Bowfishing Basics: Fish Shooting is an Enjoyable Off-Season Practice for Hunters | Community

Archers hunting deer, elk, and wild turkey should consider shooting fish out of season.

It’s an enjoyable practice that will help keep your archery skills sharp.

Bow fishing is most popular in late spring and summer after water conditions have stabilized and surface temperatures are above 70 degrees.

The ideal conditions are clear and stable water levels. A sharply falling water level attracts fish from the banks to deeper water, where they are harder to see. Colored water conditions can also make it harder to see fish and judge their depth.

Most bow fishing is done at night, on rivers or large reservoirs. Archers fire from boats, using lights to illuminate fish hanging just below the surface.

In the spring, when rough fish spawn and usually in shallow water, bow anglers can often shoot fish during the day while walking on the shores of lakes or rivers. A slight rise in water can create good opportunities as the fish move up towards the banks.

Bow fishing rules

Here is a summary of bow fishing regulations, as per 301 KAR 1:410:

• Raw fish (except alligator gar and lake sturgeon) can be fished year round with longbow, crossbow, compound bow, recurve bow or air launcher of air arrows.

• Sport fish cannot be caught.

• Arrows must have a barbed or retractable point to which a line is attached for recovery.

• Catfish have a daily creel limit of 5 (total) and paddlefish have a daily creel limit of 2. There is no limit for other rough fish.

• The bow fisherman can fish less than 200 meters from a dam, except from a boat in restricted access areas. Bow fishing is prohibited on the Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam below the Tennessee line, including Hatchery Creek and all tributaries within 1⁄2 mile upstream of their confluence with the Cumberland River.

• Persons using a bow and arrow to fish must have the appropriate fishing license and may take raw fish from the shore or from the boat.

• Bowfishers may not sell paddlefish or their eggs caught with bows and arrows.

• Paddlefish and catfish caught with bow and arrow must be taken into immediate possession and cannot be killed.

• Fish caught at the bow must not be thrown on the bank. Disposal of the bank is trash and is subject to a fine.

For all fishing regulations, read the Kentucky Fishing and Boating Guide online at

Target species

The species most frequently caught by bowfishers are: catfish, gar, common carp, grass carp, buffalo and suckers.

In Mississippi, Ohio, Lower Cumberland, Lower Tennessee, and the lower ends of the Salt, Green, Kentucky, and Licking rivers, as well as Barkley and Kentucky lakes, the number one target species is exotic carp.

Silver carp and bighead carp, native to Asia, 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.

The skin of Asian carp is soft, so it is important to get a solid hit in the front half of the fish. 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 need to aim under the fish.

Bow fishing records

On larger rivers, it is not uncommon for Kentucky bow anglers to shoot 15-20 pound silver carp and 40-50 pound bighead carp. The Kentucky record bighead carp weighed 82 1/2 pounds and was 5 feet two inches long.

Each state’s bow fishing records are posted on the website of the Bow Fishing Association of America, which was founded in 1989.

For current Kentucky bowfishing records, visit

Legendary archer Fred Bear is considered the father of modern bow fishing in America. He was one of the first to design bow fishing gear in 1958.

bow fishing equipment

According to the regulations, longbows, crossbows, compound bows, recurve bows or pneumatic air arrow launching devices are legal, but most archers prefer recurve or compound bows. These bows are the most popular because it is easy to mount a reel and they are available in a wide range of draw weights.

Draw weight is a major consideration because it doesn’t take a lot of weight to spear a fish with a fishing arrow. No more than 40 pounds of draw weight is needed to pull fish. Fiberglass bow fishing arrows are heavy, so they carry their energy and penetrate well.

One of the best compound bows for the bow hunter and bow fisherman is the Mission Switch 2019, made by Mathews Archery.

This versatile and highly adjustable bow is ideal for the young archer who is still growing, the old timer who wants to hunt deer but can no longer handle heavy weights and the two season archer who wants to shoot fish during the summer months.

A completely redesigned cam system allows for maximum performance across the full range of draw length and draw weight settings.

The draw length is adjustable in half-inch increments from 18 to 30 inches, and the draw weight adjustment ranges from 10 to 70 pounds.

Archers can choose from a wide range of draw weights depending on their draw length, making the bow ideal for bow fishing.

When shooting fish at depths of 1 to 6 feet deep, a weight of about 30 pounds provides enough kinetic energy for all but the largest fish.

With the bow set for a draw length of 28 inches, which is typical for an average sized adult, the draw weight setting ranges from 29 to 70 pounds, which means deer and fish can be shot with the same arc.

Other specs for the Mission Switch include: an axle-to-axle length of 31 inches, a weight of 3.84 pounds, and up to 80% string slack adjustment.

Mission’s all-new bow has an ergonomic riser, paired with a slim grip design and a 6 7/8 inch brace height.

Available finishes include: Realtree Original and Black.

This high-tech wonder is worth just $399.

For more information on the Mission Switch and to find a local retailer, visit

Perhaps the best reason to go bowfishing is to eliminate rough fish species, especially Asian carp, which benefits bass, crappie, and other fish populations.

There are plenty of bow fishing opportunities in Kentucky, and now is a great time to have fun, when the water conditions are right.

Art Lander Jr. is outside editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University, and a hunter, fisherman, gardener, and nature enthusiast.

Earnest A. Martinez