How To Make Any Bow Work For Bowfishing

If you are looking for a new hobby to spice up your outdoor experience then bowfishing is definitely worth a try.  But like most people, you probably aren’t interested in dropping a few hundred bucks on specialized gear or an expensive bow.  

Luckily, there are always used bows available for cheap.  Take a look on Craigslist or stop by a local garage sale and chances are you can find an old bow in need of a new owner.  Some are compounds bows designed for hunting.  Others are traditional long bows and recurves.  The question is can any bow work for bowfishing?  

Nearly any bow can be adapted to work for bowfishing.  Adjustable compound hunting bows, long bows, recurves and even crossbows can all be converted for bowfishing using a few tools and some inexpensive equipment.  As long as you can attach a reel for the arrow, any bow with a 30-40 pound draw weight works great. 

With your bow in hand, keep reading and we’ll show you how to convert it into a bowfishing powerhouse.  A few modifications is all it takes, so let’s get started.

Convert a compound bow for bowfishing

Anyone who bow hunts in the fall has probably thought of fitting in some spring time bowfishing practice.  While you may not want to completely modify your hunting setup, there’s a good chance you have an old compound bow laying around.  You know, the one you upgraded from last season. 

However you get your hands on a compound bow, there really isn’t much you need to buy to get it ready for bowfishing.  Here’s everything you need to do to make it work.

  • Add a bowfishing reel – Compound bows are the easiest kind of bow to mount a reel onto.  They typically have mounting spots integrated into the risers.  AMS or Muzzy brand reels come standard with compatible mounting brackets that fit most compounds.  Just bolt it on and it’s done.  You can even attach a Zebco style reel to compound bows by using a mount that screws into the stabilizer location.

Check out the two most popular reel styles for compound bowfishing setups.

  • Lower the draw weight – A lot of archery guys like to crank up their draw weight to 60 or 70 pounds.  That’s overkill for bowfishing.  If your compound is adjustable, lower the draw weight to something less than 50 pounds.  30-40 pounds is ideal for the snap shooting bowfishing demands.
  • Any arrow rest will do – Whether you have a Whisker Biscuit or a drop-away arrow rest, they are pretty much all compatible with bowfishing arrows.  Ideally, a capture style rest is better for keeping your arrow in place.
  • Add finger protectors – Bow hunters often use a mechanical release to let an arrow fly.  It improves accuracy and handles heavier draw weights without pain to your fingers.  However, a release is slow and cumbersome for bowfishing.  Instead, add a finger protector like Pine Ridge Finger Savers to your string so you can finger shoot.
  • Remove the sight – If you have a bow hunting sight on your bow, we recommend taking it off.  Bowfishing relies on instinctive shooting and a sight will hinder more than help your aim.
  • Don’t forget the arrow – A quality arrow specific to bowfishing is the most critical part of the entire setup.  Scroll down to see our recommended arrow.

That’s really all you need to do to convert your compound bow for bowfishing.  

Setup a recurve or long bow for bowfishing

Traditional bows like recurves and long bows make excellent bowfishing bows.  Their smooth draw and simplicity allow you to draw, swing and shoot in one motion.  While both styles adapt well to bowfishing, recurves are preferred because of their more compact size.  Long bows can get a little unwieldy when they are more than 60 inches long.  

With any traditional bow, rigging it up for bowfishing is as simple as it gets.  Below are the basic accessories most traditional bows need before heading to the water.

  • Bowfishing reel – Among the most popular reels for traditional bows is a drum reel.  It’s nothing more than a drum shaped spool with a flange and mounting bracket at the back and a rounded smooth front that allows line to unspool without snagging.  There is also a clip at the top that keeps your line in place until you shoot.  Tape on reels are really popular but hard to find.  Therefore, we opt for the stabilizer mounted drum spool by Cajun.  It’s cheap, easy to install and lasts forever.  With the right mounting bracket or riser insert, you can also attach a retriever reel.

Take a look at our favorite drum spool made by Cajun.  

You can usually find them on Amazon but you’ll need a stabilizer mount to make it work.  

  • Reel mount – If you get a drum reel, you at least need a front stabilizer insert or a gadget adapter.  3Rivers Archery sells both online.  A better option may be to use an AMS Traditional Mounting Kit from Amazon.  It allows you to attach a retriever style reel for the best performance in bowfishing. 
  • Arrow rest – Virtually any rest that is attached to the bow already will work.  NAP Flipper Rests are the simplest but they don’t hold an arrow in place.  If you don’t have any rest, try finding a stick-on full capture rest.
  • Finger protectors – Just like with compound bows, a finger protector is essential for bowfishing comfort.  It makes pulling back 30 or 40 pounds of pressure less painful on your fingers.
  • Arrows – You’ll need a bowfishing arrow so scroll down to see our favorite.  

Assuming you already have a stabilizer mount and arrow rest, all you need is a drum reel, line and an arrow to go bowfishing with a traditional style bow.   Our first bowfishing setup was a simple recurve bow with a Cajun drum reel and AMS arrow.  It worked great and still works today.

Equip a crossbow for bowfishing

Bowfishing with crossbows has definitely gained popularity in recent years.  These powerful bows are easy to aim, shoot fast and use smaller arrows that penetrate deep into the water.  Crossbows certainly are not the cheapest way to start bowfishing but it’s a blast all the same.

Not all crossbows will work for bowfishing.  In some cases, they are too powerful and cause arrows to skip off the water.  Before equipping your crossbow with a bowfishing reel adapter, check that it has the proper mounts as well.  You need one with a picatinny rail on the underside of the fore grip.  

Also make sure your draw weight is not over powered.  Something in the 40-50 pound range is plenty or you’ll bore right through fish and imbed the bolt into the bottom of the lake.  Youth crossbows are often the best choice for bowfishing.  

There are not as many options for equipping a crossbow with a reel but AMS makes an awesome kit that has everything you need.  

The kit includes an AMS Retriever Pro reel with 25 yards of 200 pound test line, mounting hardware and 3 Chaos FX crossbow bolts.  

Check it out at Amazon for the best price.

What pound bow do you need for bowfishing

The best draw weight for bowfishing is around 40 pounds.  Anything below 25 pounds won’t be powerful enough and anything over 50 pounds causes significant fatigue during an action packed day.   

Can you use a youth bow for bowfishing

Because of their lower draw weight and shorter draw length, youth bows are actually well suited for bowfishing.  Most youth bows have adjustable draw weights between 20 and 45 pounds and draw lengths less than 24 inches which is just fine for fast shooting at close range. 

Arrows that work with any bow

There are a lot of bowfishing arrows out there but many lack the quality we like.  Don’t waste your time shopping for the cheapest arrow.  You’ll end up disappointed. 

Regardless of the type of bow you’re using, only buy the best arrows.  Our favorite arrows are proven to take down the toughest fish time after time.

The best bowfishing arrows all have a few things in common.

  • Equipped with safety slides for tangle free shooting.
  • Heavy fiberglass shafts for penetration and unbreakable flexibility.
  • Super sharp points with fish grabbing barbs to keep your arrow pinned.
  • Quick release barbs for easy removal from fish.

Only one arrow meets our quality standards.  The rest just don’t stack up. 

Here is our favorite bowfishing arrow that’s worth trying with any bow.

AMS bowfishing arrows are designed to wreak havoc on any fish in the water.  The ultra sharp chaos point punches through the toughest scales while heavy gauge barbs hold tight to thrashing fish.  With a quick turn of the point, the barbs pivot forward for easy arrow removal.  

The safety slide prevents snap back by keeping your line free of snags.  You can depend on the accuracy of every shot since only the straightest fiberglass shafts make it past inspection. 

The AMS Chaos QT Bowfishing Arrow is all you need so check it out at BassPro Shops.

Can you use a regular reel for bow fishing 

Unfortunately, a regular spinning reel is not effective for bowfishing.  Bowfishing reels are able to hold at least 50 feet of 150 pound test or stronger braided Dacron line.  They also have special release mechanisms that allow for smooth arrow flight from the bow which conventional reels lack.  

It’s best to use reels specifically designed for bowfishing.  Not only are they safer, they are also robust enough to handle the abuse and shock from repeated shooting.  Plus, they hold more line and have stronger retrieval mechanisms to tackle large fish.

How much does it cost to outfit a bow for bowfishing

Bowfishing is actually a simple sport.  But like any fishing, it can get expensive really fast.  If all you want is the bare minimum to fling some arrows at a few carp then it just takes a small investment to get started.  However, if you want only top end equipment, prepare to shell out some serious cash.  

As we mentioned before, most bows need at least a few basic items to get started for bowfishing.  The style and quality of the equipment will determine the final cost.  Let’s recap what you need for outfitting most bows for bowfishing.

  • Bowfishing reel (line included):  $20 – $150
  • Reel mounting brackets:  $30 – $50
  • Arrow rest:  $5 – $45
  • Finger protectors:  $5 – $10
  • Bowfishing arrow:  $20 -$35

Total cost to setup a bowfishing bow:  $80 – $290

It’s entirely possible that your bow won’t need every component on this list so the actual cost may be much lower.  All you may need is a simple reel, some line and an arrow.  If that is the case, then it may cost less than $50 to get started.  

For those of you tallying up your cost and crossing that $300 mark, you may want to consider a complete bowfishing kit instead.  A decent recurve bow kit with a functional bow, drum reel and arrow costs around $150 and is ready to shoot.

Here are a couple high quality bowfishing packages that are fully functional and ready to shoot. You’ll find both at BassPro Shops or Amazon.

Summing it up

It is actually quite simple to make any bow capable of bowfishing.  It doesn’t cost much and is the best way for anyone new to the sport to try it out.  Whether you have an old beat up recurve or a high tech compound bow, use our guide to help you get started.  

Once you get your gear together, it’s time to learn how to hit fish in the water.  Be sure to check out our invaluable guide that will help you aim like a pro when bowfishing.  You can also take a look at the bowfishing laws for your state to see if it’s legal where you live.