Get Hooked on Bowfishing

Bowfishing can be as simple or complex as you want to make it, and it can be a blast, no matter if you use beginner or expert gear.

Get Hooked on Bowfishing

Bowfishermen who want to get into the shallowest water without worries of a trolling motor hitting rocks, weeds or mud go for an airboat or fan boat. It’s a big investment, but if you love to bowfish and have the money, it’s pretty sweet. (Photo courtesy of AMS Bowfishing)

I was 12 years old and slinking along the banks when I spotted suckers swirling in the crystal-clear water a few feet below the surface. It reminded me of the many times I’d stalked up to banks and carefully presented crawlers where brook trout hid in pools, only now, I was doing the biting. I drew my Mathews FX, aimed and launched a heavy bowfishing arrow, which darted harmlessly over the intended sucker. Again and again, I shot over and occasionally under fish. When I eventually connected, I was instantly hooked on bowfishing. 

From there, I got a little bit more serious. During my late teens, my best friend invited me to go bowfishing for carp with his dad and him. Prior to our first outing, I’d watched folks shoot carp on VHS tapes and DVDs. I’d also seen pictures of bowfishermen with huge carp in bowhunting magazines. If the handful of suckers I’d previously shot indicated how much excitement a day on the water can provide, I was anticipating a wildly good time going after carp with my friend and his father. 

Several times over a couple of summers, my friend, his father and I launched their modest fishing boat and trolled the shallows where carp hid amongst the cattail reeds. Due to murky water, it was usually difficult to see the carp, even with our polarized sunglasses. Sometimes they saw us before we saw them and sank into the murk. But, we launched our share of arrows. And, we always got some carp and had an excellent time.

Bowfishing Through a Different Lens

Prior to the summer of 2020, my bowfishing adventures had always been pretty basic. But, my wife Becca and I were invited by Ray Howell of Kicking Bear Foundation and two AMS Bowfishing dudes, including Mathew Schillinger, to experience the mighty Mississippi River’s “nightlife.”

Rather than reach the boat launch at daybreak as I always had on past outings, our group convened at the boat launch during the last hour of daylight. We launched a tournament-level bowfishing boat as the big orange ball set over the stunning Minnesota bluffs. Soon, we were scanning back and forth in the light beams for rough fish and flinging arrows. 

We were on the water from sunset until 2 a.m., and Schillinger positioned us close to numerous fish during the night. Those of us with bows shot plenty of arrows. Our primary targets were carp and gar, but a few of us shot drum, too. My wife shot a really big common carp, which was the highlight of the trip. Bowfishing at night with a legit setup was a totally awesome experience. 

Lately, I’ve had the itch to get back on the water, which caused me to pick up the phone and discuss bowfishing gear with Schillinger. Below are some highlights from our discussion.

The Bow Rig

A lot of pursuits have the obvious barrier to entry: expensive gear. Fortunately, bowfishing isn’t like that. 

“Bowfishing equipment can be very simple,” Schillinger began. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started and enjoy it. At AMS Bowfishing, we have the Retriever Sport Combo Kit. For right around $100, you get a reel with 25 yards of 200-pound line, the Zip arrow rest and the fiberglass MudCat Fish Buster Arrow. If you have an existing bow sitting around, you can outfit it with this kit and then go walk the banks and have a great time shooting fish.” 

Schillinger says bowfishing can become an obsession and that while most bows can be set up for bowfishing, a bow rig designed specifically for it can help you to get more opportunities. 

“For 2024, we launched the Ringo Bow Kit,” he mentioned. “It is made specifically for bowfishing, and it’s very user-friendly for kids and adults alike. The draw weight adjusts from 20-70 pounds, and the draw length adjusts from 18-31 inches. It has nearly 80% let-off, which is great for kids. 

“For those who want to take it up a notch, I suggest the AMS Hooligan V2. Now, the big difference is it has an infinite draw, sort of like a recurve bow. That enables you to take quick snapshots as fish are fleeing; you don’t have to come all the way to full draw before you shoot. In the sport of bowfishing, things happen fast, and the faster you can launch arrows, the more shots you’ll get off, and the more fish you’ll have the opportunity to get.”

AMS Hooligan V2 Bow Kit
AMS Hooligan V2 Bow Kit

Schillinger says the Hooligan V2 is offered in a package that includes sweet accessories. With the bow you’ll get the AMS Retriever TNT reel with 35 yards of 350-pound premium spectra line, a white fiberglass arrow with the Chaos FX Point, AMS Tidal Wave arrow rest and String Things finger tabs. It’s a great setup designed specifically for bowfishing, and it retails for $599.99, which is a great value for the serious bowfisherman. 

Schillinger also talked about a new “Cadillac” model spin-cast reel that is great for hauling in big fish faster due to advanced features. It runs $399.99 and is marketed under the MegaMouth brand, which shares the same facility as AMS. He said that it’s worth looking into if you’re really serious about bowfishing.  

“At AMS Bowfishing, we have a lot of different bowfishing points,” Schillinger explained. “The cool thing is all of them are made in-house at our Stratford, Wisconsin, facility. All of our points will do the job, but if your goal is to release fish into the bucket as fast as possible to prepare for the next shot, a point like our best-selling AnKor QT is a great option. You don’t even need to touch the fish to release it from your arrow. Lower the fish into your barrel, turn the shaft to release the barbs, and then pull your arrow out of the fish.”    

The Boat

Walking the banks or below dams can yield plenty of shooting opportunities, but a boat can help you to cover a lot more water in a shorter window. 

“You don’t need a bowfishing-specific boat to get out on the water,” Schillinger said. “A small flat-bottom boat can get you and a buddy out for some daytime bowfishing. If you want to take it a step further, you can add some lights to that boat for nighttime bowfishing. There are various lights available. Some lights and light kits are a couple hundred bucks and some are more than $1,000. If you don’t have a lot of money, you can even rig up halogen work lights if you’re on a budget.”

Of course, some of the most serious bowfishermen run tournament-grade boats like the fan boat that Schillinger put us in back in 2020. An airboat can get you into extremely shallow waters without the headache of a trolling motor hitting rocks, mud and weeds. So, while you can pile up a lot of fish from an inexpensive jon boat, a more expensive airboat could be a great move if you have the money and want to increase your opportunities to reach places conventional boats cannot. Another option if you cannot justify an airboat is to outfit your boat with a mud motor, which can get you into settings that are marshy, muddy or have heavy vegetation.

Becca McDougal arrowed this huge common carp while bowfishing from a fan boat on the Mississippi River. (Photo by Mathew Schillinger)
Becca McDougal arrowed this huge common carp while bowfishing from a fan boat on the Mississippi River. (Photo by Mathew Schillinger)

Final Thoughts

The beauty of bowfishing is it can be as simple or complex as you want. “Bowfishing is awesome because it’s fast-paced,” Schillinger said. “You don’t have to sit in one place and be quiet like you do when hunting deer. It’s also common to get lots of shots throughout the night when you’re chasing roughfish with a boat and lights. There are a lot of different ways to go bowfishing, and there are lots of different setups you can use. You can walk the banks with a cheap bow you have sitting around, or you can buy an expensive airboat and a bow specifically designed for bowfishing. Regardless of how you do it or what you use, it’s a lot of fun for everyone, especially kids.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.