Anyone who has ever flung an arrow at a fish can attest to the challenges of consistently hitting them. Even big, lumbering carp in an apparent stupor 10 feet away prove frustratingly illusive for novice bowfishers.
My first time bowfishing proved to be quite defeating. There were more than a few easy targets that swam away uninjured. If fish could laugh, I am sure they did. So what makes hitting a fish with an arrow so hard? And more importantly, where should you aim to begin with?
Always aim low when bowfishing. Water refracts light at a different angle compared to air so fish appear shallower than they really are. Your distance from the fish and its actual depth determine how far below the fish you should aim. Start by aiming at least 3 to 6 inches below fish in shallow water.
That answer though is not enough to become a bowfishing expert. If you want to hit more fish, don’t skip this article. We’ll give you all the information you need to shoot better, aim better and get more fish to the boat. Let’s get started.
Do you aim above or below fish
There really isn’t a single occasion where you would aim above a fish while bowfishing. Always aim low. In fact, aim much lower than you think. Even if you grasp the concept of light refraction in water, your first impulse is to aim directly at the fish. Resist this urge and push your arrow tip below the fish before you release.
How far below a fish do you aim
If you only learn one thing from this article, just remember to aim low. Yet, the obvious follow up question is how low do you aim?
It’s a tricky question to answer and it depends entirely on the actual depth of the fish in the water and its distance from the shooter. Of course, there are all sorts of angles and math that you could use to determine the exact place to aim at a fish. However, you won’t have time in the heat of the moment to calculate or remember a chart full of numbers.
Instead, use the following basic rules to get you close.
- 10-4 rule: Your distance from a fish plays a major role in how you aim with a bow. In general, for every 10 feet between you and a fish, aim 4 inches below it. That means if a fish is 15 feet away, aim 6 inches below the thickest part.
- 1-3 rule: Depth is even more critical than distance and much harder to gauge for inexperienced shooters. A standard guideline is to aim 3 inches below a fish for every 1 foot of depth. If you guess a fish to be 3 feet below the surface then aim 9 inches low.
Now lets put the 10-4 and 1-3 rules together in an example. Say, for instance, you stealthily sneak up to a carp rooting in the mud. You get within 10 feet and you guess the water to be 2-3 feet deep. Where do you aim?
Since you’re only 10 feet away, aim 4 inches low. But you also need to adjust 6-9 inches lower because of its depth beneath the surface. Overall, you should aim at a spot 10-12 inches below the fish’s belly.
Set reasonable expectations
When it comes to bowfishing, numbers only get you so far. Even with the 10-4 and 1-3 rules, you’ll still watch your arrow zip over the top of a fish or stick in the mud an inch from its head. It’s all part of the game and setting reasonable expectations is the best way to avoid frustration. Trust me, you’ll miss even more if you are frustrated.
So what should your expectations be?
First, don’t expect to hit every fish you shoot at. When you first start, it will take at least 5 to 10 shots before you make contact. Sure, sometimes you get lucky but most pros agree that your first 20 or 30 shots will be misses. It takes practice. Lots of practice. As you shoot more, you will miss less.
Secondly, force yourself to only shoot at fish within your “high probability zone”. For me, that’s a 20 foot circle. If a carp, gar or snakehead is within that range, there is a much better chance I’ll hit it. Anything outside of that and my margin for error goes way up.
For you, 20 feet may be too far. Or maybe you have superior archery skills and your high probability zone might stretch out to 30 feet. Either way, don’t waste your energy trying to make Hail Mary shots. Take the time to sneak closer for a better shot. You’ll gain more confidence and scare away fewer fish.
Aim with instinct
Our brains and bodies are capable of truly amazing feats. You can capitalize on this fact when bowfishing. Instinctive shooting is the natural ability to aim without thinking. The shots I tend to miss are the ones I thought about too much. I ignored my instinctive aim and tried to calculate and plan the shot.
Don’t fight your instinct. Keep in mind though that instinctual shooting doesn’t just happen. It takes repetition to calibrate that sub-conscious skill. Start out with the aiming rules we discussed. As you start hitting more fish you’ll develop the muscle memory that is the foundation of instinctive shooting. Pretty soon, you can hit a fish with out actually thinking about your aim.
One of the best ways to keep from over thinking a shot is to shoot fast. Pulling the bow back and releasing your arrow as soon as it feels right means you are tapping into that instinct. Holding back a few moments longer introduces doubt and gives your conscious brain time to override natural skill. Instinct is also your best chance at hitting a moving fish from a moving boat. Try calculating your aim in that situation and you’re guaranteed to miss.
Apply proper form
Shooting form is probably the hardest part of bowfishing and the most ignored element to improve your aim. It’s not easy to focus on stance and form when you’re flinging arrows from an unstable boat at constantly moving fish. Yet, any elite archer will tell you that proper form is the key to consistently hitting the bullseye. Therefore, it makes since to incorporate better form in bowfishing too.
You can improve your form using a few basic concepts that are outlined below.
- Establish a solid anchor point with the string to your face.
- Square your stance and shoulders just as you would with a hunting bow.
- Bend at the hips when aiming down at fish. Don’t hunch over.
- Keep a loose grip on the bow with your bow hand to avoid pulling a shot.
- Keep flex in your bow arm to prevent string slap and flinching.
Developing consistent form takes repetition. If you start out with good form though, it will quickly become cemented into muscle memory and you won’t need to think about it again. More of your attention can be focused on stalking the fish and taking the shot.
Can you use a sight when bowfishing
Understandably, people new to bowfishing assume that all the guess work can be eliminated by using a bow sight.
You can certainly use a sight when bowfishing and some prefer it over instinctive shooting. However, a sight is often inefficient since you need to adjust the pin position to match your shooting distance and depth of the fish for every shot.
Bowfishing involves a lot of snap shooting which is usually better suited for instinctive shooting. When the fish are thick and the action is fast and furious, even people using sights tend to revert to instinctive shooting.
If you also bow hunt for deer or elk, using your conventional hunting sight for bowfishing can lead to bad habits that translate back to hunting. It’s better to save the sight for hunting season and avoid it during bowfishing season.
5 tips to improve bowfishing accuracy
Once you nail down the principles of aiming and form, there are still several things you can do to improve your overall accuracy. Here are our 3 favorite tips for taking your bowfishing accuracy to the next level.
Practice shooting stuff in the water – Everything from floating leaves to a submerged plastic water bottle makes for good practice. You can even toss a few slices of wheat bread into the water as a practice target. The bread also double as a way to attract carp as it dissolves in the water.
Use polarized glasses – Polarized glasses cut surface glare and give you a clear sightline to the fish. Not only will you spot more fish, you’ll also be able to better gauge their depth and movement with polarized glasses.
Get the right gear – Just about any bow will work for bowfishing but getting the right gear goes a long ways to improving your accuracy. Everything from reel and arrow, to draw weight and bow length impacts how you shoot. If you are serious about bowfishing get equipment that fits you and helps make each shot easier to manage.
Focus on one fish at a time – Sometimes several fish will cruise by within bow range and you’ll struggle to zero in on a single target. Try to avoid bouncing from fish to fish. Pick one and keep your eyes glued on it while you aim and shoot.
Relax and breathe before your shot – Just like some hunters get buck fever, some of us get fish fever too. Calm your nerves as you approach a fish. Focus, relax, and breath as you aim and shoot.
Bowfishing is an awesome sport filled with challenges and loads of action. When you feel like setting down the fishing pole and picking up a bow, give bowfishing a try.
Want to know if you have a bowfishing season in your state? Don’t miss our guide to bowfishing laws for all 50 states. See if bowfishing is legal in your neck of the woods!