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Archery Bowfishing Carp: Marrying Conservation & Sport

Bowfishing Carp: Marrying Conservation & Sport

Looking for an action-packed shoulder-season activity like no other? Give carp a try!

A good day on the water bowfishing carp.
A good day on the water bowfishing carp.

Perched high on the deck of my 17-foot jon boat, I meticulously scanned the weeds for movement. Sunny conditions offered great visibility. Poling our way through the bulrushes, we stumbled on a back bay loaded with spawning carp. Every now and then one would emerge from the weeds, briefly passing through open water. Time it just right and a shot opportunity would present itself.

 Then it happened. Emerging from beneath the boat, a ‘gimme’ shot presented itself. Swimming slowly away from me, a carp appeared just below the surface. I drew, aimed six inches low to compensate for refraction, and released. The barbed tip penetrated deep into the fish and with a violent splash, my first fish of the day erupted from the water! An awesome battle ensued. Minutes later, with the carp played out, I hoisted it up onto the deck to collect my prize. 

Over the next two days, my partner and I shot a lot of fish. An invasive species in most North American waters, there is often no harvest limit. If you’ve ever considered bow fishing carp, here are some of the ins and outs.

Gearing Up

Bowfishing equipment and common carp on deck.
Bowfishing equipment and common carp on deck.

Bow fishing requires specialized equipment. Using something like the CenterPoint Typhon X1 is a great option.  A 28” axle-to-axle compound bow with an adjustable draw weight from 15-55 lbs, this bowfishing rig comes with a bottle reel. It has about 32 yards of 200 lb. test Dyneema fishing line and also comes with a 33” black fiberglass arrow tipped with a stainless steel broadhead with a quick-release carp tip. Really, this setup is about as good as it gets. 

Alternatively, you can adapt whatever bow you have, but you will need to strip it down and mount a retriever reel on it. If you’re using a compound bow, then a specialized v-style arrow rest is recommended. Depending on my trip, I often rotate between using a compound or a recurve bow.  

Beyond the bow itself, the retriever reel and line, the arrow, arrow tip, and safety slides are other important considerations. Arrows can make a difference. Be sure to choose one with a proper barbed tip, again something like the CenterPoint Typhon Bowfishing Arrows or the Pocket Shot Bowfishing Arrows.

Compensating for Refraction

The biggest challenge with bowfishing is determining your aiming point, primarily because you’re usually not aiming directly at the fish. Big or small, compensating for refraction, and the fact that fish are typically moving make your target dynamic. Most importantly, remember that when you look into the water, the fish is displaced from what you actually see.  

A good, but general, rule of thumb is that for every foot (12”) the fish is away from you, along with every foot (12”) in depth it is, you need to compensate by one inch (1”). So, if the fish is 10 feet (10’) away and swimming at a depth of two feet (24”), then you will need to aim approximately one foot (12”) below your target in order to connect. 

Species Identification

Always consult your state or provincial regulations to determine if bowfishing is allowed, where, when, what species can be taken, and relevant gear restrictions. For instance, common carp are an invasive species where I was bowfishing. For this reason, there’s no harvest limit. In direct contrast though, bigmouth buffalo fish were protected in that particular water, so it’s important to understand the regulations and know how to identify the species you’re targeting. For instance, aside from a couple of distinguishing features, buffalo fish can look and act similar to common carp. They often inhabit the same shallow weedy bays during their spring spawn in May and June, and from above the surface, they can appear similar. As far as distinguishing features are concerned, carp have a prominent bone at the front of their dorsal fin. They also have “whiskers” or barbels on either side of their mouth. With conducive light conditions, another helpful distinguishing feature is the wider body on the carp as well as the yellowish tinge to the underside, although in many situations you’re looking at mostly the top or back of the fish when you see it swim by.

Unparalleled Sporting Opportunity

Kevin wading and waiting for carp to swim by and present a shot opportunity.
Kevin wading and waiting for carp to swim by and present a shot opportunity.

Bow fishing involves sight fishing and there are two main ways to do it. One is walking and wading, and the second is fishing from a boat. As they swim, it’s common to see and hear the tall reeds moving as they pass through. For the walk and wade archer, this is a great opportunity to wait and anticipate a shot. If you are walking or stalking carp in the shallows, look for swirls in the water, moving bulrushes, and other signs of movement. With decent water clarity, you may get lucky and see them swimming in shallow pools. On occasion, you can even catch them sunning themselves with their dorsal fin exposed above the surface of the water. 

If you have a boat capable of maneuvering in shallow water, this can be ideal as it allows you to get high enough above the surface for a good view of the surrounding water. A flat bottom jon boat is perfect for this. I built a shooting platform on mine and it works well. 

Regardless of your preferred bowfishing method, carp offer an unparalleled sporting opportunity. They are a sizeable target, they move around a lot, and they can swim very fast. They put up a decent fight when you get one on the end of your arrow and line, and you’re doing your part for conservation. I’ve been an archer and a bow hunter for over 30 years now and I can say with great enthusiasm, that bowfishing for carp is a truly exhilarating experience. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s time you did!

author avatar
Kevin Wilson
Kevin is an award-winning outdoor writer for over 30 years, team member on Wild TV’s popular Bowzone Live show, and operates Alberta Hunting Adventures. He currently lives in Alberta, Canada where he shares a passion for the outdoors with his family. As a professional outfitter and guide, Kevin offers his perspective on what it takes to have a successful hunt and shares his outdoor adventures.

1 thought on “Bowfishing Carp: Marrying Conservation & Sport”

  1. In the Potomac River Delta, invasive Snakehead fish have become dominant.
    I understand that the best way to eradicate them is to go Bow Fishing early in the morning.
    Maybe you should go there and harvest some fish?


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