When someone decided to combine fishing and archery, bowfishing was born.
Today, it’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the US – but you can’t just use any old kit and be successful.
Apart from picking up one of the best bowfishing bows money can buy, you’re also going to need a dedicated reel. Or, you might simply want to switch out your old reel for an upgrade.
Either way, we’ve got you covered, with the best bowfishing reels in 2023 right here.
Read on to discover your next game-changer. A buyer’s guide and FAQ section will follow.
Let’s reel ‘em in.
Table of Contents
- The 10 Best Bowfishing Reels in 2023
- AMS Tournament Series Retriever TNT
- Muzzy 1097 XD Bow Fishing Reel
- Cajun Bowfishing Screw-On Drum Reel
- Cajun Winch Pro Bowfishing Reel
- SinoArt Bowfishing Reel Seat Spincast Reel
- AMEYXGS Bowfishing Reel
- Zebco Bowfisher Direct Mount Spincast Reel
- Cajun Spin Doctor Bowfishing Reel
- Fin-Finder Sidewinder Drum Reel
- Fin-Finder Winch Pro Bowfishing Reel
- How to Choose the Best Bowfishing Reel – What to Look Out For
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The 10 Best Bowfishing Reels in 2023
How to Choose the Best Bowfishing Reel – What to Look Out For
Before you settle on your next bowfishing reel, it might be a good idea to check out our handy buyer’s guide below, just for some extra tips and advice on anything you might have missed.
Why a Special Reel?
Bowfishing is, as you can imagine, a little different from traditional fishing. And while the principle of having a reel in order to land your catch is the same, their design is not.
You need to have a special bowfishing reel that can be attached onto your bow. This can be a recurve or compound, and each reel will have a different way of mounting onto the weapon depending on that style of reel (see below).
Long story short, you can’t use any old fishing reel (or any old fishing line – for that matter) when it comes to bowfishing. A dedicated bowfishing reel is highly recommended.
Types of Reel
There are three, distinct types of reel you can use for bowfishing, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a more detailed look, below.
The most basic type of bowfishing reels, a drum reel is exactly what it sounds like – a simple drum around which the fishing line is wound.
There are very few moving parts – if any at all – although some drum reels do have a wind retrieval system, whereas others you bring the line back in by hand.
As you might expect, the biggest disadvantage with that is having to manually wind the line back in after each shot, as this is at the most basic, no-frills end of the arrow/fish retrieval spectrum and can take some time.
Speed is not a friend to the drum setup.
Having said that, drum reels are the most inexpensive bowfishing reels, and a solid option if you’re a beginner looking to get a feel for the sport, or if you’re in search of a more old-school bowfishing challenge.
They’re also a great option for camping, or anywhere you only need to catch one or two fish for dinner.
Additionally, they’re super-easy to install on just about any bow, and should last a long time with little to no maintenance required.
They definitely still have their place in the community, in spite of all the latest modern tech.
Very similar in design to traditional spincast reels, the bowfishing version is arguably the most common type you’ll find in the sport.
They use gear ratios and a handle to receive the line after it has been ejected out of the front of the reel when a shot has been taken.
They have several advantages over a drum reel, not least a smoother retrieval system, often with the ability to set the drag – much like a traditional equivalent.
Bowfishing with spincast reels is immensely popular, as they’re tough, durable, fast, and can land you some seriously big fish. This is the preferred option of many tournament bowfishers because of their speed.
However, given the fact that they have a lot of moving parts, breakages and malfunctions are not uncommon.
Also known as “bottle” reels for their distinctive look that’s unlike anything else in fishing, retriever reels are the most expensive of the three.
This is likely down to the design and materials needed to manufacture a product that’s going to be as successful as this unique design appears to be.
Retriever reels are silky-smooth to shoot, more dependable and durable than spinners, and with the right line – they can land you the biggest catches.
But, as ever, there’s always a downside, and what you have in strength you lose in speed. And the best ones aren’t cheap, so make sure you’re going to like the sport if you opt for this type of reel.
Types of Line
Due to the very nature of bowfishing – shooting a solid arrow at a target and then reeling that and (hopefully) a heavy fish in – bowfishing line is different from traditional fishing lines.
It’s usually much thicker in diameter, braided, and brightly colored – so you can see exactly where you’ve placed your shot – often into muddy waters.
Many of the reels available today will come pre-spooled with bowfishing line, but you might still want to switch this out if it’s not up-to-scratch, or for whatever reason you’re not happy.
Check out the video below for a guide to some of the different bowfishing lines available.
Ease of Use
It’s important that you choose a bowfishing reel that’s comfortable for you to use, as some are much more straightforward than others.
This is especially true when it comes to figuring out how to mount the reel. Spin and drum reels are usually the easiest – and you simply attach them to the bow’s stabilizer bushing.
Retriever reels might require a little more thought and effort.
Your bow will need to have ATA accessory or AMO sight bushings in order to attach a retriever reel. If it doesn’t, you can drill your own, or purchase a compatible mounting bracket if you don’t want to damage your bow.
Gear ratios are often a complex – but necessary – part of choosing a fishing reel. This is particularly true of spin reels in both bowfishing and traditional angling.
Simply put, it refers to how many times the reel will spin with one turn of the handle – thus giving you an indication of how fast it’s going to pick up the line.
While it’s not vital you understand the ins and outs of this, it’s more important for anyone looking at tournament fishing where speed is everything.
Even the most advanced bowfishing reels on the market aren’t going to necessarily break the bank – you shouldn’t be paying more than $150 for one – at best.
That said, once you take everything else into consideration – bowfishing costs can add up.
The beauty of it is – you can spend as much or as little as you like on your rig, and I would encourage you to work within your budget for whatever suits your style.
Can you put a bowfishing reel on any bow?
Yes – providing, of course, that the bow can accommodate it, and has the mounting hardware that will take such an accessory.
Most compound and recurve bows today will have the right bushings to install a bowfishing reel – and even if it doesn’t, you can always create some, or use a special mounting bracket instead.
Just bear in mind that a standard bow is not going to be anywhere near as good as a dedicated bowfishing counterpart.
Check out this video for setting up a retriever reel on a standard recurve as an example.
What is the best bowfishing reel?
It depends on your own preferred style of fishing. Drum, spin, and retriever reels all have their advantages, and the answer to the question is very subjective.
What’s the best for me – might not be the best for you.
That said, if I was looking to purchase a new bowfishing reel (and depending on how I wanted to fish) I think I’d go for the AMS Tournament TNT. That thing is on another level.
And I’d for sure turn to the Muzzy reels if I was looking for a spinner.
Can you use any reel for bowfishing?
No. Traditional fishing reels are not at all suitable for bowfishing. Attempting to use a standard reel for this sport will not only fail – it might actually be dangerous.
Remember that this line and reel has an arrow attached to it – and accidents can happen if you’re not using something that is compatible with it.
How long does the line need to be for bowfishing?
Given the fact that you’re shooting at a target that is rarely more than 20 yards away – you actually don’t need much more line than that.
Bowfishing line is still available in various lengths, and 25 yards seems to be a good starting point for most beginners. To be honest, even pros don’t need any more than that.
Don’t forget that bowfishing arrows are designed to kill the animal outright, so it’s unlikely you’re going to be faced with a battle to land the fish after a successful shot.
What’s the best bowfishing arrow?
I’m so glad you asked. Much like traditional fishing reels, you should never try to use a regular archery arrow for bowfishing – it’s just not going to have the strength or power to be safely up to the task.
Bowfishing arrows need to have a powerful spine, capable of piercing and holding big fish.
Check out this review on the best bowfishing arrows and you’ll soon see the main differences. Then you can make your own mind up which is the best on the market.
How do you attach bowfishing line to an arrow?
A very good question – and one that is of utmost importance. You certainly don’t want to be losing a quality bowfishing arrow into the murky deep.
It’s good practice to use a safety slide, too – as you don’t want to risk the pointy end pinging back into your face.
Check out the video below for tips and advice on attaching the bowfishing line to the arrow.
What’s the best draw weight for bowfishing?
The jury is out on this one. Many sport bowfishers tend to hover in the 40-50 lbs range, but there are still others who say anywhere upwards of 30 lbs is perfectly fine.
At the ranges you’re shooting, and if you have a good arrow and point, you’re pretty much going to kill anything you hit. Even a 25 lbs weight is going to do the job.
Unless, of course, you’re hunting alligators. In which case – maybe kick the draw weight up a notch.
The best bowfishing reels of 2023 offer an eclectic mix of options to suit a variety of bowfishing styles, environments, and wallets.
I hope this article has helped you zero in on the product that’s right for you and your setup. Let me know in the comments which one you’ve gone for and why.
Until next time, folks – good hunting.