When Life Give's You Lemons Take Up Bowfishing!

Recent flooding has left many outdoor folks with the "doldrums"!  We'd love to be fishing on the river or your favorite farm pond but getting your boat on the water isn't safe and the tractor trail to the pond is just patiently waiting to bury your truck to it's axles in mud!  So what do you do when life gives you lemons?  You go bowfishing!  


Bowfishing is somewhat of an enigma in outdoor pursuits.  Contrary to it's name you're not really fishing at all......it's more like a spot and stalk or ambush style hunt with a bow!  If you're looking for fast action, lots of shooting, and an adrenaline filled outing, then it's time to get rid of those "doldrums", get geared up and head out on the water!  


Like many of our outdoor pursuits, you can start small or go big!  Let's take a look at what kind of gear you'll need to get started, some do's and don'ts of bowfishing, and finish up with some local areas the Missouri Department of Conservation recommends.

Cajun Archery's Sucker Punch
Cajun Archery's Sucker Punch

Gearing Up


With bowfishing on the rise, companies like AMS, Cajun Bowfishing, and even PSE Archery are stepping up to handle the demand.  If you're looking to purchase a dedicated bowfishing bow, made strictly for that purpose, then look no further.  PSE offers both a recurve in their Kingfisher series and the Discovery and Mudd Dawg in compound versions.


I've personally been shooting a rig from Cajun Bowfishing called the Sucker Punch and have had great results with it.  One of the things that drew me to this bow was the versatility.  It has options with it's cams of being a constant draw for fast snap-shooting scenarios or add in an included draw length module and gain 60% let-off for times when you're holding longer.  Many of these dedicated bowfishing rigs can be purchased as just the bow or in ready to fish versions with reel, accessories, and arrow included.

For those wanting to use a bow they already have or find a cheap bow to set up and use, heed the following advice.  

  • Watch the poundage - a great deer hunting bow is often not the best bowfishing bow.  A good bowfishing rig should have a max draw of around 50lbs or less.  You're shooting at fish not a big game animal and often the shooting is fast and furious and snap shooting is a must.
  • Traditional/Recurve or Compound - choosing whether you'll shoot a traditional/recurve or a compound is up to you.  Traditional/recurve bows can be less expensive but are generally longer than compounds.  Compound bows offer mechanical efficiency and are much more compact.
  • Don't take your prized deer hunting bow out bowfishing.  This is a different environment than a treestand.  Your bow will get muddy, wet, and often times knocked around as you're clambering around a boat or walking/wading a river, creek, or drainage ditch. 
  • Leave your release at home - bowfishing is fast paced and more often than not you won't have the added time to clip a release to a string and draw.  Shooting with your fingers is much faster and more efficient.
Cajun Drum Reel
Cajun Drum Reel


One of the most important pieces of equipment for a bowfisher is the reel.  After all, you're shooting an arrow attached by a string that you've got to be able to retrieve.  In the bowfishing game, there are generally three styles of reels.  They vary by cost, ease of use, and mechanical advantages.


The first and probably the simplest is a "Drum" style reel.  This is going to be your least expensive option of the three.  A drum style reel is basically an open spool to hold line that attaches into your stabilizer hole in the bow riser.  When shooting at a fish, line just freely spools off the reel.  Unfortunately, after the shot you are forced to manually retrieve the line by hand.  These reels are fairly safe to use but require more time between shots because of the slower re-spooling process.    

Cajun Spin Doctor
Cajun Spin Doctor

The second style is the tried and true closed face “Spincast Reel” style. They mount onto a reel seat/rod which attaches into the stabilizer hole of your bow’s riser.  There are many great options in this style.  You have the tried and true Zebco 808 Bowfishing Reel and the Cajun Spin Doctor for examples.  One thing to keep in mind with this style reel is that most are just like your normal fishing reels, if you forget to press the spool release button and draw your bow and let an arrow fly, it can get a little interesting!  One way to combat dangerous incidents is to lower the drag on the reel until needed to fight a fish. 

AMS Retriever Pro
AMS Retriever Pro

The third (and my personal favorite) are the “Bottle Style” reels.  These attach to the side of the riser of your bow and provide the benefits of a Drum Style and Spincast Style reel.  In essence the line attached to your arrow is stored in a “bottle”.  The line is essentially always in a free spool mode until you activate the reel by pulling the activator toward the riser.  Once activated, you can quickly and easily reel in your fish or in case of a miss your arrow and quickly set up to fire again.  These are great for both beginners or advanced bowfisher’s.  The AMS Retriever is the king in this market, but Cajun offers a great option in their “Winch”.



AMS Tidal Wave and Wave Bowfishing Rests
AMS Tidal Wave and Wave Bowfishing Rests

Once you’ve got your bow and reel choice determined, you’ll only need a few more things.  You’ll want a quality arrow rest that’s made for bowfishing like the AMS Wave or Tidal Wave, the classic Whisker Biscuit, or the Cajun Brush Fire.  After that, all you’ll need is arrows equipped with your favorite style points to help retrieve those big ‘ole carp and gar you’ll be taking!  

AMS Chaos Bowfishing Tips
AMS Chaos Bowfishing Tips
Having a gaff handy in the boat helps when bowfishing.
Having a gaff handy in the boat helps when bowfishing.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Move often  and cover a lot of water!  You’ll find  more success than simply staying in one spot.
  • If you can’t move around too much the Missouri Department of Conservation recommends chumming the water with soured corn, canned corn, grain and molasses pellets, dog food, or cereal to encourage fish to come to you. 


  •  I prefer to bowfish from a boat at night using lights and a generator.  Around this area, you’ll want to use a “Warm White” colored light which will penetrate murky water better.  Brighter white lights tend to reflect off the stained and dirty water often found in our area. 
  • Fish can appear and disappear from anywhere in the water at any time they also can dive away just as quickly so be ready to draw and shoot fast.  The action is often quick paced and exciting!
  • If you’re stuck on the shore, try to close the distance as quietly and stealthily as possible. 
  • In Missouri, bowfishing is a legal method to pursue nongame fish, including bluegill, green sunfish, carp, carpsuckers, suckers, buffalo, drum, gar, and all other species not defined as game fish or listed as endangered in the Wildlife Code of Missouri.
  • In Kansas, nonsport fish can be legally taken by bowfishing wherever bowfishing is allowed. Blue catfish, channel catfish and flathead catfish may not be taken by bowfishing in rivers and streams but may be taken by bowfishing in other waters where no length limits for these species are in place.
  • In bowfishing, remember there is no “catch and release”  Once a fish is shot it’s considered “harvested” and must not be put back into the water.




Where to Bowfish

Bowfisherman are mainly targeting non-game fish and that’s a good thing!  Typical anglers don’t normally target these species and that means there’s an abundance of them.  Add invasive species like silver and bighead carp which often jump out of the water for aerial shots, and you’ve got a great recipe for an adrenalin filled outing!


For those looking to get started, there are some great oxbow lakes along the Missouri River that are just full of non-game species.  Locally, I like to hit spots like Browning Lake, Lake Contrary, Lewis and Clark, and Big Lake up north.  River oxbows aren’t you’re only hotspots though.  Recent flooding has opened up a whole wealth of opportunities with flooded fields, high drainage ditches, feeder creeks to the river, etc..  Just ensure you know your state’s regulations prior to heading out. 


The Missouri Department of Conservation has put together a list of waters that they recommend for bowfishermen.  Give one of these nearby spots a try.

Conservation areas

·         Cooley Lake CA (Clay Co.)

·         King Lake CA (Gentry, DeKalb Counties)

·         Little Compton Lake CA (Carroll Co.)

·         Pony Express Lake CA (DeKalb Co.)


Large lakes and reservoirs

·         Big Lake State Park (Holt Co.)

·         Lake Contrary (Buchanan Co.)

·         Mozingo Lake (Nodaway Co.)

·         Nodaway County Community Lake (Nodaway Co.)

James Winchester and Dustin Colquitt taking a break from football tagged along one night.  Winchester arrowed this silver in the air as it jumped from the water!
James Winchester and Dustin Colquitt taking a break from football tagged along one night. Winchester arrowed this silver in the air as it jumped from the water!

Wrapping it up…….

When you’re out bowfishing…..take every possible shot and be prepared to miss—a lot. That’s the beauty of bowfishing……like casting a rod and reel, you just bring your arrow back in and shoot again!  Like I said, you’re going to miss often so keep in mind that aiming is instinctual when bowfishing and takes practice.  Light refracts on the water and the one rule of thumb to always keep in mind is too aim low and follow through the shot.  If you’re fishing during the day, take along your polarized glasses and you’ll be amazed at how many more fish you’ll see in a day!


One final thought……don’t forget your bug spray and even a Thermacell at night.

If you don’t like flying insects you won’t like bowfishing at night!  Picture going onto a bottom land oxbow in the dark and then flipping on eight 100 watt flood lamps….it tends to attract them from the four corners of the earth so be prepared!


Bowfishing popularity is on the rise because it’s a fun, fast-paced sport with appeal for both hunters and anglers.  With frequent shooting opportunities and great camaraderie with friends and family it’s a great alternative to get outdoors especially considering the flood conditions that have plagued our region this year.  So what do you do when life gives you lemons?  Go Bowfishing.   

Brett Nelson in foreground with Dustin Colquitt and James Winchester in front of boat having some fun chasing carp and gar!
Brett Nelson in foreground with Dustin Colquitt and James Winchester in front of boat having some fun chasing carp and gar!
Even I get lucky and arrow a rough fish every so often!
Even I get lucky and arrow a rough fish every so often!

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