Bow Fishing

Photo credit

September 28 is National Hunting and Fishing Day. Fishing shares some similarities with hunting. Both require stealth, scouting, and good aim.

Bowfishing is a type of fishing that still requires a fishing license but it is very similar to hunting. However bowfishing is only for harvesting “rough” fish, rather than “sport” fish. Definitions vary from state to state so check your state regulations carefully. In Oklahoma, “rough” includes gar, but in Pennsylvania, gar are protected. One fish that everyone agrees can be a target species everywhere is the common carp.

“Introduced” into the United States in the 1800’s, carp are now well established in almost every body of water. In fact, they now make up the major fish biomass of many systems. Although carp are a strong fighting fish, they are notorious for increasing water turbidly, thus lowering the water quality for many native species.

Carp grow to massive sizes, often 30 pounds or more, and frequently wallow among shallow vegetation, sometimes feeding on the surface, which makes them a good target. But this still is not easy. Due to the refraction of light in water, the fish viewed is actually below where it seems so aim low.

Instead of a rod and a hook, a bow is fitted with a specialized arrow tip. Retrieval is done with a closed-face reel, spooled with a heavy braided line. Though certainly a departure from traditional fishing, it is fun enough that even Bassmaster Elite angler Kevin VanDam recently scored on a bowfishing trip.

As with any fish that you plan to catch and eat, make sure to dispatch quickly and humanely. Carp are prized table fare in many parts of the world. Preparation can be tricky due to many bones. One method around this is to score the fillets every inch, then fry over 400 degrees to dissolve bones.

At the Oklahoma Wildlife Expo (above photo), kids gained important instruction on how to bowfish. They learned how to handle and all safety precautions as they took aim at submerged fish targets.

Tim Orton of Advantage Whitetails, captured my (and his son’s) attention when recalling the huge carp he used to bowfish on the Allegheny River. “That boat was sweet. Front railing, lights. Had to sell it when the deer farm operation started taking up too much time.”

“Can we get another boat, Dad?” his son asked.


“Go talk to your Mother.”

Andy Whitcomb

Andy Whitcomb

Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.