There are many advantages to fishing with a bow and arrow. Except for a small splash as the arrow goes into the water, bowfishing is virtually silent. Practice target shooting costs next to nothing (unless you lose your arrows). Bowfishing can be done on the shore or in a boat, canoe, or while wading. While hunting "game" fish with a bow and arrow is either illegal or with a very short season bowfishing "rough" fish is mostly legal in all states. Check with your local Fish and Game authorities before venturing into shooting 'rough" fish.
"Rough" fish are usually considered to be carp, gar, or other types of fish unique to your home state.
Like every sport, each type has its own fan club. Just like weapons, what is good for me may not be what you like at all. Try them out before committing yourself to purchasing anything.
For average rough fish you won't need a lot of draw weight. Thirty to forty pounds is more than enough. Larger game such as alligator gar and certain saltwater species like rays and shark require heavier poundage and at times, specialized equipment. Let's just assume you'll be hunting carp-sized fish. (That's a fish in the 1-5 pound range.)
Once you have selected your bow, the next thing to consider is your arrow rest. Since fishing arrows are generally quite heavy - in excess of 1,100 grains - they may require a more solid rest than what you currently use. A specialized arrow rest usually costs around ten dollars, and considering most standard arrow rests for compound bows cost a few times that amount, it's not a bad idea to get one and avoid unnecessary wear and tear on your "expensive" equipment.
For many years, standard bowfishing arrow shafts had been made from solid fiberglass. While a number of manufacturers currently offer heavy carbon composite bowfishing arrows for nearly thirty dollars each (this includes the point), I still prefer the solid fiberglass arrows. These are available for around nine dollars each and will take a lot of abuse. Remember, if you take care of them, you can reuse them over and over again.
You will also need a reel to hold and dispense your line. These can be anything from large hoops or solid reel you manually wrap line around to standard spinning reels or specialized products. Hoops and solid reels are the slowest to use since they require you to retrieve and wrap your line by hand, but for less than twenty dollars they are your least expensive choice. Large spinning reels and mounts will set you back around sixty dollars. I prefer the AMS Retriever Pro Bow fishing reel.
Next on your list of equipment considerations are arrow points, which are designed to penetrate and hold your quarry. There are several quality models available these days, but I personally prefer ones with retractable barbs. Once a fish is landed, a few turns of the tip will release the barbs and allow for easy arrow removal, getting you back in the hunt quickly.
Since glare on the water's surface can severely limit visibility, you will need a pair of polarized sunglasses. Standard sunglasses won't eliminate light reflecting on the water. They must be polarized glasses. You should be able to find an inexpensive pair wherever fishing gear is sold. However, a good pair can run into the hundreds of dollars, and in my opinion, they are worth the money and you can use them for everything, including driving and hunting.
Shooting an arrow that's tied to your bow is a somewhat risky business. If all goes well, your line discharges freely without incident. However, should your line snag during the shot, it could cause the arrow to reverse directions, coming back at you. This is known as "snap back" and is most often a result of line becoming entangled on something rearward of your bow grip - bowstring or cables, arrow rest, wristwatch, etc. The simplest way to avoid this is by keeping the line in front of your bow at all times. If you tie to the back of your arrow, the line forms a loop when the arrow is shot; it's this loop that can snap and cause the arrow to come back toward you. Since tying to the front of the arrow can cause severe flight problems, you have to look for other options. The two most common solutions are cabling rigs and the AMS Safety Slide. Both serve the same purpose - to keep the line in front of the bow prior to the shot, but allowing it to slide to the back of the arrow upon release.
A cabling rig is basically a fishing leader - most often made of steel - with attachments at the opposite ends of the arrow. Sliding up and down this cable are two plastic beads with a barrel swivel between them. The retractable fishing line is tied to the swivel, allowing it to freely travel from the front to the back of the arrow.
The AMS Safety Slide is made up of two small plastic pieces: a sleeve that slides up and down your arrow, and a stop block that's attached to the rear of the shaft by a small screw. The retractable fishing line is attached to the sleeve, which serves the same function as the barrel swivel of a cabling rig. Adding a dab of 2-ton epoxy to the set screw and stop block will prevent this (potentially) weak spot from coming loose after a couple hundred shots. The invention of the AMS Safety Slide was a huge bonus to the bowhunter and the safety of the experience. I would not hunt myself nor recommend bowfishing without one.
Bowfishing often involves close-range moving targets that may only appear for a second or two. For this reason, I decide to use my fingers rather than use mechanical releases and bow sights. Whatever system you pick to use, hitting a fish below the water's surface still presents a unique problem that you have to overcome: REFRACTION
Without getting into a lengthy physics lesson, suffice to say that light slows down as it enters water. This causes the light to bend, or "refract." The easiest way to demonstrate light refraction is by submerging one end of a drinking straw into a glass of water. As you look into the top of the glass, the straw will appear to bend upward toward the waters surface. Just like the bottom of the straw, the fish will appear closer to the surface than they really are.
If a fish is ten feet away and one foot under the surface, aim four inches low. As you double either the ten or the one, double the four accordingly. For example: twenty feet out and one foot down means to shoot eight inches low (as would ten feet out and two feet down). Trying to think out the math when bowfishing is simply sightseeing, by the time you figure it out your target is gone. The best advice here is practice, practice, practice. This may seem complicated at first, but you'll be surprised how quickly it becomes second nature.
Most individuals I know use heavy-duty braided line, with a breaking strength of (from) 80 pounds up to a whopping 600 pounds. It depends on what type fish you are fishing for. Your local dealer can clue you in on what other fishermen in the area are using. However, for the survivalist who may end up anywhere bowfishing for anything that swims, I would recommend the 200# line as a good all-around multi-purpose line that won't break unless you get one of those monster gar shown earlier.
Braided line tends NOT to tangle as much as heavy monofilament line. It is "softer" on your hands than monofilament when you have to pull in a heavy line by hand.
Unless you are a commercial fisherman or a bricklayer with heavily calloused hands, you will need to protect your hands from getting cut from the heavy fishing line as you reel in by hand. You might get away with reeling in one or two small fish without cutting your hands, but when your hands get wet all bets are off. Even a small fish seems to triple in weight as you reel in the line, arrow and fish all at once. This makes the skin on your (wet) hand feel like you are holding onto razor blades. The result can be very painful. Wear good quality leather gloves. Don't use the type that just covers the palm since there will be times when the line wraps completely around your hand. The top of your hand cuts even easier than your calloused palms. It may seem awkward at first, but protecting your hands from getting cut is a major concern in a survival situation where medical help could be a long way off. I prefer a batting glove, I can find one that fits my hand and the bow and arrow easier, plus it is easier to maneuver and is more flexible.
I don't practice as much with my bow as I should. There are not a lot of places to practice archery around my area, so I have to use farmland, with the owner's permission, of course, and remember, don't use those expensive hunting and/or fishing arrowheads for practice. Buy some cheaper practice arrows and have at it. The initial cash outlay for 6 arrows will be the same approximate cost as a few boxes of ..45 caliber bullets. However, once the .45 shells are gone, you are out of ammo. You can just walk up and re-use your arrows. Partial fill a water bottle with dark liquid, it will float slightly under the surface, and practice shooting at it. Remember to bring extras to restock as you hit the target, and remember to take them all with you when you go home to reuse or throw in the garbage.
Like any skill, you have to practice to become proficient. If you have never used a bow and arrow before, I strongly urge you to find an accomplished hunter and ask him or her to help you get started. Most archers I know would be flattered and pleased to help any novice get started in their sport. When bowfishing you will draw your bow possibly hundreds of times in a night; one of my colleagues pulled his bow 1400 times in one night when learning to shoot. So needless to say, you will have to beef up those muscles when pulling 40 pounds of draw weight or so a hundred or more times in a 6 to 8 hour period.
The difference between "sport" archery and hunting is the death of an animal for dinner. Survival archery may save your life. It's important to remember that the bow and arrow is a deadly weapon. Nations such as Great Britain used the bow as their primary defensive weapon for their armies for hundreds of years. It can kill humans as well as lower animals; so pay attention to what you aim at. The Native Americans used the bow and arrow successfully to feed their families for hundreds of years. Modern humans can still survive today using this weapon. Although the sport of Bowfishing is most associated with the nuisance or rough fish, to help eliminate a man made problem in our lakes and streams, it has been used for survival long into history and is used to put food (catfish and shark to name a few) on the table today. Aside from that, bowfishing is probably the most fun experience I have ever had as a hunter. It is fast paced, and with practice, produces an abundance of game. Happy Hunting!