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The Filipino Negritos traditionally used bows and arrows to shoot fish in clear water.[1]

Bowfishing is a method of fishing that uses specialized archery equipment to shoot and retrieve fish. Fish are shot with a barbed arrow that is attached with a special line to a reel mounted on a bow or crossbow. Some freshwater fish species commonly hunted include common carp, grass carp, bighead carp, tilapia, alligator gar and bowfin. In saltwater, rays and sharks are regularly pursued.



Bows are usually very simple. Most do not have sights, and aiming is by line-of-sight judgment down the arrow. There are a couple of types of rests including the hook-and-roller rest. Most bows have little to no let-off and not much draw weight. This differs with what one has available and personal preference. There are two main types of bows. Traditional bows include long bows and recurve bows. In more modern times compound bows have come into use, as they are easier to draw. Modern bows can have as much as 120-pound (54 kg) draw weight.

The crossbow is also sometimes used in this manner and has its own advantages, including the use of a reel. See Recreational fishing.


Arrow with three prongs carrying three barbed points. For catching fish in rivers. From Guyana. Photographed at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, Devon.

Bowfishing arrows are considerably heavier and stronger than arrows used in other types of archery and are most commonly constructed of five-sixteenths-inch (0.79 cm) fiberglass, but solid aluminum, carbon fiber, and carbon fiber reinforced fiberglass are also used. Bowfishing arrows generally lack fletching, as it can cause the arrow to flare to one side or another underwater and they are not required at the relatively short ranges associated with bowfishing. Line is attached to the arrow by tying to a hole in the arrow shaft or through the use of a slide system.


Bowfishing line is often made from braided nylon, Dacron, or Spectra. Commonly used line weights range from eighty to four-hundred pound test, with six-hundred being used when bowhunting for alligators. Line color is normally either lime green, white, or neon orange.


Three types of reels are commonly used in bowfishing: Hand-wrap, spincast, and retriever. Hand-wrap reels are the simplest reels; they consist of a circular spool that line is wrapped onto by hand and then secured in a line holding slot. When the arrow is shot the line comes free from the line holder and feeds off the spool. Fish are caught by pulling the line in hand over hand; hand-wrap reels are the least effective at fighting arrowed fish, but they can be used in conjunction with a float system to shoot and fight large trophy fish. Retriever reels have a "bottle" which holds the line in place. When shot the line comes out either until the shot goes too far and the line runs out or the hunter pushes down a stopping device which can be used to keep a fish from traveling out too far. Some retriever reels have slots cut in them and are known as slotted retriever reels. They are more commonly used for alligator, alligator gar, shark and other big game that will take more time to chase down than smaller game fish.


Although bowfishing can be done from the shore, bowfishers most often shoot from boats. Flat bottom "john boats" and canoes are used in areas of low water, as they have less draw, but are unsuitable for open water. Larger boats can accommodate multiple hunters. Many of these boats are highly customized specifically for bowfishing, with raised shooting platforms, and generators to provide electrical power to multiple lights for bowfishing at night. In dense marshlands that are unfriendly to boat propellers, airboats, which incorporate top-mounted fan propulsion for operating in very shallow waters, are usually used.


A modern bowfisher takes aim at spawning carp in an Iowa pond.

Along with fishing from boats and off the shore, wading and shooting is also effective as long as the hunter does not mind getting soaked. Wading in rivers allows the shooter to get up close to the fish if the hunter is skillful. When keeping fish while wading, the hunter may utilize a stringer tied to a belt loop.

Standing on large rocks in shallower parts of a river is another technique. This provides a better view higher out of the water. Going from rock to rock in a river with two hunters gets the fish moving if they are inactive. It is similar to herding the fish to the other hunter; while one hunter is wading the other is stationary on a rock.

All of these river techniques typically work best for carp or catfish, depending on the location.


Due to the light refraction at the water surface and the optical distortion of the apparent position of underwater objects (which would appear to be shallower), aiming straight at the target silhouette usually results in a miss. Aiming well below the target compensates for this optical illusion. Depth and distance of the target also impact how far below the fish to aim.[citation needed]

Targeted species[edit]

Huge native smallmouth buffalo harvested with a single arrow in Mississippi River backwaters, Iowa.




  1. ^ March, Alden (1899) The history and conquest of the Philippines and our other island possessions; embracing our war with the Filipinos in 1899 Page 39.


  • Bear, Fred (1980). "Underwater Bowhunting". The Archer's Bible (revised ed.). New York: Doubleday. pp. 123–129. ISBN 0-385-15155-1.