Bowfishing offers a heart-pounding, adrenaline-fueled rush, turning fishing into something more akin to hunting.
And as any aficionado of this rapidly growing sport will tell you, if you haven’t tried it, you really should!
It’s easy to get started and tons of fun once you do - but you’ll need to invest in a good bow and a few accessories before you do. We’d like to help you get started, and below, you’ll find reviews of some of the best bows on the market, as well as a few things to consider before you pull the trigger.
Quick glance at the best bowfishing bows:
Table of Contents (clickable)
Weight: 3.25 lbs.
Handed: Right- and left-handed models are available
Axle-to-axle length: 34.75"
Draw weight: 24 - 50 lbs.
Draw length: 32” maximum, no minimum specified
AMS makes high-end bows, and the Hooligan is certainly no exception. And while it’s a good bit more expensive than many of the other options on our list, it offers uncompromising quality in both the bow and the accessories it wears.
Available in both right- and left-handed models, lefties don’t need to be left out of the action. Draw weights on the Hooligan are adjustable from 24 to 50 pounds, offering a wide range of options for those just getting started, for practice, and for fishing for massive carp.
A proprietary cam system creates a no let-off force curve that effectively reduces draw weight as you near full draw.
And on that front, AMS specifies a maximum draw length of 32 inches, with no minimum mentioned. Obviously, this bow has a minimum setting, but it’s apparently very, very short, making this another good choice for smaller, shorter archers.
That adjustability means that this bow is very customizable, and if you’re hard to fit or need something very specific, this is a fantastic option.
Accessory quality is top-notch, and unlike some of the other products we’ve reviewed, you’ll be set with the gear that arrives on your bow. From an awesome AMS Retriever bottle reel to a Tidal Wave arrow rest, you’ll be really happy with the money you spend on this bow.
Axle-to-axle length: 56” tip to tip
Draw weight: 45 lbs
Draw length: 45”
A solid recurve bow is an often-overlooked option for bowfishing, and the Fish Stick Take-Down ably demonstrates why that shouldn’t be the case.
Recurves are necessarily longer than cam-driven or lever-action compound bows - you can blame the physics necessary to send your arrow screaming to its target. But a good take down makes transport and storage a snap, if you ever need the room.
And compared to the complexity of compound bows, the simplicity of a recurve is more than just refreshing - it improves your form by forcing you to draw, aim, and fire in one smooth motion.
The Fish Stick offers a reasonable 45-pound draw weight, well within the capacity of most archery anglers, and a 45-inch draw length, accommodating most men and taller women. As you’d expect with a recurve, neither is adjustable.
Sold as a kit with an easy-to-use drum reel, a roller rest, an arrow with Piranha point, and Blister Buster finger pads, it’ll have you on the water in no time.
If you’re familiar with bows, assembly is no trouble whatsoever; otherwise, a trip to your local archery store is a better bet.
I like this bow a lot and enjoy recurves in general. But I would recommend purchasing a higher-quality string to get started.
For anglers looking for a good recurve that won’t break the bank, the Fish Stick Take-Down is an admirable choice.
Weight: 3.8 lbs.
Axle-to-axle length: 30"
Draw weight: 25 - 55 lbs.
Draw length: 24.5" - 31"
Muzzy is a legendary name in bow hunting, and it comes as no surprise that there’s a lot to like about their bowfishing setup, too.
The Vice is an excellent choice for right-handed archers, offering extremely adjustable draw weights and lengths. This makes this bow among the most customizable options on the market, and whether you’re a young person with modest strength or a seasoned archer who can pull like mad, you’ll be favorably impressed.
As you’d expect from a cam-driven compound, let-off is in the neighborhood of 75%, giving you plenty of respite from the full draw weight to aim.
The exact FPS the Vice can deliver depends on the arrow weight and design as well as the draw settings, but there’s no question that it can deliver kill shots through three or four feet of water when targeting fish like carp and cats.
The Vice is offered as a more or less ready-to-go kit, including an XD Pro Push-Button Reel, an integrated reel seat, a Muzzy Fish Hook rest, a Classic White Fish Arrow with a carp point and nock, and glove-free finger guards pre-installed on the string.
The XD Pro works well for many, but an upgrade to a superior model would be a well-appreciated improvement in function for serious archer-anglers.
As with all bows, we strongly recommend that you have yours checked over by a pro before your first foray onto the water. After you do, you’ll find that the slick-shooting, hard-hitting Vice is a great buy.
Customer service has proven spotty, so if you do have a problem and it’s one you can fix or have fixed locally, that’s the better option.
Axle-to-axle length: 31.5”
Draw weight: 50 lbs.
Draw length: 15” - 29”
Cajun has taken the bowfishing world by storm, and the Shore Runner is a good example of why. This popular bow is a very good choice for right-handed archers who don’t need to reduce their draw weight below 50 pounds.
The Shore Runner’s cam-driven power is pre-set, offering no adjustment. For many archers, that’s no big deal as the let-off weight will be in the neighborhood of 25 pounds, making a few-second hold a snap for all but novices.
It does offer variable draw lengths, ranging from just 15 inches to as much as 29 inches. For archers with short arms and short arrows, this is a real godsend, and if you’re one of them, give this bow a careful look.
Sold as a kit to get you fishing quickly, the Shore Runner comes with a Brush Fire Arrow Rest, a Winch Pro Bottle Bowfishing Reel, Blister Buster Finger Pads, and a red fiberglass Piranha Arrow.
Of course, these components are sourced at a given price point, and you shouldn’t expect overall performance to rival a bow that costs three times as much. But with that in mind, everything from the rest to the finger pads works well and functions as it should.
Overall, the Shore Runner is a very good option for right-handed archers with short draw lengths, and its performance is impressive for the cost.
Available at: Bass Pro
Weight: 2.3 lbs.
Axle-to-axle length: 28 ¼”
Draw weight: 31 - 45 lbs.
Draw length: 26.625" - 28"
Barnett’s Vortex H20 is a compact compound bow that packs a lot of performance into a budget price.
Just a tad over 28 inches from axle to axle, this small bow offers adjustable draw weights running from 31 to 45 pounds. For experienced archers, that might be a touch on the slow side, but for those newer to the sport, that’s a reasonable starting point to begin fishing.
The Vortex’s draw length is adjustable, but only by about an inch and a half. That allows some fine-tuning, but if you need more or less draw than that, or need to borrow a buddy’s arrows, you may find yourself in a bind.
If you’re unfamiliar with your ideal draw length, I recommend a quick visit to a pro to find this important number out. With that in mind, you can decide if the budget-priced Vortex is (literally) a good fit for you.
At this price point, Barnett has to cut some corners, and the included rest is singled out as sub-par. Experienced archers recommend getting a better rest, picking up a solid reel, and generally outfitting the bow with a hundred dollars or more of added accessories.
That may still keep you under its competitor’s price tags, but be aware that it’s not entirely the bargain it seems at first glance.
That said, performance is excellent, with accessories that perform.
Weight: 3.4 lbs.
Handed: Right- and left-handed models are available
Axle-to-axle length: overall length varies
Draw weight: 20 - 50 lbs.
Draw length: 27.5” - 29″ (medium)
The Osprey is a bow that serious archers will be familiar with, and its advanced technology, high build quality, and performance come at a premium. Easily the most expensive bow on our list, it’s an excellent choice for those willing to buy the best.
This bow employs cams, though they’re set below a longer length of “lever” on each tip of the bow. This provides a recurve-like feel on the draw, with a customizable let-off for steady aiming. In practice, you get the excellent feel you want for snap shooting and the reduced draw weight for aiming - the best of both worlds!
The downside to this system is that overall length tends to run nearer to a recurve than a traditional compound bow, so keep that in mind if space is tight.
Draw weight is adjustable from 20 to 50 pounds, giving you great options whether you’re new to archery or a seasoned pro.
Available in three sizes: short, medium, and long - the Osprey’s draw length can be adjusted by included modules. Within each size, however, adjustments are relatively small. The end result is a bow that just might be the most customizable off-the-shelf option out there.
But keep in mind that this performance-forward bow comes with no accessories and that to equip yourself for a night’s fishing, you’ll need to add at least a few hundred dollars of gear.
Overall, this is a very sweet-shooting bow. Does it edge out the Hooligan as the best all-around choice?
We don’t think so.
When you combine the price to outfit this bow for fishing, its greater overall length, and the need for a specific bow press to work on it, we just don’t think that the slight performance gain over the Hooligan allows it to come out on top.
Right off the top, let’s state the obvious: compound bows are easier to shoot well than recurves.
Repeatability and consistency are the heart and soul of archery, and compound bows offer clear advantages on both fronts. The cams that allow for significant let-off at full draw also create a hard and fast stop, meaning that full draw is always the same, shot after shot after shot.
This means that the power imparted to the arrow is virtually identical every time, enhancing accuracy.
Add to that the action of the cams to create let off and the ability to use a trigger, and you’ve got a recipe for incredible performance.
By contrast, a recurve bow requires more practice and skill. The archer must draw to the same pull length each and every shot, and from tiny movements of their fingers to breathe control, any variation can cause a bad shot.
But the recurve does have one advantage: natural feel for snap shooting.
Because there are no cams or let off, the draw rate is a constant load, and that’s ideal for a quick draw and release.
But now there are compound bows that provide this same feel.
What does this mean for you?
For most archer-anglers, most of the time, a compound bow is a better choice.
Draw weight is a simple measure of how much force is required to pull the string to full draw.
All other things being equal, the higher the draw weight, the more force is imparted to the arrow and the greater its speed and energy.
A reasonable minimum for fishing is in the neighborhood of 40 pounds.
You need enough energy to drive a heavy fishing arrow through the water and deep into a fish, and anything less than that might not get the job done.
Adjustable draw weights allow you to set your bow lower as you get accustomed to it or learn to shoot, setting it to higher weights when you fish.
Draw length is complicated.
As the good folks at Hunter’s Friend explain, “Compound bows are a little different from traditional recurves and longbows. Unlike traditional bows, which can be drawn back practically any distance, compound bows are engineered to draw back only so far - and then stop. This distance is known as the bow's ‘draw length’ - and it's controlled by the mechanical systems on the bow.”
To get the most from your bow, you need to get one that fits you, and for that, you need to know your personal draw length.
As a rough calculation, stand with your back to a wall . Stretch out both arms with your hands extended. Measure the distance from the end of your middle finger to the end of your other middle finger.
Now divide by 2.5.
That’s your personal draw length.
It’s critically important that you select a bow that matches this number.
Drum reels are simple and reliable. Often called handwrap reels, they’re nothing more than a spool for holding line.
A drum reel is simple and reliable.
After you shoot, you manually “handwrap” your line back onto your reel. There are no moving parts - other than you!
This makes retrieving line a slow process, but it does ensure function. With no parts to break, you can be sure that your fishing won’t be spoiled by a reel failure.
Basically a Zebco reel mounted to the riser of your bow, spincasting reels house your line between shots and allow quick retrieval with a standard crank.
Spincasting reels are popular for their retrieval rate.
Bowfishing specific models sometimes come with a trigger that leaves the spool ready to shoot without tension, and depressing the trigger then engages the bail, creating drag and allowing line to be retrieved.
Otherwise, you’ll need to remember to depress the button prior to your shot.
What’s great about a spincasting reel is that they make fighting fish much easier - thanks to a crank and drag - and when you inevitably miss a shot, they get you back in the action much faster than a drum reel.
The downside, of course, is that plenty of moving parts can mean problems.
Retriever or “bottle” reels spool line into a closed container, and on your shot, they offer as little resistance as physics will allow. There’s no button or mechanism to worry about activating or deactivating before your shot, and you simply crank to retrieve line.
Most pros use a retriever or “bottle” reel.
Available drag settings tend to be modest, so keep that in mind if you nail a big fish.
Faster than a drum reel by a huge margin, these are the most popular designs for bowfishing.
The only downside is the possibility of a failure, but quality models from AMS are trusted by pros.
Whichever bow you choose, you’ll want to invest in a few good fishing arrows (even if your bow comes with an arrow from the manufacturer).
The reasons are simple.
First, the included arrows aren’t typically top-of-the-line options, and you’ll want a good arrow to maximize performance.
Second, you’ll inevitably either have an arrow failure - the nock breaking or falling off, damage to the fletching, etc. - or lose an arrow on a missed shot. Having a spare or two is always a good idea.
Fishing arrows sport barbs and attachment points for line.
If you’re new to the sport, you might not realize that fishing arrows are a world apart from practice arrows or typical spring-loaded hunting broadheads.
You must use fishing-specific arrows!
AMS makes an excellent option that punches deep and holds like it’s been glued in place.
Similarly, don’t think you can just spool on some of your 20-pound Stren and go bowfishing.
Good bowfishing line will have incredible test strength.
You won’t need hundreds of yards of line, but you will need hundreds of pounds of test. Quality bowfishing line is braided Spectra or Dyneema, and in this case, it should be rated to 450 pounds.
The AMS Hooligan is up against some tough competition from the Oneida Osprey, and a case can be made that the latter is the better bow.
But the Hooligan is nearly perfect and less expensive than the Osprey, effectively offering virtually identical performance at a lower price point.
The Hooligan is light enough to shoot all night and available in right- and left-handed models. It offers a wide range of draw lengths and weights, packing more than enough punch for big fish. Adjustable to a variety of archers, from young anglers to tall, big men, you’ll almost certainly find the right combination of draw length and weight for you.
Performance is excellent, in no small part due to a continuous force curve that replicated the feel of a recurve for snap shooting.
All in all, we think this is the best bowfishing bow out there.