Should we fish the usual spot, or try somewhere else? Which lake should we try today? How’s the river looking for fish this time of year? These are all common questions bow fishermen ask themselves over the course of a fishing season.
While it’s great to have a “honey hole” that consistently produces fish, overfishing can spook the fish or cause your hot spot to dry up. The problem is, how do you find a bowfishing spot?
There’s always trial-and-error, but that can result in a bad night of fishing if you pick a dead spot with few fish. Word of mouth is only good if you trust the source, and just like their rod-and-reel counterparts, bow fishermen aren’t always keen on giving up their secret spots!
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to find a quality fishing spot without throwing a dart, so to speak.
What to Look for in a Bowfishing Spot
Find lakes or rivers that have shallow water
You can scout for fish just like you would scout for deer. Take a drive and look for lakes or rivers that have shallow water, vegetation, and other features that attract fish.
If you find a body of water that looks promising, take a walk along the shore (if you can) and look for rough fish cruising or basking in the shallows (a pair of polarized sunglasses will help you out greatly.)
If it’s a river you’re looking to fish, there may be an overpass or bridge nearby that you could use to do an aerial survey and look for fish in the water. In some cases, if the bridge is low enough and the law allows, you may even be able to fish from the bridge.
Use your state’s DNR data
Another tip for finding a body of water to bowfish is to use your state’s DNR data if it is publicly available. In many states, such as Minnesota, for example, the DNR does a fisheries survey every few years on select lakes and posts that information online.
Once you’ve found a suitable body of water for bowfishing on, you need to know how to locate fish in that body of water. Since bowfishing is a sight-reliant activity, you can’t rely on technology to find fish for you as rod-and-reel fishermen can.
How to Find Fish for Bowfishing
If you’re fishing in a best area and aren’t sure how to go about finding fish, keep these tips in mind…
You need to be able to see the fish to shoot them, so water clarity is important. Simply put, bowfishing in clear water makes it easier to see fish. It also makes it easier to identify them before taking a shot.
Stained or muddy water can make it tough to identify fish, and with that comes the risk of shooting an off-limit species. The ability to identify fish quickly comes with experience, which will make it easier to fish in less-than-ideal conditions.
If you’re just starting out, it might be a good idea to stick to fishing in clear, calm conditions when possible.
You need to be in shallow water so you can get an arrow into the fish when you shoot, so keep water depth in mind.
Water depth is also an important factor. While you can find carp, buffalo and other fish in deeper water, it doesn’t do much good if you can’t hit them hard enough for the arrow to penetrate.
Most bowfishing takes place in 5-6 feet of water or less, which makes shallow lakes and rivers ideal bowfishing locations.
Finding a food source will lead to seeing fish
With a little more water, this shallow tributary will become a prime feeding and spawning ground for carp and buffalo.
Just like searching for game fish, you can also target rough fish by finding a food source. In shallow lakes, as well as slow-moving rivers and backwaters, this means looking for some sort of soft vegetation to find fish, especially during spawning season.
Bigmouth buffalo, for example, lay adhesive eggs in highly vegetated waters that can protect their eggs until they hatch.
Common carp– which are omnivorous- feed primarily on the bottom of lakes and rivers but can be found in and around weed beds.
The appropriately-named grass carp feeds primarily on aquatic plants, and therefore prefer lakes and backwaters that have a high supply of freshwater vegetation.
Other rough fish, such as alligator gar in the southern United States, use vegetation as cover for spawning as well.
Best Bowfishing Weather Conditions
Does weather play a role in the activity of big fish? The short answer is, absolutely. For example, a sunny day can bring fish into the warm shallows to feed and sun themselves.
This is especially true in the spring and fall when otherwise-cool waters get warmed up by a strong sun making them attractive to rough fish.
On the other hand, a cold front can have the opposite effect and cause fish to be less active. Storms can produce both good and bad fishing conditions.
Obviously, wind can make for tough bowfishing because you can’t see the fish as well, but it can also help bring the fish into shallower waters as they follow food that gets stirred up and drifts to the downwind shore.
Fishing the downwind shore after the wind subsides can produce good results, but as the days after a consistent wind pass and food becomes scarce, fish will start moving to other areas to feed.
Don’t let a little wind scare you out of going bowfishing, though. Even on breezy days, you can usually still see the fish well enough to go fishing.
If you’re having trouble finding fish or you can’t see them well enough to shoot, try finding a protected area to fish. An upwind, tree-lined shore, a river with high bluffs on either side or a secluded backwater area will often be calmer than an open body of water, resulting in easier fishing.
Rain can also make for difficult bowfishing, but it can be helpful too. A heavy rain can improve fishing conditions after it passes as it’s not uncommon to see rough fish, especially carp, in newly-flooded areas after a strong rain.
Flooded areas give fish access to new food sources that aren’t typically available during normal water levels, and they are often quick to find these areas and begin feeding.
No matter what the weather is doing, the fish are going to be in the water. The best way to determine how weather affects fishing in your area is to fish in all kinds of weather and see what produces the best results.
If you are looking to find the best bowfishing spot, then you should look for one that has plenty of fish and knowing when to go there.