Bowfishing Goals: We’re Going After These Fish (And You Should, Too!)
Few, if any, bowhunting activities provide as many shooting opportunities as bowfishing. In addition, you’ll share lots of fun and excitement with friends while hunting fish in the warmth of spring and summer.
Once you have the basic gear needed to start bowfishing, it’s time to figure out which fish species to target. Let’s discuss a few we can pursue, along with when and where to find them.
Note: Before you head out for a day on the water, check local and state regulations for the legal bowfishing species and season dates in your area.
Carp are bowfishing’s most popular target, and for good reason. Various carp subspecies can be found coast to coast, and several are invasive to the habitats where they live, and present serious threats to native fish. The best time to bowfish for carp is during the spring spawn when they spread and fertilize their eggs. Spawning generally doesn’t occur until water temperatures exceed 60 degrees, which means April through May for most of the country. You’ll know it’s time when you see spawning carp cruise into shallow, weedy areas of lakes and waterways. Carp aren’t considered prime table fare in the United States, but they’re popular on menus in much of Asia and Europe. If you shoot some carp while bowfishing, it can taste delicious in chowder or after spending a few hours in the smoker.
2. Freshwater Drum
Freshwater drum, often called sheepshead, are found from the Northeast to the Southern Plains. When bowfishing for drum, look in the deeper water of lakes and rivers throughout spring and summer. Of all the species you can target with bowfishing gear, drum taste best. Some people compare them to the saltwater redfish, which is no surprise. The two species are cousins.
Gar are the alpha predators on this list. Rows of surgically sharp teeth line the inside of their snouts, which means gar were built to kill. Their feeding method often earns them a negative reputation among fishermen, some of whom believe gar will decimate gamefish populations if not eliminated. Although studies disprove that assumption, gar populations aren’t harmed by bowfishing, and they’re a great challenge. Of the five gar subspecies in the United States, four will test your aim because of their slender shape. This includes the longnose gar, shortnose gar, Florida gar and spotted gar. The fifth subspecies, alligator gar, will challenge you with their sheer size and power. They weigh up to 300 pounds and reach lengths of 10 feet, making them a true “big game” bowfishing trophy. They’re also good table fare. Bowfishing for gar is a great option in late spring and summer after carp finish spawning. These fast-paced shots typically come near the surface.
No matter where you call home, you’ll likely find bowfishing opportunities nearby. Whether it’s coastal backwaters, Northern lakes and streams, or irrigation ditches on Midwestern farms, you’ll find fish ready for action. Extend your bowhunting season with bowfishing, but remember that you can target just a select few subspecies. Before you head out for a day on the water, check local and state regulations for the legal bowfishing species and season dates in your area. Also visit a local archery shop to get advice from the pros while you gear up for bowfishing.