Art Lander’s Outdoors: Bow fishing is a great fun way to hone your archery skills

What is the ideal pre-season warm-up for archery stag season?

It can be a combination of target practice and fish shooting. Bow fishing is a good way to sharpen archery skills, while eliminating unwanted fish species in the process.

Bowfishing is legal year-round in Kentucky, but only raw fish species can be caught. There is no limit for most rough fish species, but alligator gar and lake sturgeon cannot be caught as restoration programs are underway for both species.

Most bow fishing is done at night, with archers shooting from elevated platforms on John boats, using generators and halogen lights to illuminate fish hanging just below the surface (Photo provided)

Catfish have a daily creel limit of five and paddlefish have a daily creel limit of two.

The species most frequently caught by bow anglers are: catfish, common carp, grass carp, freshwater drum, longnose gar, buffalo and suckers. In Mississippi, Ohio, the Green and Kentucky rivers, as well as Barkley and Kentucky lakes, the number one target species is Asian carp.

Silver carp and bighead carp, non-native species, have established themselves in rivers and lakes across the Midwest and pose a threat to native fish species. They feed on plankton but grow to enormous size.

It is not uncommon for bow anglers in Kentucky waters to catch 15-20 pound silver carp and 40-50 pound bighead carp.

Files and regulations

Every year, archers shoot big fish in Kentucky waters. What’s amazing is that Kentucky’s bow fishing records sometimes exceed state angling records. Take a look at the 28 Kentucky State Bowfishing Records at this link.

The bow fisherman can shoot fish within 200 yards of a dam, but not from a boat in waters where boats are restricted. Certain waters in Kentucky are closed to bow fishing. For complete bow fishing regulations, visit this website. Scroll down to the section on fishing methods.

To shoot fish, archers must have a fishing license.

Ideal water conditions

Most bow fishing is done at night, with archers shooting from elevated platforms on John boats, using generators and halogen lights to illuminate fish hanging just below the surface.

Species most frequently caught by bow anglers include: catfish, common carp, grass carp, freshwater drum, longnose gar, buffalo and suckers (Photo provided)

Species most frequently caught by bow anglers include: catfish, common carp, grass carp, freshwater drum, longnose gar, buffalo and suckers (Photo provided)

But archers can also find plenty of action during daylight hours, wading through small streams, walking along the shores of a small lake or wetland, or shooting from a boat under dams or in areas eddies of great rivers.

Bowfishing is at its best in the spring and summer when rough fish are spawning and usually in shallower water, or actively feeding after spawning, in warm, fertile water.

The rising waters create good opportunities as the fish move up towards the banks.

As spring progresses into summer, carp and other groundfish move to deeper waters on the grassy flats of rivers and lakes.

It’s best to check the water levels and go when the water conditions are ideal. Clear, stable water conditions are always best. A falling water level attracts fish from the banks to deeper water, where they are harder to see. Dirty water conditions, caused by heavy rain, can make it harder to see fish and judge their depth.

Equipment

Just about any type of bow can be used for bow fishing as long as a reel can be mounted on the bow’s riser.

Bow fishing reels are very strong, with good drag and wound in heavy braided line which is attached to the arrow through a hole near the arrow nock. A “stuck” fish is brought up, but with a large fish it can take several minutes.

Recurve bows are a good option because they are lightweight and it doesn’t take much weight to spear a fish with a fishing arrow. Fiberglass bow fishing arrows are heavy, so they carry their energy and penetrate well.

Recurve bows are easy to shoot accurately without a sight, using an instinctive style where the bow is angled at an angle of approximately 45 degrees when drawn backwards. The archer keeps both eyes open and just looks at the arrow.

If you are bow fishing with a compound bow, the draw weight should not exceed 40 pounds or you will be pulling through soft, meaty fish. Additionally, there is a risk of damaging the arrow or getting it lodged in a root or log where it cannot be retrieved.

A compound bow popular with archery anglers is the Mathew Genesis, the same bow used in the national school archery program. It has a low draw weight and variable draw length.

Bowfishing arrows usually have “barbed” tips that prevent fish from slipping. The barbs pivot, so the arrow can be easily pulled out, shot through the entry hole in the fish.

An industry leader in bow fishing supplies is Muzzy Outdoors LLC, 1230 Poplar Avenue, Superior, Wisconsin 54880. Customer service by phone at (770) 387-9300, extension #1.

The Muzzy Xtreme Duty Spincast Style Bowfishing Kit ($129.95) has everything you need to get your bow ready for bowfishing. Kit includes spincast reel, arrow rest, 100ft 200lb test line, heavy duty reel seat and arrow with carp tip. Visit their website at: http://www.muzzy.com/bow-fishing/

Shooting tips

A good rule of thumb is to “aim for their eyeballs.” A belly shot usually results in the arrow being withdrawn before the fish is landed.

Sticking a fish to an unknown depth below the surface is a bit tricky for beginners. Due to light refraction, you have to aim below the fish, which appears to be closer to the surface than it actually is. The deeper the fish, the lower you should aim.

Bow fishing is growing in popularity among avid archers as it is a good summer practice in preparation for archery season.

Bow fishing can be practiced with family or friends. You don’t have to be silent or sit still. And it’s fun to be out there on the water together.

Go catch a fish!

1Art-Lander-Jr.

Art Lander Jr. is an outside writer for NKyTribune and KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University, and a hunter, fisherman, gardener, and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine reporter, and author and is a former editor of Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-editor of the Kentucky Newspaper Column. Afield Outdoors.

Earnest A. Martinez