Bowfishing For Survival, by J.W.

Just as there are many ways of skinning a cat, there are different methods you can employ to catch the fish.

And yes, you guessed it right: Bowfishing is one such method. It allows you to hunt all species of fish imaginable without necessarily using the typical fishing rod, reel, and worm baits. Instead, you only require a good bowfishing bow.

As much as bowfishing may sound entirely new to most people, it dates back to centuries ago, when it was one of the most reliable techniques of gathering food. Now, fast forward. The technique has evolved into what I’d like to call “modern bowfishing”. And in the following guide, I’ll walk you through every aspect of today’s bowfishing for survival as narrated by an expert survivalist. Let’s dive right in.

Gathering the Necessary Bowfishing Gear

The first thing you need to do for bowfishing involves equipping yourself with the essential gear for the task ahead. What is this bowfishing gear? Let me give you a list:


No bowfishing is complete without a quality bowfishing bow. The good news is that you don’t have to equip your bow with accessories like a sight, rest, et cetera, since you’ll be aiming by checking a line of sight down the bow. This makes the process incredibly easy for you.

Crossbows are among the most heavily used bows in the bowfishing world.


Don’t think that you can use the same arrows you use for archery in bowfishing and get the expedient results. You’ll fail miserably. This is simply because you’ll be using the arrows in a completely different scenario. You’ll propel them through dense water and to the target.

Typical bowfishing arrows should have the following attributes:

  • They should be made from heavier materials, like fiberglass, since they won’t have to travel far.
  • Avoid fixing feathers (fletches) on them, as this might divert their direction as they cut through waters.
  • Look for barbed targets that can easily ensnare the target and keep it pinned to your arrow.
  • They should have some means of tying your line from the reel to them. This is usually a slide mechanism or may by accomplished by passing the line via a hole in the arrow shaft.


You’ll also need a bowfishing line. Look for a one made with nylon, Spectra, or Dacron. The commonly used lines range between 80 and 400 pound test. The ones used for hunting alligators test slightly higher, at 600 pounds.

And if you must use line color, be sure to pick from these colors only: lime green, neon orange, or white.


This is another important part of your project, which actually clamps to the bow itself. Unlike in conventional reels where the fishing line comes wound around a spool, I’d recommend you pile it around a bottle.

Why? It’s simple. Remember that your line travels with your arrow, so it tends to reel much faster than the conventional setting. Besides, spooled reels have a tendency of slowing your arrow and tangle on shooting.

Optional Gear

Optional gear that you might consider carrying include:

  • Rubber hip waders to keep you dry when wading into shallow waters.
  • Gloves for protecting your hands, especially when handling the fish line and reel.
  • Polarized sunglasses to reduce water glare and give you better vision.
  • A boat, depending on the waters you’re fishing in.


Because some states tend to regulate bowfishing, you might also need to look for a license, depending on your hunting location.


Now that you’re a fully-equipped bowfisher, let’s walk into the next step of this fantastic sport.

I keep telling you that bowfishing is one highly flexible sport. This becomes even more evident following the fact that you have an unlimited list of places you can hunt.

You can bowfish in fresh waters (ponds, rivers, lakes) as well as in salt waters (estuaries, bays, beaches, et cetera). Regardless of the waterbody, it’s important to ensure that you conduct your fishing in the clear, shallow areas measuring around 3-4 to four feet deep. This is based on the fact that the fish you’re likely to catch with a bow tend to swim in the shallow areas. Besides, the less water the arrow has to cut through, the more force with which it will strike your target.

TIP: If the fish are hiding deep in the waters, you can easily lure them to the surface using some bread bits, corn kernels, et cetera.

When To Hunt The Fish

Have I not told you enough times that this is a flexible sport? It really is. The fact that you can hunt down the fish during the daytime or at night couldn’t make this any truer.

At what time would you prefer fishing? For the preppers who love daytime fishing trips, then you should consider heading to the waters during the spawning time. Keep in mind that it’s daytime and you’ll need your pair of polarized sunglass to reduce the water glares, improve your vision, and catch more fish!

As for the nighttime bowfishing, feel free to do it anytime you please. But truth be told, your chances of success are likely to get higher in spring around the spawning period and fall when waters are clear. At night, you should consider some light at the bow of your boat…or have someone to shine light on the fish. Trust me; light at night attracts the fish like a charm!

Aiming for the Big Fish

As a sidebar, if you aim for the big fish, then there’s no better period to catch them than during the spring and summer. This is when they’re highly active, in the daytime and in the evening.

Targeting/Shooting/Capturing That Fish

So far so good! We’ve covered most of the bowfishing basics. At this point, let’s shift your focus to the task itself.


You already know where to get your targets (around shallow waters). Ideally, you should be positioned at around 10-15 feet (3-4.6 metres) from your target. Avoid casting your shadow over the fish, as this is sure to spook them.

You’d also want to approach your target upwind.

Now! When you identify your target, don’t waste a single second. Just aim and shoot!

Aiming in Water

But not so fast. There’s a trick to aiming your bow that you need to learn first. When light travels from one medium to the next, it bends/refracts. How does this affect shooting? Well, it gives you a vision of two fish—the real target and the apparent (refracted) fish. The fish you see on the water surface is the apparent one while the real fish is deeper in the waters.

Armed with this information, you should avoid aiming straight at the apparent fish. You’ll either miss or go high! The secret involves aiming low. It might seem like a hard task when you start out. But you’ll get better with time (actually faster).

Experts’ Rules- Accounting for Refraction

Let me share with you some rules used by the expert bowfishers to compensate for the refraction effect:

  • The 10-4 Rule: it states that if your target fish is 10 feet (3m) away and 1 foot (30cm) deep, then you should aim 4 inches (10cm) low. In case you double the 10 or the 1, double the 4 as well.
  • For every 1 foot depth, aim around 6 inches (15cm) low.
  • Look at your target and aim 10 inches (25cm) low.

Where to Hit Your Target

The experts recommend aiming for the front half of the fish. This section carries the brain and other vital organs, which when hit will kill the fish on the spot.

We all know how fast fish can swim in water. So, you shouldn’t waste time between aiming and shooting. The bigger fish, like alligator, may also require more than one arrow to take them down.

As soon as you’ve captured your target, haul the line. Thank me later.

What Can Your Bow Catch?

Depending on what waters you’re hunting in, you can capture a broad range of fish with bowfishing. If you’re hunting in freshwater bodies, you can capture: eels, carps, perch, suckers, gars, and catfish. And if you’re hunting in salt waters, you can catch: dogfish, stingrays, and even the shark! Some states also allow you to bowfish alligators.

Important NOTE: The type of fish you can hunt differs from one state to another, so it’s always important to check the local regulations in the area you wish to bowfish.

Keep Safe!

After all is said and done, your safety comes first. Always be fully aware of your surroundings and if there are other hunters in the area. Always be prepared for anything, good or bad.

Final Verdict

From our bowfishing survival guide above, we can confidently conclude that this is one of the most flexible and fun sports on the planet right now. You can blowfish anywhere– in shallow waters, deep waters, and with the help of a small boat. You can hunt anytime– during the day or night. Above all, you can pursue any fish you wish.

If you want to get started in bowfishing today, you’ll only need the essential gear, like the bow, arrows, line, and reels (plus our expert guide above). Trust me, bowfishing will put the food on the table for you and your family in any survival scenario you’re in! Just remember to shoot right and keep safe. Best of luck!


  1. Nylon is very elastic and could cause an arrow to rebound with potentially serious consequences.
    Dacron or one of the other low stretch lines are a better choice. spectra is also low stretch. EBay is good for used equipment.

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