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 Whitcomb is a columnist, outdoor humorist, and stressed-out Dad. He says there are “people who fish”… and there are “fishermen”.  One of the few things he knows is that he is a “fisherman”...  To the point it could be classified as borderline illness.  Sharing this obsession is rewarding, therapeutic. He likes to encourage people to “stop and smell the crappie."  Enjoys catching fish, but gets a greater thrill out of helping someone else hook up.
Born in Florida, but raised on the banks of Oklahoma farm ponds. Now relocated to western Pennsylvania. He has fished, worked, lived all around the US.  He has a B.S. in Zoology from Oklahoma State as well...
And he met his wife while electrofishing. He has been contributing weekly to since 2011.