Bowfishing For Carp or Any Fish – Ultimate Guide

Bow fishing for carp is growing in popularity like a crazy weed. Bow fishing for many fish species is growing as a sport and hobby like wildfire as well.

As long as you have the right bowfishing bow and bowfishing arrows though…

It’s always been around, it’s just gaining heavy speed and active people engaging in the sport.

Bighead Carp and Silver Carp have left devastating impacts to many bodies of waters which has left many of us ready to draw first blood at any chance we can get to stick an arrow right in the side of them.

Especially in my local area and the Midwest in general. I’m in Central Illinois, and the Peoria and Mississippi River are just a hop and skip away.

A once highly desired fishing hole for many anglers is quickly turning into the Walking Dead with nothing remaining except the giant Silver and Bighead Carp.

Yes, that’s a bit of an over exaggeration, but it has reached some peak times.

River destruction and our favorite places to fish is finally beginning to show signs of danger. Danger that it may not still be around in ten years or the next time this is blogged about heavily.

Methods of slowing the spawning of carp or other control methods don’t seem to be helping so what gives?

What’s the answer?

Bow Fishing For Carp is a Ton of Fun

It’s a pretty darn good answer too because it’s a ton of fun. It starts out a little difficult to learn to bow fish but overall, it becomes an insane adrenaline rush once you learn the ins and outs. It’s not necessarily solving any problems for Asian Carp or Silver Carp, but it’s purely awesome to do whether you have experience with it or not.

Heck, even watching bow fishing is fun.

The fantastic part is that you can bow fish for other species of fish outside of carp as well.

The fun never ends.

Again, I’m from Illinois, so it’s just how and where my journey began.

We will cover everything I believe you need to know about bow fishing for 2024 and entering the next season.

Let’s get started.

Brief History Behind Bow Fishing in my Region

Let’s cover again why bow fishing can be appealing before diving any further into other topics..

Again, in Illinois, carp are the main targeted species of fish for bow fishing.

Hell, we even have one dedicated man that takes the time and provides bow fishing tours on the Peoria River to allow several people to be slinging arrows through the carp at the same time.

All from one boat. Pretty awesome. So yeah, we know a thing or two about the rise of the bow fishing sport in my hometown area. As many of you already know, I’m a huge catfisherman and carp fisherman.

Naturally, since the problem in my area was due to the overrun of bighead carp, that’s the fish I gravitated toward exploring bow fishing for.

For me, the Illinois River is the desired spot for many game fish. Not as much lately which is why the bow fishing popularity has risen dramatically over the last 5-10 years. We want our fishing spots and other game fish to be back to normal!

I mean it reached a point where you couldn’t even use a trolling motor in the river without hundreds of Asian carp jumping out the water and landing in your boat. Sometimes even bopping in you the head throughout the process. Bow fishing Asian carp is just how I started. Whatever fish you decide to bowfish is totally your call.

Let’s start talking about bow fishing and what you need to know, to steam into the 2024 fishing season ready to rock and roll.

What is Bow Fishing?

Well, it’s not bowhunting, and it’s not fishing in a traditional sense. It’s a hybrid between both for the ultimate middle ground for the avid bow hunter and fisherman to have an enormous amount of fun.

The two worlds collide. And man, does it get fun. It’s technically phrased that bow fishing is a method of fishing that uses specialized archery equipment to shoot and retrieve fish.

Carp, Alligator Gar, and Paddlefish are often targeted. In my region, it’s a ton of silver and bighead carp or Asian carp that’s heavily focused on. We are the carp killers. So to speak. Almost sounds like a cheesy gang initiation taking place. My fault with that.

All it takes is the bow fishing gear, a body of water and a little bit of time to scout for your prey and you’re well on your way.

What Kind of License is Required For Bow Fishing?

Common question.

The answer is just a regular fishing license is needed to bow fish. You are not Game hunting and only bringing or landing fish, so no nothing else is required outside of the regular fishing license for your given state.

Is Bow fishing Illegal or Legal?

This question depends on a few factors. Some fish are illegal to bow fish, and some are legal. Here’s a list that you can bow fish legally in most states.

Side note- Be sure to check your State DNR regulations to ensure you have the rules down and don’t get yourself into trouble. Also, be sure to check the little laws that some people may miss and find themselves in some trouble.

For example, in Wisconsin, it’s illegal to bow fish within 200 feet of the damn which I think is crazy. It’s a feeding frenzy in these zones, and those carp could easily be cleaned up. If you catch my drift. What kind of fish can I bow hunt?

What Kind of Fish can I Bow Hunt?

Below I’ve shared a list with fish permitted to bow hunt.

  • Common Carp
  • Bighead Carp
  • Silver Carp
  • Grass Carp
  • River Carpsucker
  • Bowfin
  • Snakehead
  • Asian Carp
  • Tilapia
  • Catfish
  • Drum
  • Smallmouth Buffalo
  • Bigmouth Buffalo
  • Threadfin Shad
  • Alligator Gar Paddlefish

Be sure to have your fishing license on your person no matter what.

You need to check your State specific regulations as well to make sure you are staying in compliance.

Here’s an example of my home state of Illinois

Fish You Can Bowfish in Illinois

  • Carp (all forms)
  • Catfish
  • Buffalo
  • Suckers
  • Gar
  • Shad
  • Drum
  • Bowfin
  • Bullfrogs

Snapping turtles (only to remove by a pitchfork). Some lakes and areas have regulations about night fishing and required gear as well. Just be sure to check everything twice. It’s not worth a penalty or fine when it’s only one google search away.

When is Bow Fishing Season?

In theory, you can bow fish almost all year round. Typically, from April- February.

Depending on what fish, you are after, bow fishing will be the best between late spring and mid-summer. Spawning carp is an excellent example of an ideal time to bow fish.

Here’s an excellent answer to the question of “when do carp spawn”? This may give you a good idea based on what State you live in when your personal bow fishing season begins.

Or when the bow fishing gets really good is a better wording.

All spawn times for all 50 states is in that article mentioned above.

11 Bow Fishing Tips And Tricks

Bow fishing surprisingly isn’t that hard at all to learn.

It honestly took me less time to learn to bow fish than the process took me to learn the tricks fly fishing for carp. It’s really a matter of learning the gear and getting some basic bad aiming habits out of your head.

For anyone who bow fishes, we all know the water illusions played some mind games on us all at first. Don’t feel bad if it happens to you. We all started with the same struggles.

Tip 1: Don’t Go Bow Fishing Not Prepared for Battle

Sharp Tips- Over time your tips will dull.

Especially if your bow fishing for carp like myself. During spawn season carp are near rocky shallow water. Over time, as the tips hit these banks and stones, the tip will dull. and need replaced for success.

You want a precise, clean entry point on the fish. If you have a dull tip, it looks more like you just put buckshot through your fish. This, in turn, causes the fish to fall off the arrow before being able to reel in.

Almost all the tips can be twisted or screwed off to replace them. Keep it nice and sharp!

Tip 2: Don’t be Scared to Try Shore and Boat – River and Lake and Different Areas to Fish

Expand your horizons a bit. Don’t get limited to trying only one area to fish. Carp and other species of fish are over running just about every area of water known to man. If you have bad luck, try a new area or body of water.

Don’t think you have to be on a boat to locate the right fishing spots.

Carp come very shallow and close to shore near wet, low weedy areas in plain sight. A boat is not an absolute necessity to make it work.

Tip 3: Don’t go Cheap on the Reel – Pay to Play

If you’re just starting off in bow fishing, I don’t blame you for wanting to keep it as cheap as possible. If that’s the case, use an old deer bow or pick one up at the pawn shop and save where you can.

If you are serious, however, don’t pinch pennies on essential equipment.

Your reel is going to take an absolute pounding over time and needs the ability to shoot and reel at rapid paces depending on the luck you are having.

Spend a few bucks for years of fun!

Read my guide on the best bowfishing reels of 2024.

Tip 4: Practice Makes Perfect – Practice shooting

Don’t ever overestimate the value of practice.

Get out and shoot your bowfishing arrows a few times and get a feel for the line and reel.

More importantly, you need to learn how the water can play tricks on your sight. Objects are always higher or deeper than they appear.

You can use a clear 20 oz bottle that is full and let it begin to sink. Place it in the water to start getting some practice hitting your mark with the bowfishing bow.

It will ultimately lead to way less frustration when it’s time to prove your skills.

Tip 5: Don’t Fight the Fish

When Bow Fishing, it’s almost muscle memory to fight the fish once you have the sphere in it. Don’t do this.

Let the fish tire out some before going for the reel in.

Even with the proper barbs, you increase the chance to widen the entry point which may allow the fish to wiggle away wasting all your efforts.

Tip 6: Spend Money on Gear First, then the Boat

You don’t need to open a new credit card to do this.

My point isn’t to break the bank.

A used bow is fine until you find your passion with bow fishing which shouldn’t take long.

Don’t get cheap with your reel, line, and tips. Dull tips, non-quality reels will only cause frustration at the end of a hot day fishing.

Proper eye wear helps immensely as well.

Refraction will be your worst enemy with bow fishing dreams and aspirations to catch any substantial amount of fish.

Remember your battling glares, the sun, and tricky angle shots. The better the eye wear you can drop a few dollars on now for, will go a long way.

If you can’t even see or locate the fish, how are you going to bow fish effectively?

Your line and reel you will want to check each season.

Possibly even multiple times.

The last thing you want is a tangle or a bad set up on your first day of fishing when the adrenaline is running high.

Tip 7: Stalk Your Prey

I’ve mentioned the importance of scouting reports and being stealthy in my how to catch carp blog.

If fishing from shore, scout ahead of your planned trip. Find out what activity you’re working with. See where the carp are spawning.

The more information you have ahead of time, the higher your success will ultimately be.

You can even pull up maps online for free for each state and find out the fish populating your planned destination.

Water types and what inhabits them makes you one step ahead of the fast swimmers and one step closer to catching plenty of fish.

Remember- Shallow waters with bow fishing will yield the highest results.

Stay shallow, stay quiet, stay prepared and succeed.

Tip 8: It’s Always Right to Bow Fish at Night

Bow fishing at night is an absolute must try.

Make sure to use proper lighting equipment. If you are prepared, nothing can really beat night bow fishing.

The same chance at success exist at night and makes the thrill of the hunt that much more enjoyable.

Stay quiet and stealthy to avoid spooking the fish and wait and watch the magic happen.

Tip 9. Avoid Windy Days

Windy days can cause all sorts of issues bow fishing for carp.

Aim and accuracy won’t be as precise, and judging angles and shots are just a pain.

If possible, plan your fishing trip and scout the weather report.

You will be glad you did.

Tip 10: Aim Low and After You Aim Low, Maybe Aim an Inch or Two Lowers Than That

Going back to water refraction.

Objects don’t appear as they seem underwater from above.

You need to aim low. Your vision will be distorted.

This is where the practice is going to be crucial to building up the skills for when it comes crunch time and you spot a carp close enough to go for the kill.

Tip 11: Have Fun

Regardless of how the day is going for you. Have a blast.

It’s an incredible sport growing in popularity. Don’t forget why you are doing it though.

Let the stresses go and enjoy the time on the water.

You will always catch more fish with a smile on your face and embracing your surroundings as opposed to worrying about what you must do when you return home.

Now that you have the pure fundamentals of bow fishing handled let’s cover a few tips for each species you may be targeting

I know this blog was initially for carp bow fishing, but I enjoy helping everyone out so let’s dive into it.

Understanding Your Bow Fishing Equipment and Gear

The Bow

Read my guide on the best bowfishing bows on the market.

You can use either use a compound bow or recurve bow for bow fishing. Both work just fine. The principal emphasis is on draw time. Fish move fast, and you need to as well.

You need a bow capable of drawing quickly.

Mechanical releases CAN be used, but I highly recommend doing a finger draw (Much Faster)

The most common draw weights range from 25-50 Lbs.

You don’t need anything overly fancy regarding range. Active bow fishing takes place within short distances so don’t go nuts looking for a cannon bow.

The Reel

Don’t get to cheap on a decent reel. This is one of the biggest keys to success as well.

You can certainly go without it, but you will never experience an excellent way to bow fish, and that’s with a nice mounted reel.

You can retrieve your line in seconds.

One of the downfalls is you must wind the line by hand.

Bow Fishing Bottle Retriever

This is a different design for a reel system. No buttons before the shot are needed.

The line remains slack inside the bottle. When you shoot, your arrow will release from the reel. All you have to do is pull the trigger on the bottle retriever to get your arrow back.

Most good bottle retrievers that I’ve tried come with a telescoping clamp and arrow quiver. These are also extremely durable. I’d say it’s definitely worth the investment.

Multi-pin Bow Sight

This is 100% optional.

You don’t need one, but if you think you need the extra guidance, they can come in handy. Any fish close enough and no more than 6 feet deep, you wouldn’t need more than your eyeballs and to aim low.

Having a second pin gauged for 25-30 feet wouldn’t be a bad idea however for if you can spot other activity further away. You will have to sight your bow by shooting it if you go this direction. Practice on water balloons or a target in an open area until the bow is ready for action and sighted in correctly.


Read my guide on the best bowfishing arrows on the market.

You will notice these arrows have some substantial weight to them.

That’s because you’re not just cruising through the air into a deer’s torso. These must be able to penetrate water.

Don’t get to cheap on items like this. You will want fiberglass or aluminum arrows.

Barbed Arrow Points or Bow Fishing Arrow Points

These are designed just like a fish hook with a barb.

They penetrate easily and are designed to be tough to release from the fish. Fighting the fish after stabbing it, is where you get into trouble, expanding the wound and potentially allowing the fish to get off the point or tip/arrow.

Fishing Line

I think it’s evident that this is a must have. How else are you planning on getting your arrow back?

YOU CAN’T USE mono filament line.

It will be a nightmare and tangle nonstop. Use any nylon braided line. Fewer tangles and rarely snaps.

Bow Fishing Safety Slides

Arrow snap back is very common. It can be lethal. The safety slides get installed on top of the arrow shaft.

Your line is tied to the safety slide. Once you draw and release the bow, the arrow will release and move through your safety slide eventually hitting the shock pad.

In a nutshell, your safety slides will:

  • Prevent arrow snap back
  • Prevent Fishing Line Tangling
  • Has no impact on bow performance
  • Extremely durable and long lasting.
  • Handles Fish up to 100lbs
  • Easy to install
  • Hold your lines in place during release at full draw.

Roller Rest

This you can worry about when you are a bit more advanced with bowfishing for carp or other fish species.

It’s designed to increase the speed of the bow by up to 10 feet per second.

They rest inside the bushing in the bow riser.

Wrapping Things Up

Bow fishing is incredible. Not just bowfishing for carp either. If you prefer bowfishing for other species of fish that’s legal in your state than I recommend getting after it till sunrise.

It’s an adrenaline rush but also requires some fine tuning to perfect. Gaining an understanding of the gear and methods can be tough. Especially if you don’t have a background in bow hunting in general and haven’t operated any form of a bow in the past.

Picking up these skills doesn’t take long so don’t fret. I highly recommend just picking up a bow and begin shooting targets to get a feel for it. Once your feeling right and confident, move onto to other adventures such as sinking soda bottles in the water to get some practice in.

Once your seasoned and ready, do some scouting and preparation and prepare for the fight! I’m by no means a bow fisherman expert so would love to hear anything that was left out of this blog. My goal is for all of us to learn together and share any experiences we have that can improve all of our catching odds. If you want to add anything for the readers, feel free to drop a comment below.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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