Is Bowfishing Legal: The Answer for All 50 States

Bowfishing just might be the ultimate fusion of two very popular pastimes, fishing and archery.  As more people take to the outdoors, tracking down shallow water fish with a bow has exploded in popularity.

A surge in invasive fish species, like common carp and plenty of Youtube channels showcasing the thrilling adventure of bowfishing, has grabbed the attention of many anglers looking for something new.  If you are a beginner in the world of bowfishing, like me, you probably have wondered if bowfishing is even legal where you live.

A good first step when starting something new is to learn any applicable laws, so we spent hours researching the legality of bowfishing in every state so you too can try it out.

So, is bowfishing legal? Yes. Bowfishing is legal in almost every state for non-gamefish species with Indiana, Louisiana, Texas, Ohio and Florida being some of the most popular places to go.  A few states, including Nebraska and New Mexico, also allow bowfishing for popular game fish usually reserved for regular hook and line angling. 

For those of you from other states across the country, here is a quick reference guide listing which states have legal bowfishing opportunities.

Legal Bowfishing by State

StateIs it legal to bowfish
for game fish?
Is it legal to bowfish
for non-game fish?
AlaskaNOYES (See note 1)
(See note 2)
(See note 3)
(See note 4)
New HampshireNOYES
New JerseyNOYES
New MexicoYES
(See note 5)
North CarolinaNOYES
North DakotaNOYES
Rhode IslandNOYES
South CarolinaNOYES
South DakotaNOYES
West VirginiaNOYES
1) Bowfishing permitted for certain species in the Northern and South Central region only.

2) Catfish and striped bass bowfishing is legal in select locations.

3) Bowfishing for kokanee is allowed in waters open to snagging.

4) Game fish harvested with a bow allowed from July 1 – Dec. 31.

5) Bowfishing legal in open game fish water. Same limits apply. Prohibited in trophy bass waters or special trout areas.

*Keep in mind that we are not law experts and this chart was created based on our best interpretations of each state’s fishing laws regarding bowfishing.  Laws also change often. It is still your responsibility to review your local laws and confirm any doubts with a wildlife officer.  

Do you need a license for bowfishing

Like most outdoor recreation, a license or permit is probably required to bowfish where you live.  The laws vary from state to state but it is a safe bet that you will need a regular sport fishing license to bowfish.  There are a few states, like Washington, that do not require a license to bowfish for common carp.

Make sure to investigate licensing requirements in your area before trying out bowfishing.

In our exploration of various state rules regarding bowfishing, we found that information is limited and a phone call to a wildlife officer can help you get started with rules, limits and places to go. 

What type of fish can you bowfish for

Each state defines what type of fish is legal to shoot with a bow a little differently.  Always be familiar with the regulations before you go.  Seasons, limits and locations are strictly controlled and it may take some homework to become familiar with bowfishing rules in both salt and freshwater areas.

Regardless of the state, there are sure to be plenty of bowfishing opportunities.  Rough fish or non-game fish provide plenty of excitement in many lakes, rivers and saltwater bays around the country.  Here are some of the most popular species to target.

Freshwater species

Most of us live within a short distance of a lake or river that holds abundant rough fish species.  Some, like the common carp, are highly invasive, non-native fish that have become the most popular targets of bowfishing enthusiasts.  

  • Common Carp
  • Buffalo
  • Aligator Gar
  • Freshwater Drum
  • Bowfin
  • Paddlefish
  • Catfish
  • Suckers

Saltwater species

The challenge of shooting carp provides plenty of action for most but for those of you who seek more thrilling adventure, saltwater quarry may be the ticket.  From the terrifying power of sharks to the more exotic stingray, be prepared to let fly several arrows in an attempt to win a struggle with some of these saltwater behemoths. 

  • Flounder
  • Mullet
  • Sharks
  • Stingrays
  • Sheepshead

What do you do with the fish after bowfishing

Once you find the best bowfishing spots on your local lakes or rivers, it won’t be unusual to come home with a barrel full of fish.  But what do you do with them?  First and foremost, try not to harvest more fish than you can handle.  Intentional waste of fish is prohibited in many states.

Also, while a lot of rough fish species are considered “trash fish,” it doesn’t mean they taste like garbage.  Even common carp can be turned into a fine meal when cooked or smoked properly.  

Suckers, buffalo, stingrays, and flounder are just a few of the better eating fish you can target with a bow.  Paddlefish are well known for their eggs that rival the caviar from sturgeon.  

We should all try to be good stewards of our amazing fisheries but the reality is we may harvest more fish than we can handle on occasion.  That is especially true with common carp where there typically is no limit.  Here are a few rules of thumb to lawfully handle an over abundance of fish.

  • Do not discard unused fish in public trash cans or along public shorelines for others to deal with.  No one likes the overpowering odors or mess associated with decaying fish.  Always transport fish home to find a good use for them. 
  • Share them with friends and family.  Not everyone gets to enjoy outdoor activities but many people enjoy eating good food.  Fillet your excess fish and give it away as a well-appreciated gift.
  • Donate fish to local food banks if they accept them.  It may be a chore to track down places that can use them to feed less fortunate people but it is worth the effort if you don’t like the idea of wasting fish.
  • Use fish as fertilizer in your garden.  When you have a few too many spring time carp, just chunk them up for your garden.  Fish carcasses contain many nutrients plants need to grow and it is a good way to convert unused fish into delicious fruits and veggies.  

Final thoughts

Bowfishing is yet another way to legally enjoy what our fisheries have to offer.  Once you are familiar with the rules of your state, I encourage you to get out there and give it a try.

Whether you are looking for a fun way to put meat on the table or an opportunity to help reduce invasive species, bowfishing may turn out to be your new favorite hobby.