Arrows on the Ocean: Saltwater Bowfishing

Bowfishing Gear

If you love archery and a breath of salty air, saltwater bowfishing might be your thing. It combines all the excitement of fishing with the bonus of shooting a bow and arrow. Instead of tricking fish to take your bait, you spot the fish and arrow it. It’s that simple and it’s tons of fun.

You can bowfish from a boat, kayak or stand-up paddleboard. You can even wade the shallows and stalk fish. You can bowfish for many delicious species, and you don’t need much special equipment to get started.

Equipment

Much like a traditional fishing reel, bowfishing reels store the line, which attaches to the arrow. The reel helps you retrieve the arrow – and hopefully the fish – after each shot. Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg

You’ll need a bow, of course, ideally one designed for bowfishing. These sturdy bows work in aquatic environments and handle the abuse bowfishing often delivers.

Bowfishing bows are available in complete sets with all the accessories you’ll need, or you can buy accessories separately. Much like traditional fishing reels, bowfishing reels store line, but in this case the line attaches to the arrow. The reel helps you retrieve the arrow — and hopefully the fish – after each shot.

Bowfishing arrows, which are made of fiberglass or a fiberglass/carbon-fiber composite, are stout and heavy for driving deeply into water. These arrows carry barbed screw-in points resembling a harpoon. The barbs anchor the fish to the arrow so it can’t wriggle loose while you reel it in. Experts at an archery store can help you find your best options from several types of bowfishing arrows and reels available.

Maintain your equipment to ensure it lasts many seasons. After bowfishing in saltwater, rinse your arrow and reel with freshwater to prevent corrosion. In addition, wipe your bow with a wet cloth and dry it after each use.

Species

Stingrays are popular saltwater-bowfishing quarry. Photo Credit: Florida Bowfishing Charters

Bowfishermen target a diverse range of saltwater species, but legal species and season dates vary by state. Among the most popular species for bowfishing are rays, flounder, sheepshead and even sharks.

State fishing regulations require careful reading, and sometimes do not mention bowfishing. If you’re unsure about the regulations, contact your state fish-and-wildlife agency for clarification.

Skates and stingrays are two of the most popular saltwater bowfishing targets. Rod-and-reel anglers often catch and release them because they don’t know their firm, white flesh is delicious. Its mild flavor is often compared to scallops, and can be prepared the same way. The stingray’s edible parts are the wings, which can be filleted with a knife, much like most fish. Pan-fry the fillets in hot butter and take care not to overcook them.

If you want to try bowfishing when vacationing, you’ll need some local knowledge. Bowfishing guides are worth the price. Guides know the best places and handle all the logistics, so you can just have fun.

To get the scoop on local bowfishing opportunities, ask questions while buying your gear from an archery shop. Between equipping you and steering you to good bowfishing sites or guides, they’ll have you hunting your own seafood dinner in no time.


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