Requiring a combination of archery, hunting, and fishing skills, bowfishing is by far one of the most exciting and challenging outdoor sports around. The sport of bowfishing allows hunters to extend their season and hunting area. It also provides a way for archers to test their skills in a difficult shooting environment.
Successful bowfishing requires the right type of equipment. With the right bow, you can catch a slew of different species, including carp, alligator gar, catfish, and paddlefish. If you enjoy saltwater fishing, you can snag flounder, saltwater stingrays, and several different species of shark.
Don’t expect to use your standard bow set-up to spear fish. Bowfishing requires specialized gear. If you are new to the sport, finding the right equipment can feel pretty overwhelming. This article is designed to walk you through the special features archery fishing equipment requires. Plus, we’re going to share what we consider the best bowfishing bows on the market today.
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AMS Bowfishing has been in the business for years. With bowfishing as their only focus, they know the sport and understand exactly what archery anglers need. The Hooligan complete bowfishing kit is, hands down, one of the company’s best products.
This lightweight, no let-off compound is easy to adjust without a bow press. Plus it has an awesome pre-installed drum reel with line and a retrieving crank so you won’t have to pull your fish in hand over hand.
How To Choose The Best Bowfishing Bow
Technically, you can use your whitetail set-up to hunt big carp with a bow. However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. A dedicated bowfishing rig will save wear and tear on your hunting gear and deliver better archery fishing results.
Because bowfishing shots tend to be close range, your shooting will need to be fast and instinctive. You don’t need the heavy draw weights or blistering arrow speeds you need for deer hunting. Instead, you want an archery set-up that is lightweight, tough, and easy to shoot. You’ll be flinging possibly hundreds of arrows a day. Plus, your gear needs to withstand hours in the blazing sun and seriously wet conditions. Your bowfishing gear is also likely to get thumped around by feet and heavy-duty fish tails in the bottom of your boat.
Here are some things you need to look for in a good bowfishing rig.
Bows used for archery fishing live tough lives. It’s a fact: Bowfishing is rough on bows.
The instinctive snap shooting (shooting quickly without coming to full draw) required in bowfishing places serious stress on a bow’s cams and limbs. Bowfishing also exposes your rig to wet, corrosive elements. Bows will inevitably get knocked around by fish as well as archers, and it isn’t uncommon for your bowfishing set-up to get bumped against the dock, rocks, or the bottom of your boat. It takes a special bow to handle such harsh, jarring conditions.
Here are some key features that will help make your bow more suited for bowfishing.
- Cams with deep grooves. Bowfishing requires snap shooting, often at awkward shooting angles. A good bowfishing compound bow will feature deep grooves in the cams to prevent derailment while you’re on the water.
- A lightweight set-up. The lighter the bow, the easier it will be to make quick, instinctive shots. A lightweight bow will be easier to aim and maneuver, especially from a boat.
- Heavy-duty limbs. Just like the cams, the limbs on your bow need to be suited for high-stress shooting. They should be capable of withstanding a dry fire without coming completely undone.
- Non-slip grip. Shooting with wet hands is a fact of bowfishing. Look for a grip that won’t slip around in your hand when it is wet or covered in fish slime and blood.
Compound or Recurve
You have two basic bow types to choose from for archery fishing – a recurve bow or a compound bow.
A recurve bow is defined by the tell-tale curve that sweeps back toward the archer and then re-curves back toward the front of the bow. These relatively affordable lightweight bows provide a more traditional approach to archery fishing. Often underappreciated and overlooked in favor of the more modern compound, recurves are particularly well-suited for bowfishing.
Recurves are simple weapons with a constant draw weight, making them ideal for snap shooting, which is slightly more difficult with a compound bow. Their simplicity also means there are fewer things to break or malfunction when you’re bowfishing.
Most bowfishing recurves are also “takedowns.” This means the bow easily comes apart into three pieces, so you can readily stow it in a backpack or under a boat seat until you get to your favorite fishing spot.
A modern compound bow is the most popular choice for bowfishing. Compound bows usually have heavier draw weights than their recurve cousins, which translates into faster arrow speeds and the ability to make longer shots. More draw weight also means arrows hit harder, a major plus if you’re after big fish.
The cams and pulley system of modern compounds also produce a “let-off,” a reduction in draw weight between 1⁄2 to 2⁄3 of the way through the draw cycle. This feature makes it easier to hold draw while you’re waiting for the perfect shot. However, most bowfishing compounds are designed with little to no let-off, which makes snap shooting a lot easier than it is with a traditional compound.
The one major drawback to bowfishing with a compound rig is that cams often get clogged with dirt and mud. They can also become bent or damaged if you drop them in the bottom of your boat.
You’ll need to treat a compound fishing bow with a little extra TLC. Try not to bang it around too much and make sure you clean it well after each use
Left- or Right-Handed Bowfishing
Whether you need to shoot a right- or left-handed bow has a lot less to do with your dominant hand and more to do with your dominant eye. However, lefties are often forgotten when it comes to bowfishing rigs due to low demand, so you might have to make do with a right-handed rig.
Draw weight is the amount of energy it takes to pull the bow string all the way back. Heavier draw weights produce faster arrow speeds and more kinetic energy. The ideal draw weight for bowfishing usually falls in the 20 to 40 pound range. However, the most important thing is for the bow’s draw weight to match your physical ability.
Arrows for Bowfishing
There are several differences between traditional archery equipment and the best bowfishing bow. The biggest difference is in the arrows used for the two sports. Bowfishing arrows are usually heavier than standard arrows. Made of aluminum or tough fiberglass strengthened with carbon fiber, these arrows are designed to cut through the water to reach their target.
Arrows for bowfishing are also missing the fletchings commonly found on standard arrows. Fletchings help stabilize the arrow in flight. However, fletchings become a liability when traveling through water, because they can cause the arrow to deflect off course as it travels through water.
Arrowheads used for bowfishing feature barbs that help keep the fish in place once it has been speared. The arrow is also attached to a line so you can “reel” in your fish once your arrow hits its mark.
Our Top Picks
For many archery companies, bowfishing equipment is just an afterthought. For AMS Bowfishing, it is their only focus. The company has a complete line of high-performance bows for everyone from novice archers to hardcore bowfishing enthusiasts. The Hooligan Bowfishing Kit is our favorite, and it has everything you need to get started in the sport.
The kit includes a compound bow that measures 35 inches from axle to axle. The bow features AMS’s exclusive Rapid Adjustment Post (RAP) cam system, which allows you to make quick and easy draw weight adjustments (24 and 50 pounds) with a single tool. This ready-to-shoot package also includes an AMS Tidal Wave arrow rest, Chaos FX Arrow with an EverGlide Safety Slide, an arrow holder, a pre-installed drum reel with line, and a retrieving crank.
Although this is a compound bow, the Hooligan has zero let-off, which means you can shoot with fluidity no matter where in the draw you need to release. This makes it perfect for flinging those fast, instinctive shots often necessary to snag fast fish.
We admit the set-up is a little pricey, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better bowfishing bow in this price range. If you’re questioning the investment, just remember you won’t need a bow press to adjust draw weight or change your string. You will save a few dollars on that one aspect alone.
- Complete ready-to-shoot kit
- Crank and reel retrieval
- Adjustable draw weight
- Zero let-off
- Easy to adjust without a bow press
Although this bowfishing rig gets major points just for the name, the Cajun Fish Stick is also an awesome bow option for beginners. The bow is a recurve with a sturdy aluminum riser and composite limbs that can stand up to both harsh elements and rough use.
The recurve design means there’s no set draw length, so you can pull off snap shots with ease. However, the recurve design also means there is no let-off on this bow, so you’ll have to hold the full 45 pound draw weight until you line up your fish and release your arrow.
It comes as a ready-to-shoot package, including a recurve bow, a roller arrow rest, one bowfishing arrow with a Piranha point, and a drum reel with fishing line. This bow also features a non-slip rubber grip and Blister Buster finger pads, so you can pull off consistent shots even when your hands are slippery and wet.
Our main concern with the Cajun Fish Stick is its length. At 56 inches this bow is pretty long, making it somewhat difficult to maneuver from a boat.
- No set draw length makes snap shooting easy
- Complete ready-to-shoot set
- Non-slip grip and Blister Buster finger pads
- Sturdy construction
- Length makes it difficult to maneuver
Founded in 1971, Precision Shooting Equipment (PSE) is one of the largest archery manufacturers in the world. PSE designed their slick Mudd Dawg compound bow just for bowfishing.
The compact design of the Mudd Dawg is near perfect. Measuring just 32 inches from axle to axle, this bow is built for easy transport and quick shooting from a boat. The relatively short overall length and draw length also make for easier shooting at downward angles.
With a relatively light 40-pound draw weight, the Mudd Dawg is easy to draw, aim, hold, and shoot.
This is a standalone bow, so you’ll need to outfit it with your own accessories. However, most fishing hardware will mount easily on the bow’s pre-drilled holes. The good news is, this rig is plenty affordable, so you should have plenty of cash left in your bowfishing budget to buy all the fishing add-ons you want.
- Affordable price tag
- Compact design
- Easy to draw and shoot
- Does not come with accessories
This complete ready-to-fish kit is one of the most affordable packages on the market. The Carbon Express Muzzy Bowfishing Kit has everything you need to start bowfishing right out of the box. In addition to the lightweight compound bow, the kit includes XD Pro Push-Button Reel that comes pre-spooled with a 150 pound test line, an integrated reel seat, a Muzzy Fish Hook rest, and one Classic White Fish Arrow with a Carp Point and nock.
This lightweight compound bow has a significant 75 percent let-off, which makes holding its 45-pound draw a piece of cake. And at only 30 inches axle-to-axle, you won’t have any trouble maneuvering this rig into sharp shooting angles.
The reel on this compound bow resembles a traditional fishing reel. It is easy to use and comfortable to crank and comes with a full 150 feet of high-quality 150-pound test tournament line. However, the reel sometimes has a hard time keeping up with the arrow speeds this bow generates. Be prepared to deal with some tangling.
- Comes as a ready-to-shoot package
- 75 percent let-off makes it easy to hold draw
- Short axle-to-axle length is easy to maneuver
- Reel is prone to tangling
The Gen-X Cuda Bowfishing Bow has a pretty unusual riser design. Instead of the standard aluminum or composite risers seen on most compound bows, the Cuda’s riser is constructed of corrosion-resistant stainless steel. This keeps the price tag affordable and makes for an incredibly durable bowfishing rig. The steel construction does add a bit of weight, so be prepared.
The Cuda is available in left- and right-handed versions and comes with a single bowfishing arrow that measures 32 inches. You will need to purchase a drum reel separately before you hit the water.
The draw cycle is pretty smooth and the draw weight is adjustable (from 25 to 40 pounds). While the 35.5-inch axle-to-axle height may be a bit much for smaller archers, this bow is well-balanced and handles like a bowfishing dream.
- Durable stainless steel construction
- Smooth draw cycle
- Adjustable draw weight
- Does not come with a reel
- Some archers may find this rig too large and heavy
The Oneida Eagle Osprey Deadfin is a pretty expensive rig, but it may be the best bowfishing bow money can buy. Well worth the investment, this surprisingly lightweight bow handles like a recurve, but performs like a compound. Offering shooters the best of both worlds, the Osprey Deadfin produces some serious arrow speeds and enough power to stop big fish, yet has a silky smooth draw that makes it easy to pull off instinctive snap shots.
This bow is a little large for a compound and a tad short for a recurve. However, the Osprey Deadfin’s 44-inch axle-to-axle length is ideal for resting the bottom limb against your leg at full draw, especially on a steep shooting angle. While shooting purists might scoff at this trick, it sure makes it easy to hold draw until the perfect opportunity presents itself to send an arrow.
If you take bowfishing seriously, and money is no object, this is, hands down, the bow you want with you on the water.
- Handles like a recurve, performs like a compound
- Lightweight and easy to handle
- Adjustable draw length and weight
- Comes as a stripped down bow without accessories
Summing It Up
We’ve chosen the AMS Bowfishing Hooligan Bowfishing Kit as our top pick for bowfishing. AMS Bowfishing is a company completely dedicated to the sport of bowfishing, and they truly understand the needs of archery fishermen.
The Hooligan comes as a complete set-up, with everything you need to hit the water. The compound bow is lightweight, easy to handle, and simple to adjust. We also love the pre-installed drum reel, a handy feature that saves you from pulling in big fish with your bare hands.
While we absolutely love the Oneida Eagle Osprey Deadfin, we realize this expensive rig is priced well out of most bowfishing budgets. However, if you have the funds, this bow is well worth the investment.
If you like the quick, snap-shooting abilities of a recurve, the Cajun Fish Stick is a great option. However, the length will make it hard for shorter archers to handle, and it definitely isn’t going to be easy to maneuver from a boat.
When it comes to quality of included accessories, the AMS Bowfishing Hooligan Bowfishing Kit beats the Carbon Express Muzzy Bowfishing Kit, hands down. That is why we’ve chosen it as the best bowfishing bow.
No matter which bow you choose, be sure to spend some time practicing before you hit the water. Bowfishing is a fun way to spend time outdoors, but it takes some serious archery skill and a healthy dose of patience. You’ll save yourself a ton of frustration if you become proficient with your weapon before you try using it to spear big fish.