Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bowfishing: An Effective Means of Food Gathering

Anyone planning to bug out on coastal waters or along rivers or other waterways with reasonably clear water should consider adding a simple bowfishing rig to their gear, as it will take up little room and adds little weight even in the smallest bug-out vessels such as canoes and sea kayaks.

In the photo below (taken a few years back) is a good-sized Sheepshead I shot not far from the beach while camping on a remote barrier island.  These fish tend to congregate around rocks and other structure, and I got into a school of them by wading out an old wreck after setting up my camp ashore. There's nothing like fresh fillets cooked in the skillet on the beach as the sun goes down. The bow is a Hoyt take-down recurve drawing 60 lbs.  This is a versatile hunting weapon, but if you are choosing a bow just for bowfishing, you can get by with something much simpler, and of lower draw weight, since the shooting is done at close range. 

Shooting a bow from a kayak is difficult, if not impossible in most conditions, but it is feasible to bowfish while standing in a canoe, dinghy or John boat.  I've had great success with this method of fishing when cruising on my larger sailboat, especially when anchored in mangrove areas, where I rowed the dinghy up into narrow creeks among the flooded roots and waited for schools of mangrove snapper to swim by. It takes practice to get good at hitting small, often fast-moving targets under the water, but it's well worth the effort if you're in an environment where you can see beneath the surface.

In addition to a suitable bow, you will need at least one fishing arrow and some sort of bowfishing reel.  Modern, manufactured bowfishing arrows are usually made of solid fiberglass so they will be heavy enough to penetrate a few feet of water and still have enough energy to impale a fish.  They are tipped with a barbed point that can be unscrewed from the shaft since the barbs prevent pulling the arrow backwards out of the fish.  Fletching is not even needed at the typical close ranges at which bowfishing is done, but most fishing arrows are fletched with heavy-duty, waterproof plastic vanes for flight stabilization.  For the reel, I prefer the simple, open-faced design that looks like a handreel and screws directly to the front of the bow in the threaded receiver most modern bows come with for adding stabilizers.  Here is an example of one of these I found on Amazon for just $11.85 Bohning Bowfishing Reel With Line  You can get a complete kit with an arrow for less than 30 bucks: Sting-A-Ree II Bowfishing Kit. Tape-on reels are also available that work well for longbows and primitive self-bows lacking threaded inserts:  Beginner Bowfishing Package, Tape On Mount.

Fancier designs are available with reels that are more similar to those used for angling, but for this kind of fishing I like the simplicity of the hand reel.  There's nothing to break or get tangled and it packs away easily when not in use.  I will be posting more on bowfishing, and archery in general in future posts, including details on primitive equipment that can be self-made and can be just as effective.


  1. Thats a very interesting post. I have a bowfishing arrow and reel attachment (purchased at Academy) that fits a threaded bow stabizer but as of yet have not used it - no boat. But it certainly does sound like a good way to gain you some protein when they aren't biting. A take-down design which breaks into a smaller package if you are hiking in might also be recommended - the less that know what you are carrying the better, especially when it comes to nosy game department LEOs. In Texas, I believe only non game fish (rough) are able to be shot at with bows, so I'd definitely recommend checking your regulations and be sure.

    I've also wondered about hanging a small wire cage fish trap off the sides of boats. Fish like shade for concealment and it would seem to me a trap there would also be a tactic to try as well.

    Thanks again for the great post.

  2. I've watched guys bowfishing for gar in the river. It does look like fun. I've had great success with a Hawaiian (sp?) sling. Other than having to compensate for refraction, bow fishing appears to be very similar...

  3. It is a great way to fish when they are not biting. You don't necessarily need a boat either. Some people shoot from docks, or the bank, or as I did when this fish was taken, by climbing up on a partially-submerged wreck.

    You're right about the regulations - usually only non-game fish can be taken. But in a real bug-out scenario, wildlife LEOs won't be your main concern. This fish by they way, in case my game warden buddy is reading, was not taken in U.S. waters. ;)

    Mayberry: I love underwater hunting with the Hawaiian sling, and will be posting about that as well. In some ways, bowfishing is easier. At least you're not as likely to end up as dinner for some other hungry predator!

  4. This post opened my eyes to this method of hunting. You always hear about fishing in survival situations, but not much about bow or spear fishing. Good thoughts and advice.

  5. As the author says, a powerfull bow not needed nor a large one. Bow can be quite short for mobility in aiming. The advantage of bowfishing over spearing is quicker reflexes. The "arrow" should be very long, 5 or 6ft. A bundle of briars arranged in a conicle basket with thorns/barbs inwards and angled toward shaft and a center spike from an ice pick increases chance of sucess. In effect, a bow propelled fishing spear as used in many primitive cultures.

  6. Postscript: A surgical tubing slingshot perhaps would be a good "bow" for the bow propelled fishing spear.

  7. Found this site for bow fishing basics - maybe it can help someone.

    Hope this helps.

  8. Anonymous,

    Thanks for the link. That will be helpful to many, I'm sure.

  9. Bowfishing is my favorite sport, I call it fish hunting around my hunting buddies because they didn't fish until I brought out the bowfishing rig now they are hooked. Most of the time I fish the rivers at nite. Can anyone say who makes the best arrows ?

  10. Just became aware of this - Dave Canterbury (Dual Survival TV show) has a very interesting item dubbed the Sling Bow. Made using a wrist rocket slingshot, black replacement power bands, whisker biscuit arrow holder and cable ties. Here is a link to his 12 minute YouTube video of it and how it works.

    Interesting - I'm going to make one of these of my own, seems like a great way for an extremely compact short range setup. Trick is - how to secure reel to this?


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