the Muzzy, a couple of turns of the tip and the barbs will spin around backward for easy removal. You could probably take this up to a 20ish lb fish but more than that may straighten your barbs and permanently ruin your arrow while temporarily ruining your day.
Due to its lightweight and shorter profile, this is a good choice for shallow water or even lighter draw bows. It lacks the weight to really get down on deeper fish. It also doesn’t penetrate as well, like the Muzzy, with its more or less fixed barb placement. To see current prices online click HERE.
If you need a little more penetration and more holding power, get away from those fixed barb arrows. It’s time to move on from the 1960s or whenever those things were invented. We have modern machining and technology, let’s use it!
Well, let’s use some of it. This is a different tip but on the same workhorse fiberglass arrow shaft. But the tip is quite pretty marvelous! One of the few three barbed tips available in the bowfishing world, the profile of this point will grab and hold even the most tenacious fish.
The AnKor point folds out like those grappling hooks we became so fond of after watching those ninja movies back in the 1980s. Its slim profile means vastly more penetration and the large overall surface area when unfurled can hang on to most fish you are going to get in freshwater. It also won’t tear up smaller fish which makes it a good all-around choice.
This point is still fairly light and may not be the best for deeper fish but it works great in shallow water and can handle some pretty large carp with no problem. If you use a lighter draw bow, this may be one of the best points out there. To check current prices online click HERE.
If you want to get deeper and go for the real lunkers, it’s time to think heavier. Heavier means slower and, believe it or not, slower is sometimes better. If this is the route you go, you don’t want a bow lighter than around 40-pound draw. In order to fully engage, this tip needs to go deep.
AMS has released some great products in the bowfishing world which is often a neglected niche in the world of outdoor sports. This may be one of their best. The low profile on penetration means this arrow can get through harder skinned fish, no matter the size. Once spread, the tines are a little better than two inches across and are slightly downturned to prevent them from cutting their way back through. Releasing the fish is a breeze, spin the arrow shaft about three turns and the barbs fold over.
This may not be the best choice for smaller water or smaller fish but if you get your shots lined up right, it can handle small carp up to relatively large cats with no serious issues. This is still a standard fiberglass shaft but it’s a solid point if a bit steeply priced. But you get what you pay for and this particular arrow is quality! To check current prices online click HERE.
If you liked the AMS Mayhem up until you saw the price, there is a solution! The Sting-A-Ree is a very close approximation but at around half the cost. It also weighs a tad less and can be shot from a lower draw bow. It’s also a slightly slimmer profile and longer overall design which makes it a little more stable in the water.
Despite the loss in weight, you still get great penetration. The barbs on the point work just like the Mayhem and hold just as well. Release is the same shaft turn mechanism. In function, the Mayhem and Sting-A-Ree are pretty much clones. One wonders about copyright infringement.
With so many commonalities, why would you spend more on the Mayhem? Durability. The Sting-A-Ree isn’t as rock solid, doesn’t have the same quality steel, and lacks that satisfying weight. It’s still a good arrow and if you are on a budget, this would be a great choice to get going with. Never fear that you can bring in some big fish on this arrow without worry. Just stick to softer bottomed water and don’t shoot rocks. To check current online prices click THIS LINK.
This is still a solid fiberglass shaft but it’s a bit different than that standard white. TRUGLO has been making night sights for all your favorite firearms for decades because humans don’t see well in the dark. Especially if you add a bunch of floodlights to ruin any night vision and add the chaos of an injured fish. While the standard white arrows are pretty visible, this sucker glows! No one wants a panicked fish in the boat with an arrowhead sticking out its side so being able to see and control that arrow is a good idea.
And the point is not too shabby either. They fold flat for good penetration and have a good wide profile to prevent pulling out and on top of that the barbs are… Well, the barbs are barbed. There are little points on the fish side that grab and control the fish. Supposedly this is to prevent the arrow rotating out but I think it’s probably more an aesthetic choice. It may have some benefit on softer bodied fish like cats or sucker but probably not enough to notice the difference.
The arrow as a whole is a pretty good value. The shaft is solid and tough, the point is effective and pretty durable, and they decided on a different safety mechanism than the AMS Slide used on the arrows above. This style of slide made by Carpedo seems to be more robust and probably more secure than what comes standard on most arrows. To see current online prices click HERE.
Since we are finally getting to a different arrow shaft, let’s talk about that first. The Yellow Jacket shaft is fiberglass on the surface but the core is carbon fiber. This makes a more rigid arrow and a more rigid arrow means more kinetic energy is transferred from the bow string. If you were beginning to wonder how to get down to those fish hiding at 10+ feet, this is how!
This isn’t a just a new shaft material its a whole new style of point. Where most other points are happy to just lay flat and hang on after this fish is stuck, this bad boy is designed to hook in and hold tight. While great for hard bodied fish, this may not be the best bet for softer cats and some smaller carp species, but if you need a point that really grabs on, this is what you have been looking for.
Paired together this setup is a slick little system that penetrates well and can get down to deeper fish. The price is amazingly affordable. But it is a bit less durable than other arrows and the spring loaded tip is a known point of failure. Good news is, you can still use the arrow if those springs do give out, it just won’t grab as well unless you fully penetrate the fish. The arrow shaft may be stiffer and stronger than traditional fiberglass but it’s also more fragile. While it can handle a lot of thrashing from a fish, it doesn’t do well with hard impacts. To check current online prices Check out THIS LINK.
Astute readers will notice that we already talked about the Chaos Point and the most observant may have realized that, in bowfishing, your string is attached to your arrow. This presents an issue. Most fish sort of lose it when they get stuck and some of them are sure to thrash around. Gar are famous for it. This means a bigger fish could snap the arrow and escape and the bigger the fish that gets away, the sadder the bowfisher that shot it.
The answer to this problem is to use a breakaway point. It’s a clever little system that holds the point in place until it’s delivered and then the shaft slips off and dangles on the line while the point and line stay in the fish. This prevents broken arrows and escaped fish.
We have talked about the Chaos Point above but there is a slight difference when its a breakaway. Instead of relying on the small barbs to hold the fish, when the arrow shaft pulls out the whole head tends to turn sideways and that fish is stuck!
The arrow is about the same as the one on the Garpoon. Its stiff enough to really shove the point home and durable enough to deal with being drug around in the water. If you are after bigger fish, this is a solid setup but not a cheap one. The cheapest place online to buy these is found HERE.
We have talked about all of this before too. The shaft is nothing new other than being a hi-vis yellow. THe AnKor is the same great point we discussed earlier. The setup system for the breakaway is the same as the one on the Chaos Point. No need for a lot of detail here. This is a solid setup that will do very well on medium larger fish and is probably better than the Chaos Point on some of the smaller fish you may shoot just because the opportunity arises.
The main reason to include it is because it’s such a great value. The arrow isn’t as good as the breakaway Chaos Point and carbon arrow above but at roughly half the price, it’s a good introduction to breakaway arrows and not a bad choice for the long haul. They can be found for a great price HERE.
Anytime I see something with a number in its name I know it’s probably good. We use flashy names now but if the product name is just a number, it was probably being designed while Noah was building the Arc. It speaks of quality and over the top ruggedness from years of experience. In this case, it’s true (not the Arc part, the quality part).
The JBL 828 looks like a speargun point because, frankly, it is. Or very close to anyway. This is a breakaway point for those times when you don’t want the arrow in the way but you really need a point that sticks. People shoot sharks with these things. And gators. They would also be perfect for alligator gar or some of the larger feisty cats and carp.
Not intended for smaller fish or lighter bows. This thing is a beast with a full steel shank and what looks like an industrial strength wall anchor. If it goes in, it stays in. In fact, you may have to cut it out or at least remove the whole shank for it to come free. Honestly, this is probably a product that very few bow fishers will ever use but its good just to know its there if you need it.
Just for note, even though this is among the higher priced products on this list, it does not come with an arrow shaft. I think something carbon fiber spined would be your best bet. And don’t forget the hardware to set up the breakaway release. One of my favorite tips, they can be found online for purchase HERE on Amazon.
That should be enough about arrows to get you started. Go grab a cheap bow and do a little reading on what sort of reel would be best for your setup HERE then get out on the water. Aim low, and bring home some fish! Once you get the hang of it, you will probably be addicted for life!
Most bow fishers use a boat and are mostly out at night but explore the challenge of daylight fishing from the shore. Stick to heavily shaded narrow bays and the mouths of streams. Good luck and tight lines! Welcome to the hobby!