Bowfishing Basics for First-Timers

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Bowfishing isn’t altogether new to Tennessee. For the last decade, its popularity has been growing, and Tennessee can claim at least 20 records with the Bowfishing Association of America so far, including a 90-pound carp. Anyone who loves fishing and hunting will be a natural for the sport, and all it takes to get started are a few bowfishing basics for first-timers.


If you love any excuse to buy new gadgets, you’ll be in heaven. Specialized bowfishing bows can cost up to $1,000. If you can find a bowfishing enthusiast on staff at your local outdoor sports store, they should be able to steer you toward a bare-bones setup for under $150. You’ll also have luck looking for secondhand gear on Craigslist, OfferUp, eBay, and even yard sales because bowfishers love to upgrade their equipment once they get the hang of things. The beginner’s checklist includes:

  • Bowfishing bow: Something specific to fishing is easier to handle, such as a compound or cam bow.
  • Bowfishing reel: Hand reel, spincast, or bottle.
  • Bowfishing arrows: Fiberglass, carbon, or hybrid.
  • Arrow tips: Carp point.
  • Nocks: The part of the arrow with a notch for the bowstring; standard is fine unless you want something lighted for night bowfishing.
  • Arrow rest: Holds your arrow in position.
  • Bowfishing line: Braided Dacron, usually, in yellow for better visibility.

The Rules

You can consult the Tennessee Fishing Guide for specifics, but in general, the rules are rather straightforward. Non-game or “rough” fish can be taken without limit, although there are a few exceptions. Catches that are off limits include game fish, sturgeon, and alligator gar. There are local limits for catfish, paddlefish, and skipjack, as well. For instance, you can only take one catfish over 34 inches per day, but anything under that is limitless. Many bowfishers take the opportunity to help cull invasive species such as Asian carp.


You can’t aim at fish if you can’t see them, so the ideal fishing spot will have clear water. Advanced bowfishers have tricked-out boats with shooting decks and lights for night fishing, but you can bowfish from a dock, land, or even wading in the shallows of rivers and creeks. During spawning season, dams and overflows become generous sources of fish in large volumes. If you’re interested in fish-in-a-barrel odds, these locations will be your best bet.


One of the most important bowfishing basics for first-timers is to manage expectations. The maiden outing may not be fruitful. Adding hunting to the equation makes the sport a real workout, and the entire outing requires patience. You’ll need plenty of mental focus and stamina, too. One technique that will help is to aim six inches below the fish you want; the water has a refracting effect that makes your prey look higher than it really is. Bring along a more experienced bowfisher if you can, and be prepared to miss your mark many, many times. You’re unlikely to simply luck into a good catch. Of course, this just makes your eventual success that much sweeter.

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