Florida Bowfishing Tips and equipment

Florida Bowfishing Tips

This article shares some great Florida bowfishing tips and techniques. Bowfishing has gained in popularity throughout both freshwater and saltwater.

Bowfishing in Florida combines both fishing and hunting. Fish are quietly stalked, usually in shallow water. After the quarry is spotted, the “angler/hunter” takes aim and shoots at the fish. Special bows are used that are equipped with reels. Once shot, the fish is then reeled in. The combination of stalking, shooting, and reeling along with the constant action attract many to this sport. Only “non game fish” can be shot, so those bowfishing need to be able to identify the fish species that they pursue as well as the size limits.

Bowfishing is a growing sport

Bowfishing is a rapidly growing sport, especially among younger people including many women and children. There are several reasons for this. The investment in decent gear is modest, it can be done anywhere, and it is child-friendly; there is no need for the youngster to sit still or be quiet.

One element that most novice bowfishers enjoy is the constant action; there is always something going on versus traditional hunting where the hunter quietly sits motionless for long periods of time. Finally, hunters can get out there and shoot during the “off season”, honing their skills for the upcoming fall hunt.

Bowfishing charters in Florida

Just as in any fishing or hunting endeavor, bowfishers who can afford it will gain a lot of knowledge by taking out a bowfishing charter. It is a great investment that will allow potential bowfishers to experience the sport while putting them way ahead on the learning curve. Captain Ed McCormack runs Florida Bowfishing Charters based out of Crystal River. He can be reached at Florida Bowfishing. We thank him his tips in this article!

Freshwater bowfishing tips in Florida

Most bowfishing in Florida is done in freshwater lakes and rivers. Night bowfishing is generally safer on calm Florida freshwater lakes and rivers. Non-gamefish are the only types of fish that can legally be shot. Tilapia, mudfish (bowfin), catfish, and gar are the primary species.

Florida Bowfishing for invasive species

I am a guide and run fishing charters in Sarasota and I promote catch-and-release on the majority of my saltwater fishing trips. At first the idea of killing everything seemed a bit unpalatable. But, there is a situation here that is perfect for bowfishing; taking invasive species which have become a problem in many parts of Florida. As is the case in much of Florida, in my home area of Sarasota, many of the freshwater lakes and rivers are inundated with tilapia, particularly the Myakka River system. So, anglers can take as many of these fish as they want with a clear conscience. In fact, doing so usually improves the fishery.

Florida bowfishing regulations

Non-gamefish (with the exception of grass carp) may be taken by bow at night as well as during the day with the following exceptions; the spillways of the Eureka and Rodman dams on the Oklawaha River or on the spillway of the Jim Woodruff Dam on the Apalachicola River or in Dade County canals south of the C-4 and east of the L-31N and L-31W canals inclusively.

Black bass, crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, warmouth, redbreast sunfish, spotted sunfish, flier, mud sunfish, longear sunfish, shadow bass, peacock bass, white bass, striped bass and sunshine bass are all freshwater game fish and can NOT be shot with a bow; all other freshwater species are non-game fish and can be taken with a bow.

The tilapia’s habits make it a prime target for bowfishing. They cruise slowly in shallow water, generally in decent-sized schools and their broad sides make an inviting target. A Florida freshwater fishing license is required.Check the FWC site for current regulations.

As in all outdoor pursuits, purchase the best equipment that is within the budget. Fortunately, it really does not take a lot of money to get started.

Florida bowfishing

Best bowfishing equipment

AMS is the leader when it comes to bowfishing equipment. Their bows are specifically built and designed for bowfishing. Bowfishing is different from hunting in that there will be many more shots taken. Bowfishing bows need to be light and easy to draw.They created the Hooligan bow, It can be drawn easily, allowing the shooter to hunt for hours tirelessly without sacrificing penetrating power. The entire package with reel, arrows, line, and safety system will run around $500. Click on the image to shop.

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Using the AMS reel (specifically made for bowfishing) and Safety Slide system included in the Hooligan package is a wise investment, particularly for a beginner. They are safer and eliminate arrow “snap back” as well as making line management and retrieval much faster and easier. These components can also be purchased and used on other bows as well. The arrows have a special tip that is unscrewed a couple of turns, allowing the “barbs” on the arrow to be reversed so that the arrow slides out of the fish easily.

The venerable Jon boat is the perfect craft to hunt fish in Florida’s lakes, ponds, and rivers. Most have a large deck on the bow and are very stable, making them the ideal shooting platform. Add to that the fact that they are easily trailered or tossed into the back of the truck, making more remote areas accessible. Serious bowfishing anglers install rails and spotlights in the bow. Bowfishing can also be done from the shore and when wading.

Florida bowfishing techniques

Florida bowfishing tactics are fairly straight-forward. The best technique is to cruise along a shoreline or weed bed slowly while scanning the water for a target. A transom mounted trolling motor with an operator in the rear and two shooters on the bow is a good combination, allowing the water in front and off to the sides of the boat to be scanned while slowly moving through a promising looking spot. Areas of fairly shallow water with some vegetation are prime areas to search for these over-sized exotic panfish. If the shot is a miss, reel in the line and make ready again. If a fish is hit, the “angler” can either reel it in or simply hand line the fish back to the boat.

bowfishing at night

The same variables that apply to sight fishing also apply to bowfishing. Clear sunny days from mid morning to mid afternoon when the sun is high with little wind will make for easier spotting than an overcast, breezy day. But, that applies to shooting in the daytime. For a truly memorable and surreal experience, try bowfishing at night! This is when many serious aficionados take to the water.

Capt Ed recommends using 200 pound Dacron line on the AMS reels. This makes it much easier on the hands when removing arrows from sando bottoms that are common in Florida. Also, bowhunters use to using a release should learn to shoot fingers because there is little time to work with the “release and snap” shooting that is common in bowfishing. In Addition, hunters have to stay clicked in and at the ready when using a release. That will cause arm fatigue after a while.

Bowfishing at night

Easing through a Florida backwater in the pitch black of night with bright lights shining into the water can be downright unnerving. But also very productive as this is the time when many species feed and are on the prowl. Also, the lights penetrate the dark tannin-stained water that make up many of Florida’s lakes and rivers.

Florida bowfishing tips

Many anglers choose to go bowfishing at night. This can be very productive! However, it does require some special equipment and safety always needs to be the primary consideration. Bright spotlights are placed in the bow. Several batteries and even small generators are used. Fish are easily spotted and are often quite close to the boat. It is an eerie, but really cool, experience!

Florida Bowfishing in Saltwater

Bowfishing in the Florida saltwater is very similar to freshwater bowfishing. Again, only non-game fish may be taken. The top species that are pursued are sheepshead, rays, and flounder. However, jacks, ladyfish, snapper, and other species can be targets of opportunity.

Bowfishing for sheepshead

Florida bowfishing for sheepshead

Sheepshead are a prime target for anglers bowfishing in Florida for several reasons. They often cruise in schools in shallow water along oyster bars. Sheepshead have broad bodies making for a larger “strike zone”. Finally, they are fantastic eating! prime months for sheepshead are from early winter to late spring.

Low, incoming tides are the best time to seek out these saltwater panfish. They really are just saltwater versions of bluegill. Low tides will concentrate fish on the outside edge of the bar. As the tide floods in, the fish will move up onto the bars to feed. Sheepshead are often encountered in small schools or bunches of fish.

Bowfishing for mullet

bowfishing in Florida

Mullet are a perfect fish for anglers bowfishing in Florida. Mullet cruise around slowly in large schools in shallow water, perfect! The only downsides are that their bodies are fairly narrow and the flesh is a bit soft. However, with today’s arrows, very few fish pull off and are lost. Mullet are good eating, whether pan fried or smoked.

Bowfishing for black drum

Black drum are very similar to sheepshead in both looks and habits. They are a bit more elongated and do grow much larger. However, they are found along the oyster bars, same as sheepshead. Smaller black drum are fantastic eating, though the larger specimens can get wormy, especially in the warmer months.

Bowfishing for skates and rays

Many bowfishing anglers enjoy hunting down rays and skates. These are perhaps the largest fish that bowfishing anglers can take. They are easily spotted as the cruise along sandy bottoms. Anglers need to be cautious when dealing with stingrays! Both skates and rays are very good eating, though a bit tricky to clean.

There is a reason that bowfishing is growing rapidly among both anglers and hunters, it combines the excitement of both sports, is easy and relatively inexpensive, and just plain fun! Give it a try, and bring the entire family along!


  1. Aim low! The refraction caused by the water distorts the view of the target. On a wide fish such as a tilapia, shooting at the bottom of the fish should result is a hit in the meat of the body. If misses continue, aim even lower.
  2. Forget about sights, most shots are short and need to be done quickly and instinctively.
  3. Polarized sunglasses are a must for daytime bowfishing. Sunscreen, hats, and insect repellents are also necessities, day or night.
  4. Identify your target to make sure it is a species that is legal to take.


  1. Tilapia are the best option if freshwater fish is on the menu. The filers are firm, white, and mild. They are widespread and plentiful throughout the state and grow quickly. Most common and largest is the “blue tilapia”. In saltwater, sheepshead and flounder top the list.
  2. Gar are frequently targeted when bowfishing, particularly at night. Their habit of rising to the surface makes them a prime target.
  3. Bowfin or mudfish are another species that tent to cruise just under the surface in shallow water.

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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