Practical Bowfishing: Basic Equipment

Article by William Hovey Smith – Jun 23, 2009

Like any sport, bowfishing requires a basic set of gear that once assembled may be supplemented, augmented or replaced depending on interest and finances. A good start is to purchase a prepackaged kit that typically contains an inexpensive reel, line, bowfishing arrow, barbed fishpoint and instruction booklet. [Shop ‘bowfishing kits’ @Amazon] The first thing to do is to buy some more arrows and points. These are needed because it is almost assured that arrows will be lost because of poor knots or breakage of the low-poundage line typically supplied with the kits.

Remember that the points are attached with epoxy that should set for 24-hours to make a strong bond. Additional point security can be gained by pinning the points to the shafts with segments of brass upholstery nails.

– Bows –

Each bowfisherman should take at least two bows rigged with reels and arrows on any bowfishing trip. A cam can be bent or a bowstring broken while on the water miles from camp and put the would-be fish hunter out of commission for the entire trip. The best insurance against such failures is to take two bows. Sometimes even this is not enough, but if all shooters have two bows, everyone will have something to fish with despite all reasonably foreseeable hazards – including loosing a bow over the side.

For the sake of variety, I often have a recurve and a compound bow in the boat. I usually rig the recurve with heavy line, a shoot-through or spool reel, and a float while the compound usually sports a crank-wound reel and lighter line for smaller fish. I like having a recurve as a back-up bow because it is faster to get into action than a compound if there is a need to get a second arrow into a big fish. I can make close-range shots with either bow. Those without confidence in their instinctive shooting abilities can set-up two bows with sights that shoot to the same point of aim. The bows, if they are not the same models set for the same poundage, may feel different, but at least the sightings will be as near identical as can be managed in bowfishing.

From Mathews Genesis to the Browning…

Any bow can be successfully used for some type of bowfishing, but not all bows are well adapted to all aspects of the sport. If shooting from a spillway bank below a dam, a heavy draw-weight longbow may be ideal for propelling the bowfishing arrow far out into the channel to try for ab ig paddlefish, gar or carp. When the shooter is standing there will be enough room for the bow’s long limbs to clear the ground, but the bow will have to be increasingly canted for close shots. Since this is fast, instinctive shooting at relatively few fish, a longbow user will do well to continue to use his accustomed tool for this type of bowfishing opportunity.

Recurve bows, particularly short recurves, are harder to master than longbows, but are much easier to handle when shooting from boats, behind railings and at fish that are beside the boat. Before there were compound bows, the laminated recurves by Bear, Martin and others dominated bowfishing. Recreational bowfishermen still use large numbers of recurves because of their simplicity, light weight, ease of operation and adaptability for instinctive shooting. For close-in shooting at night at small to medium sized fish, low-draw-weight recurves with 30-40 pounds of pull will work adequately without tiring the shooter.

To this Thunderbolt Crossbow used to take a Florida alligator…

When fishing deeper waters, taking longer shots or going after big fish, the 40-50 pound bows typically used for deer hunting perform very well. Only for long-range shooting and for shots at the very largest bowfishing targets, such as alligator gar, sharks and alligators, are bows or crossbows with heavier draw weights really useful.

Many who want a bow to use exclusively for bowfishing will do very well to choose an older dual-round-wheel compound bow. This type of bow can be cranked down to an easily shoot-able poundage. After attaching a sight pin and a reel, the bowfisherman is ready to go. Dual-round-wheel bows are often found as used bows making a specialized bowfishing rig a viable option even for those who don’t want to, or can’t, put much money into the sport.

High-let-off cam bows have the advantage that they can bedrawn and held until the fish arrives at the optimum position for a shot. These bows are slower to get into operation than a recurve. Nonetheless, compound bows offer sufficient advantages that almost every tournament bowfisherman uses a compound bow.

to this Bear Kodiak. The range of bows is extensive and growing.

Short-limbed compounds such as the Renegade Fishmaster and the Matthews Genesis work very well in many bowfishing situations. The short limbs make it easy to shoot over boat railings to make close shots. When adjusted to lower pull weights (the Genesis comes with a 20-pound pull, but has the power of a 35-pound bow), these bows can be drawn with fingers, contrary to the popular misconception that short-axle-bows must be used with releases. Typically, I draw with three fingers, remove one and release with two fingers on the string. Either a shooting glove or tab may be used with the tab considered to be the more accurate. The glove does double duty, as it is helpful in keeping the hand from being abraded while pulling in the bowfishing line.

The Oneida, a hybrid between a recurve and a compound bow, is very popular among bowfishermen. This bow is very forgiving so far as draw length is concerned, provides a high let-off, and allows an arrow to be released at half-draw if necessary to quickly take a fish before it disappears under the boat. Despite their outlandish appearance, the Oneidas are rugged bows, and I know of one prototype that is still bowfishing after four years of continuous use in the hands of a competitive bowfisherman. Almost all the finish has been worn off, but the cables and wheels are still tight and the bow works fine. Incidentally, this bow’s owner uses a large shoot-through reel and shoots instinctively even though most Oneida shooters use a single pin sight on their bows.

– Arrows and Attachments –

Probably more than eight out of ten fish taken are shot with a bare white fiberglass shaft with a plastic nock. No fletching is typically used because it is not needed for short-range shots. Fletching slows the arrow and also tends to misdirect the arrow once it contacts the water. The principal utility of fletched bowfishing arrows is if there is a long air-travel time before the arrow hits the water. Otherwise, the bowfishing line itself serves to stabilize the arrow. Without the drag of the trailing line,point-light arrows tend to tumble in flight.

Heavy duty arrows in solid stainless steel, fiberglass, composite and aluminum composite with cables.

Composite aluminum-fiberglass shafts are used for heavy fish, such as alligator gar and sharks, and for alligators. In shooting in deep, clear waters, stainless steel shafts are sometimes employed to add sufficient weight to the arrow to drive a fish point into a carp after passing through several feet of water. The composite shafts are rigged with cable systems to help prevent sharp gar scales and the alligator’s bone osteoderms from cutting the bowfishing line.

The toughest arrow currently offered is the fiberglass-aluminum composite Muzzy Predator, which is specifically designed for alligators. This arrow has a fiberglass core with an aluminum exterior, a cable system and a brass- collared end to take standard-diameter all-steel Muzzy Gar Points. A less expensive carbon-glass-aluminum composite Penetrator arrow is also sold by Muzzy to tackle everything but the very largest fish. For those who prefer to use cable-rigged arrows, Muzzy also sells a premium fiberglass arrow with a pre-attached cable system. Cable kits can be purchased separately and installed on any bowfishing shaft. [shop ‘Muzzy Bowfishing’ @Amazon]

Retriever Reels makes a Safety Slide that consists of a nylon slide that fits over the shaft. The line is attached to the slide rather than tied directly to the arrow. When the arrow is placed on the bow the slide is positioned near the point. When the arrow leaves the bow the slide remains stationary until it reaches a rubber stop screwed into the rear of the arrow and starts to pull line from the reel.

Safety slides were designed to prevent recoil-strike injuries. These are caused by the bowfishing cord wrapping around cables or catching on some part of the bow causing the arrow to reverse direction and rebound back to the shooter. The slides were developed after one bowfishermen was killed and another blinded in one eye by bowfishing arrows. The chances of having an injurious rebound are increased if a heavy draw weight compound bow in used, 400-600 pound lines are employed and the arrows are tied in the rear accessory hole. Hung-up arrows will often break lines that have tensile strengths of between 80and 150 pounds, and this is one reason that lines in this weight range are furnished with beginner’s kits.

Another system, also sold by Retriever, uses a steel ring and a screw to serve the same function. From the point of view of arrow flight, the ring-screw combination has less drag. In addition, the ring’s smaller size makes it easier to remove the arrow from a fish if the arrow passed all the way through – a not uncommon occurrence. The limitation of the ring-and-screw slide is that only small diameter, and hence low-breaking-strength, line can be used as thick lines retard the smooth set back of the ring when the arrow is fired and may pull the arrow off target.

Quick detachable nocks have also been employed on bowfishing arrows to allow a tournament bowfisherman to quickly put on a fresh shaft rather than take the time to remove a stubbornly stuck arrow from a fish.Arrow and fish go into the fish barrel while the shooters continue to work the “gar hole” as rapidly as possible before the fish decide that it is time to relocate. When the action is hot, 25 or 30 gar may be visible from the boat at any one time. This action may not last long, and the fish are boated as rapidly as possible.

– Sights –

Whether it is useful to have any sights on a bowfishing bow is debatable. The delicate sight pins get in the way, protective sight brackets hide fish and the amount of variable hold-under needed to nail fish at different water depths lead some shooters to the conclusion to forget about sights and shoot instinctively. The majority of bowfishermen put up with one sight pin to control side-to-side arrow flight and rely on experience to determine how much to hold under a fish. At least if they miss, they will be on-line with their target and they will have some notion as to where to hold on fish that are at the surface.

– Arrow Rests –

In the rough and tumble world of bowfishing, the simplest system is often the best, and so it is with arrow rests. Shooters who win tournaments time after time commonly employ a built-up rest made of Bondo or other hard-setting resins formed directly on the shooting shelf. This rest has a grooved center trough to hold the arrow and that’s all. Because there are no obstructions and nothing for a loop of line to wrap itself around, any arrow cabling or slide system may be used.

A very popular rest for bowfishing is the Tri-Loop, which is a simple triangle of steel that contains the arrow and line. The arrow aligns itself when put in the rest as it settles to the bottom of the”V” formed by two arms of the rest. The Tri-Loop does not work well with the Retriever Safety Slide because the “stopper” on the rear of the arrow often hits the side of the rest with enough force to batter the rest out of line or even break the weld on the screw-in stem attaching the rest to the bow.

With a variety of rest from roller type to the new Whisker Biscuit BowFishing Rest with stiffer bristles, there are many to choose from.

Wheel rests made of brass of plastic are typically mounted in one of the accessory holes of the bow and may be screwed in or out to help sight in an arrow. Because the top of wheel rests are open and there is nothing for the arrow or cabling system to strike, wheels may be used with Safety Slide or cable systems. The taller the sides of the wheel the more friction is applied to the arrow, but the less likely the arrow is to fall off the rest as the bow is being drawn. This annoyance is the chief fault of wheel rests.

Because of the unusually steep angles commonly presented by close-in fish, the Whisker Biscuit that offer 360-degree support for the arrow has a distinct advantage for the bowfisherman. No longer does he have to be concerned with the arrow falling off the rest, but can concentrate on shooting the fish in front of him. A bowfishing version of the Whisker Biscuit is available with stiffer bristles that are strong enough to support heavy fiberglass bowfishing shafts. This rest is best employed in conjunction with the Retriever Safety Slide since the slides holding the line are positioned forward of the rest. The rest is not damaged by the rubber stops on the rear of the slide-equipped arrows passing through the rest.

Rests with delicate steel fingers, protruding parts, and complicated mechanisms that don’t work when they corrode are too delicate for every-day bowfishing. Reliable function is more important than mechanistic advantages.

– Fish Points –

Most state’s bowfishing regulations read something like the following from Alabama’s Hunting and Fishing Digest, “Barbed bowfishing heads shall not have sharpened cutting surfaces. Heads shall be designed so that the barbs may be reversed or removed to permit removal of the arrow from the fish.” To satisfy these regulations a large number of bowfishing points have been designed which are sometimes specific for particular fish or sizes of fish.

Many points were originally patented, but after the patents expired these designs were picked up by other manufacturers while still others are made by one company and brand-name packaged by another. Rather than treading in the muddy waters of who invented what point when and how much variation in design is allowable before it becomes a legally new design rather than a modification of the old, I will categorize the points by use, rather than attempt to trace their murky evolution.

Points for small fish…

Points for fish up to ten pounds

This size carp and gar make up the majority of fish taken by bowfishermen. In bodies of water where there is lots of competition and comparatively little food there will be more, and smaller, fish than in locations where abundant food enhances the growth of fewer, but larger, individuals.

An inexpensive point, which has been called the Economy,River or Fish Point, is a light-weight steel point with barbs made from stiff wire contained in a two-component point and shaft assembly. The barbs are bent into a “W” with the longer side limbs of the “W” extending away from the sides of the point while the smaller central part is secured by a screwed-down metal barrel that holds the barbs in place. When the point is screwed off, the now-barb less arrow can be easily pulled from the fish. This point may be converted to a practice point by sliding the barbs out of their retaining slot and reassembling the point to make an arrow that can be easily pulled from targets. The small weight loss makes little difference for close-range shooting.

River points are dull, but will penetrate and hold small fish, although the relatively short barbs will pull out of larger carp. The chief disadvantage of these points is that the screw-off heads and wire barbs are easily lost.

Another point for comparatively light-weight fish is the Mohawk that has one barb with the other end passing through a hole in the point and bent to be retained under spring tension in an indent at the top of the point. Rather than screwing off anything, the barb is reversed by taking the retaining limb out of the indent and swinging it towards the point, which causes the barb to pivot and reverses direction. This is a quick-detachable point that does not require anything to be unscrewed or have any components that may be lost.The point is robust, with a sharp conical point, and it can be used on heavier fish than the River Point mentioned above. I like the Mohawk point for gar, but it pulls through soft-fleshed carp more easily than designs with longer or wider barbs.

Three-pronged gigs are not allowed in tournament bowfishing events and are most often used for frogs and flounder. Taking frogs with a bow at night is like regular bowfishing except the frogs are at the water’s surface. Flounder are also typically bowfished at night using a shallow-draft boat gliding over the sand. Although some people use gig-points for flounder, others rely on their regular bowfishing tips in case of chance encounters with rays or sharks that also cruise the sandy shallows.

Points for Medium sized fish…

Points for fish from 10-40 pounds

Common to all points in this category are twin barbs that are one-inch long or longer, sharp conical points and screw-off heads or reversible barbs.

Lil’ Stinger or Deluxe Stainless fish points feature twin fixed barbs and a head that screws-off a barrel section that is attached to the shaft. These are accurate heads, and the hardened steel points penetrate well on larger fish. One modification of this style of point allows the user to screw the head onto a standard arrow, although there is no provision for attaching a line to the point.

Other variations of this basic style include a hardened steel Gene Davis Point with twin 1¾-inch barbs and the Muzzy Sure Shot point that has a more sharply tapered point and larger diameter reversible barbs.

Twisted flat metal barbs to provide more surface area to hold a thrashing fish distinguish the War Head and similar Longhorn points. In both designs the barrels unscrew to allow the barbs to reverse directions.

The Sting-A-Ree, Shock Wave and Stingray all employ a longer metal body with flat-metal barbs. The barbs are released by unscrewing the forward body of the point and the barbs fold forward into a slot in the body of the point to make it easier to pull the points from big fish. The Muzzy Stingray uses a hardened, detachable Carp Point that can be replaced with a Gar Point if it is needed to bust through the scales of a big gar. The”Sting-A-Ree” style points are the easiest for a handicapped person to use because the fish can be removed without actually touching the fish or using two hands. Raking the fish across the edge of a fish barrel or railing and turning the arrow’s shaft is sufficient to reverse the barbs and drop the fish.

Although somewhat similar in appearance and size to the Sting-A-Ree type points, the Retractoblade carries its barbs in a closed position inflight. When the point strikes a fish a cup causes the spring-loaded barbs to open and expand once the point penetrates the fish or the shooter pulls on the line.

And points for Larger Fish.

Points for fish over 50 pounds

When trying for the largest of bowfishing targets, points must be sharp, tough and hard to bust through a gar’s scale armor and penetrate deep enough to hold the fish. In addition, the barbs may be asked to hold animals that may weigh as much as 500 pounds. Muzzy’s Quick Release Gar and Carp Points with their heavy stainless barbs are often used when really big fish may be encountered.

Gar points with their triangular cuts are designed to exert a chisel-like action and shatter bone while the polygon-ally shaped carppoint is very sharp and can penetrate the thick hides of a shark, ray or other fish and lodge deep inside the fish.

– Bowfishing Line –

Spun cotton, flax and silk lines, extruded polymer lines, braided lines of synthetic fibers and even steel aircraft cable have, and are, being used for bowfishing. The best of these bowfishing lines are made of lightweight, strong fibers which resist abrasion, mildew and wetting. Modern synthetic fibers, including those used in Fast Flight bowstrings, are ideal for this purpose and enable thin, lightweight lines with breaking strengths of over 600 pounds to be used on big fish and alligators.

Matching the weight of line to the distance that the shots will be taken, the amount that can be spooled on the reel, the weight of the fish, the type of rigging used and the bowfishing point makes a huge difference on potential success. Since no one knows exactly what a night’s bowfishing might bring, it is not a bad idea to have one bow rigged with heavy tackle and a float for larger fish and another with 150-200 pound line for garden-variety gar and carp. This precaution will provide another bow if needed for a second shot on a fish as well as a spare bow in case something goes wrong with the bow or reel that you initially planned to use.

– Finger Savers –

These bow attachment are used to pull a stuck arrow out of brush or an underwater log. It screws into the accessory hole of the bow and provides a tubular section where several loops of line can be wrapped to exert a strong two-handed pull to dislodge a stubborn arrow.

– Rod Attachments –

Small sections of rods, usually about a foot long, are used for those who enjoy bringing in fish with their crank-wound reels. With fish weighing over 35 pounds it is best to hand-line them in rather than put this much strain on the reel.

– Tubs and spools-

Although the first bowfisherman who used a line on his arrow probably tied the line directly to the bow and let it fall at his feet, the need to confine the line in some manner immediately become apparent. It was also obvious that if the line-containing mechanism could be attached to the bow in some manner, a fisherman could easily move from one spot to another and take his equipment with him. The first solution to this problem was the invention of hand-wound reels.

Retrieving a fish with a hand-wound reel requires that the fish be pulled in hand-over-hand which is also done when large fish are taken with crank-wound reels. Both manual and crank reels are now so commonly used that most bowfisherman would feel deprived if not using a reel, but stationary mounted spools and tubs are convenient if shooting is going to be from one spot and in one direction, as from a boat.

– Tub Fishing –

Tub fishing does not mean shooting at tubs or shooting fish in a tub, but that a tub is used to contain the line attached to the fishing arrow. This method only requires that one end of the line be attached to the arrow, the other end to the boat with the greater portion of the line kept in an open-topped tub until pulled out by the flying arrow. The advantage of this system is that nothing is fastened to the bow, which is very useful for those who want to bowfish with a minimal investment.

The area around the line-containing tub must be free from obstructions, including the shooter’s feet, and shooting angles are limited to 180 degrees on the front and sides of the shooter. In addition, the line must be stacked back into the tub before the next shot is taken. This is exactly the same method used for centuries to take whales.The old whalers discovered that line-containing tubs offered less resistance to the flight of a harpoon than any other method.

Huge tubs are not needed for bowfishing, and a round plastic butter container will easily hold enough line. Make a small hole in the bottom of the container, pass the line through the hole and tie it to some stable part of the boat. One or more floats might also be attached if going after big fish. When shooting from a stationary position, tub fishing is always an option. This is also an expedient method that can always be used if a reel malfunctions.

– Spool Fishing –

A spool rotating on an axial pin attached to the gunnel of a boat can also be used to hold bowfishing line. A spool has the advantage that the line is less likely to be caught on some obstruction in the boat. The disadvantage is that there are three sources of line friction that eat up energy. These are the friction of the tightly wrapped line rubbing against itself as it comes off the spool, friction of the spool rotating around the spindle and the friction on the top and bottom of the spool where it bears against the base plate and top retaining pin. In fairness, the same sources of friction also occur with any reel that winds line onto a spool.

– Manually-wound Reels –

Every imaginable method has been used on a bow to attach a line to an arrow and retrieve fish. Fish-retrieval reels soon included bow-mounted spools, shoot-through reels, and fitting standard and modified fishing reels to bows. Ultimately, a specialized slotted bow-fishing reel was designed that allows a line-containing jug to pop off the bow and pick up a line from the boat attached to a float. The last is used for alligators and very large fish that one man cannot hold.

– Bow-mounted Spools –

With bow-mounted spools the line is wrapped around a reel that typically screws into the stabilizer-mounting hole in the bow or is taped below the grip. Bow-mounted spools may be as simple as a tin can fastened to the bow with duct tape or a factory-made assembly. These devices are small, light weight and inexpensive. In all cases the line is hand-wound back onto the reel after each shot. Several spool-type reels are marketed by Bear, Bohning and Cajun Archery, and these are discussed below. Mohawk, the largest maker of shoot-through reels, has discontinued regular production leaving this market largely to independent producers who make a few reels at the time on special order.

Line is stripped from these reels with minimal friction,and it takes an extremely well made crank-reel to match the distance attainable with these simple bow-mounted spool-reels.

The Bear Convert-a-Bowfishing Rig contains a plastic reel similar to one used by Fred Bear in the 1950s with fletched wooden and fiberglass arrows. Except for the steel-mounting bolt which screws into the accessory hole provided in many recurve and compound bows, the modern Bear reel is all molded plastic. The kit also contains 50 feet of 90-pound test line, a fletched fiberglass arrow, fish point and instruction booklet.

Advantages of the Bear kit are that it is lightweight, rugged, simple, low cost and easily operated – ideal attributes for a beginner’s outfit. This kit can be used on fish weighing up to 40-pounds. Best results will be obtained if the fletching is removed from the arrow. The 80-pound line is easily broken, and it is wise to have some spare arrows. If only one arrow is available, only shoot in shallow waters so that the arrow can be recovered.

Using this, or any bowfishing reel, requires that the shooter know the position of the line at all times. If a loop of line catches on any part of the bow, shooter or reel the flight of the arrow will be altered, if not stopped altogether. If the arrow is less than 10 feet from the bow it can rebound and strike the shooter. Enough line needs to be spooled off the reel to allow the arrow to come to full draw, and the remaining line secured to the reel by a small piece of tape.

On the Bear reel, the line may be held on the reel by placing it in a slot. When the arrow leaves the bow, it detaches the line and starts to spool the remainder of the line from the reel. On other reels the slot or spring-loaded clip is used only to hold the line on the reel while walking around. It is always best practice to slip the line out of the slot or from under the clip before shooting. Wetline tends to remain on reels of this type better than dry line, and after the first few shots there is less of a problem with the line staying on the reel.

Bow-mounted spools may be used with any weight line, and the standing end of the line may be attached to the boat, or a float, if desired. Because this is a simple, reliable, low-cost set up, the bow-mounted spool reels and shoot-through reels are ideal for use on a back-up bow in a boat. Either type of reel will allow a second arrow to be put into a large fish in a shorter period of time than it would take to re-rig another bow.

Bohning Lightning, this is a non-rotating, bow-mounted reel that is also included in a bow-fishing kit. This kit also contains mounting hardware, 50 ft. of 80 lbs. bowfishing line, a solid fiberglass fisharrow, a fish point, epoxy glue and an instruction booklet. The Bohning kit may also be used on any bow with a threaded hole for a stabilizer. [shop ‘Bohning bowfishing’ @Amazon]

Attaching the kit is a simple matter of screwing a steel rod into the bow’s stabilizer hole, fastening it with a nut, threading on another nut to position the 5-inch plastic reel and tightening a third nut to hold the spool-shaped reel in place. When this is done all that remains is to fasten the fish point to the arrow with quickset epoxy, tie the line to the bow, wind the line onto the reel and tie the line to the arrow. Tightening all the nuts will hold the reel in place and keep it from rotating. The threaded bar that attaches the reel to the bow has sufficient clearance to allow for the largest hand.

Because of the time needed for the epoxy to set,assembling the bow-fishing kit is best done the day before it is to be used. In addition, the proper tools are more likely to be available at home for the recommended additional steps of drilling the arrow, pinning the fish point to it, removing the fletching and cleaning the fletching cement from the fiberglass arrow.

Spool and shoot through reels vary in size from 6″ to 24″ in dia.

Cajun Archery Lightning Reel This is a bright-finished all-aluminum spool-type reel that may be fixed to the bow by screwing it into the accessory slot or another model of the reel may be attached with tape.Taping a reel on a bow is not as jack-leg a solution as it might first appear.Reels may be taped to long bow or recurve which do not have stabilizer accessory holes and can be put on any bow and easily removed. For best accuracy the reel needs to be taped onto the bow below the grip and positioned as near to the arrow as possible. [shop ‘Cajun Archery’ @Amazon]

One afternoon I had a problem with the Cajun reel. The reel was screwed into the accessory slot of a 45-pound Bear recurve. Somehow a wrap of the 400 lbs. line I was using for alligator gar was wrapped behind the reel. When the line flew off the reel it was caught between a vertical aluminum holding bracket and the spool with enough force to bend the holding bracket and distort the back of the reel. When I attempted to straighten the reel with hand pressure the aluminum attachment piece popped off the holding bracket and threaded steel rod rendering the reel useless. The unusually heavy line kept me from loosing the arrow, but increased the danger of being stuck by a rebounding arrow.

This kind of incident can happen with any reel. Make sure the line is properly wound on the reel and that a loop has not passed behind the reel or caught on a crank or sight. Even 150-pound line will often snap if a loop passes behind the reel and is temporarily hung up on the reel’s back.

– Shoot-through Reels –

The easiest reel to attach to a bow, particularly a longbow or recurve with no screw-in adapter for a stabilizer is a taped-on shoot-through reel. These reels are circular, non-rotating assemblies that are mounted at right angles to the bow. They have a metal rim or fingers to hold the line that is hand-wound back onto the reel after each shot.

Shoot-through reels have the advantages that there are no moving parts, the line is always visible, any type of line may be wound on the reel and the end of the line may be tied to the boat or a float. The chief disadvantages are that the line must be rewound by hand after each shot and the only available drag-producing mechanism is to feed the line through a gloved hand. Shoot-through reels are ideal for a person who wants to assemble an inexpensive outfit because they are typically less costly and more trouble free than crank-wound reels.

Unless the line is retained on the reel with a scrap of tape, each time the bow is pointed downwards the line will de-spool with loops of line encircling the arrow. At least with the shoot-through reel, the de-spooling line is noticed immediately whereas line dumped at a shooter’s feet from spool-type reels may not be apparent if the shooter’s attention is focused on a passing fish.

Mohawk formally made an all-metal shoot-through, but this reel was dropped from standard production in 2000. The company will still make this reel with a minimum order of 50 reels. The increased acceptance of crank-wound reels caused the company to discontinue regular production of this series of products which included 7 and 10-inch reels and even an illuminated model for night fishing.

Bowfishermen who make long shots at big fish have shoot-through reels made that are up to 16-inches in diameter. For the comparatively few shots a day that may be offered, large shoot-through reels have the advantages that they can hold a lot of heavy line and the line is wound tangle-free on the rim after each shot. Big fish will be pulled in by hand just as they would be if a crank-type reel were used.

– Crank-mounted Reels –

Bait-casting reels were never popular for bowfishing because of their tendency to backlash, but covered-face spinning reels were easily adapted to the sport. Covered-face reels are preferred because they are mounted in the UP position so the thumb can easily reach the line-release button. Covered-face reels have the additional advantage that a loop of line is less likely to snag on the smooth cone-shaped exterior of these reels.

Zebco 808. The Zebco 808 and its predecessors are the bowfishing standards of modern times. The present reel has a light-weight polymer front cover and metal spool components and crank assembly. The crank is 4½-inches long with hard plastic handles. The 808 is marketed for bowfishing and comes with 70-pound braided line. When the same reel is employed for fishing a 20-pound monofilament line is suggested.

Advantages of the Zebco are that it is light weight, (16- ounces) commonly used (your bowfishing buddy probably has one or more), has an effective drag system and ease of operation. The chief disadvantage of this design is that it has a single line-take-up pin that can get caught in the body of the reel and will not take up line until the reel is disassembled, the take-up pin teased out of the case with a bent Gem Clip and the reel reassembled. In the meantime your arrow, fish and line are in the water. This is not a common occurrence, but does occur.

This reel has long been a favorite of tournament fishermen who wanted to be able to rewind as quickly as possible in order to boat the most fish in the smallest period of time. It is not unusual in a tournament for a team (two bows) to bring in 500 to 700 fish. The current record is 900 fish taken in 12-hours.

Tournament fishermen often have several reels. If they need to change to a lighter or heavier-weight line, it is easier to quickly mount another reel. These spare reels also let the contestant quickly return to fishing, rather than spending time untangling line or correcting some other problem. The Zebco 808 may be used on either recurve or compound bows by using a screw-in adapter that contains a reel seat.

Zebco also makes The Brute and Great White closed-face reels that are of a size, weight and ruggedness to consider for bowfishing. The Brute has beefed-up internal components and The Great White has a star drag system. Nonetheless, the 808 is the reel used most often in bowfishing tournaments. [shop Zebco @Amazon]

Shakespeare Synergy Steel 4002 Ti. To compete with the808 Shakespeare introduced the closed-face Synergy Steel 4002 Ti in 2000. This reel has a stainless steel cone, a titanium-coated line guide, reversible handle (good news for left-handed bowfisherman) and two titanium-coated steel line-take up pins. This reel weighs 1pound 3 ounces. It is slightly larger, heavier and sexier-looking than the rather pedestrian-appearing 808.

Because this reel holds promise of being more rugged than the 808, it is being given a good trial on the bowfishing circuit. Opinions are split, and some who have used the 808 for years have tried the 4002, but returned to their old standby. [shop ‘Shakespeare Reels’ @Amazon]

Metal framed net and gaff.

– Nets, Gaffs and Grapples –

Getting the fish to the boat is the job of the bowfishing line, and for small fish, the reel, but the most vital task relating to boating a fish rightly belongs to the net, gaff or grappling hook. More fish drop off arrows right at the side of the boat than any other place. They may hang on a corner of the boat, on part of the engine and be pulled off the arrow. Carp with their soft bodies are notorious for coming off arrows, and large numbers of big carp are lost in this fashion.

An obvious solution is to have someone assist with a net or gaff when the fish is close to the boat. The higher the shooting platform,the more difficult this becomes with pole-mounted equipment. Grappling hooks are most often used to secure large alligators, reserving the gaff for gators five-to-six feet long. Grapples attached to stout ropes are employed to drag big gators to the boat where the coup de grace is administered with a bang stick.

– Polarizing Glasses –

Seeing the fish is the first step towards shooting the fish. Sunlight coming off rippling waters almost completely obscures fish working the mud flats and sandbars. Any polarizing glasses are better than none, and inexpensive clip-on shades have salvaged many bowfishing trips. The best glasses have either side shields or wrap-around designs to cut out sidelight and improve visibility.

Prescription lenses are available from Bushnell’s H20ptix glasses for about $100 and at a higher prices from Costa del Mar. Plastic, glass, polycarbonate and new resin-based plastics such as CR-39 and SR-91 are available. Prescriptions are available in glass, polycarbonate and the new resins from various makers. A variety of tints are offered, but the best forover-all use is gray with or without mirrored exteriors.

Cabela’s, the mail order catalogue company, offers a variety of polarized sunglasses ranging in price from under $20 to over $200. For eyeglass wearers one particularly useful model is the Fitover for between $40 and $70. [shop sunglasses @Cabela]

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