Bowfishing Guide: The Bowfishing Crossbow


Perhaps you have thought to yourself that bowfishing with a bow isn’t the choice for you, or maybe you are older and can’t pull the bow back anymore. That’s okay. You don’t have to do bowfishing with a bow. In fact, you can buy a bowfishing crossbow and have a great with it whether you want it or need it. My time with a crossbow was some of the most fun that I have ever had while bowfishing, and honestly, I find it a little easier to take the shots. Let’s have a look at the specifics of bowfishing with a crossbow.

The law allows you to go bowfishing with a crossbow. Some people even find it even easier to aim and take shots at the carp. In most cases, you can’t use the crossbow to take game fish, just the rough fish. The rules for bowfishing with a crossbow are almost the same as what they are with a bow, which makes it easy to get used to crossbow fishing. It’s also less tricky to move around in a boat with a crossbow than what it would be with a bow.

Before you can get started, however, we will have to cover some of the different aspects involved with it like:

  • Regulations
  • Reels
  • Setups
  • Lines
  • Rules
  • Licenses

Highlighting this information will ensure that when you take to the water, you will have the most knowledge and be the best equipped while out on the water.

We put together this awesome table to more easily highlight the pros and cons of bowfishing with a crossbow versus bowfishing with a bow and how they compare to each other:


Keep in mind that we didn’t put this table together to say that one would be superior to the other. Instead, we made this table so that you could determine whether the bow or the crossbow would suit you better when out on the water. Take into account what matters most to you to figure out which one you would prefer. You may even try both to see which one works the best for you.

Like with regular bowfishing arrows, the crossbow will use heavier arrows without feathers since the impact on the water with a feather would misdirect the arrows. The extra weight and lack of fletching helps them to penetrate the water more easily. As it is in regular bowfishing, you will usually shoot fish within 20 yards with a crossbow, so you don’t need a lot of distance.

The one downside with a crossbow comes from how you can’t prepare for your next shot as quickly as with a bow where you could just load quickly and take another shot. That matters in bowfishing because of how it helps you to take more shots at the fish, reeling in more of them. There’s no limit to how many rough fish you can crank in in most cases.

If you don’t already have a crossbow, you may choose to buy a crossbow bowfishing kit as a way of reducing your expenses. You can buy everything all at once so that you reduce your costs. A good kit for bowfishing will include:

  • Crossbow
  • Bolts
  • Reel

Along with going after the fish, you could take it after some bullfrogs as well if your state allows it. In some states, going after bullfrogs has become a sport.

Check out a brief review of a crossbow kit here if interested in what crossbow to buy:

We like how he talks about the times where a person may find a crossbow as more useful than a bow. Just a quick highlight, the AMS Crossbow Bowfishing Kit comes from a well-known and trusted brand in the sport. Their experience exceeds over 100 years when combined together, which shows you that you will be dealing with true experts.

This also makes for a great brand because of how they’re the only manufacturers in the field 100 percent committed to only making bowfishing products. When you have that level of commitment, you have put all your eggs in one basket, and you aren’t going to let it fail by making poor-quality products.

Perhaps one of the things that makes the crossbow appeal to me comes from the fact that I can take farther shots sitting down. Although, bowfishing gets so intense that I often can’t sit down. For up-close shots, I still have to stand up to get the right angle, but the crossbow requires a lot less involvement than with a bow.

When I get tired of standing, I can simply sit down and rest for a while with less worry that I will miss my chance.

You have many similarities to how you would bowfish with a bow. For example, aim lower than what the fish appears in the water because of light refraction displacing the actual location of the fish. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t shoot a fish on the first several tries since it takes practice.

I would almost argue that learning how to bowfish with a crossbow might even be easier than if you were to bowfish using a bow in the beginning stages. This is because of how a crossbow is less shaky and steadier to take aim with. The crossbow has many virtues in its use.

Using it out on the water during the day, you may want to have a pair of polarized bowfishing sunglasses because it will help you to see the fish easier. At night, like with regular bowfishing, you will need to have bowfishing lights.

lake g2c26ddcd7 1280 Bowfishing Guide: The Bowfishing Crossbow

Please observe good bowfishing etiquette when bowfishing out on the water since some bowfishermen will shine their lights into people’s homes. Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, this gives all of us a bad name. Practices like this could cause us to lose the sport.

We must act respectfully if we want our sport to be respected. Bowfishermen do an awesome service for the environment by shooting the invasive carp that have taken over completely in some areas.

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Beware of the noise when drawing the crossbow, and you may want do it ahead of time after taking your shots. The noise from drawing your crossbow may scare the fish away. Not to mention, with the time it takes to draw it, you may lose your shot. Draw the crossbow ahead of time to avoid this negative.

Expert Tip: Never leave your crossbow drawn for more than 24 hours after a bowfishing session since this can wear and tear on the strings and cables. This will lead to a loss in bowfishing performance. You want to find a way to safely discharge the crossbow at the end of each session. Some will come with a feature for this, but other times, you just use a discharge target.

In most cases with crossbow fishing, you will shoot in water between 3 and 4 feet deep. You choose shallower areas because the water won’t slow down the bolt enough to where it will be harmless to the fish. The less water that the bolt has to move through, the more force that it will have to strike the target.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the crossbow has a higher poundage than a compound bow therefore the depth doesn’t matter. While it does offer more force, you still want shallower water because it won’t lose its trajectory in the water.

Ideally, you would want a lower FPS from the crossbow unless going after tough-skinned fish species like alligator gar and gar, which may require a higher FPS, but in general, this won’t matter all that much. Shooting a crossbow will kill the fish one way or the other. A faster-moving bolt won’t necessarily always hit the fish any more than a slower one would.

First, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started with crossbow fishing. You can pay as little as $200, but you could pay as much as $1,000 depending on you. We would recommend the middle range, such as buying a kit, for a beginner since it will help you with getting started.

I find bowfishing with a crossbow more relaxed than bowfishing with a bow, and I think it’s because everything feels more relaxed with it. I don’t need to try as hard to steady myself with the crossbow since it’s a smaller weapon.

A crossbow also doesn’t feel as cumbersome in a boat. You don’t have to worry as much about bumping it around like what you would with a bow.

Despite it coming with a little more convenience than what you get with a bow, crossbows do have a couple of negatives that go with them. For example, the crossbow weighs more than what a composite bow or recurve bow weighs.

You have cases with the crossbow where it completely overpowers the fish and blows a hole through it. That isn’t helpful. You don’t want that. That especially becomes a problem with some of the fish like carp. The problem with the bolt shooting straight through the fish is that you have a greater risk of harm to the bolt. The bolt can get stuck in the mud or strike the shallow bottom of the lake or river.

If you’re going after gar or alligator gar, the power of a crossbow would be fantastic because it would smash its armor. To put it into perspective why it would help with gar and alligator gar, they often use a hatchet to clean this fish because of its tough skin.

Here’s the other fatal flaw of the crossbow: reloading. When you go to take shots at the fish, you need to be fast. You have to think of the redraw here, which can take from five to seven seconds. It doesn’t redraw as easily as a bow, which can be a big disadvantage.

In most cases, when you go to take the shot, the fish will disperse anyway, so this isn’t necessarily a huge disadvantage.

east g41c26951f 1280 1 Bowfishing Guide: The Bowfishing Crossbow

Be aware of the state regulations before you go bowfishing in saltwater with a crossbow, but it won’t generally be a problem. Some of the most popular places to bowfish include bays and estuaries. Don’t bowfish near beaches with people since this poses a danger to them, and it could get you in a lot of trouble with the law. It’s also just plain irresponsible. You wouldn’t throw a hook out on the beach with people for the same reason.

Saltwater does differ in that you will want to wipe down the crossbow after you have finished your bowfishing session since saltwater is corrosive and can damage your equipment. Wash it off with freshwater after you finish to keep from damaging your gear. You will also need a saltwater fishing license if you decide to do saltwater bowfishing. Check out this saltwater bowfishing guide that I wrote if you would like more details on that type of bowfishing in general.

With a crossbow, you just need the standard fishing license to go bowfishing. If you’d like to learn more about that, check out my article, “Do I Need a License to Bowfish?” It will go more in-depth on the topic. However, I will cover some of the aspects of it here.

In the past, they required special permits to hunt with the crossbow, which was easier to get for those who were disabled. They no longer require this, however, in terms of paying for it in most cases. Instead, they usually give you a free stamp that shows you have it. That is what you need for this. Check with your local DNR to make sure. What they require will depend on the state as well.

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Before you go out and try crossbow fishing, you should first call your local DNR. Bowfishing in itself is a special kind of sport, but it becomes even more unique in its regulations with crossbows. You have to make sure that you know your local and state regulations before you do it. In some states like California, they treat the crossbow as a firearm. In other states like Minnesota, you may need to have a permit before you can use it out on the water.

Make sure that you can legally bowfish with a crossbow in your area before you try it. Just because you can use a bow doesn’t mean that they will always allow a crossbow. Some places consider it a firearm. In addition, you want to know what they let you crossbow fish for. Like with bowfishing, it will usually be for the rough fish. That means the carp, the gar, the catfish and the suckers, but this depends on your region.

To get the most specific rules, you need to speak with your local DNR because this varies from state to state, and it can also vary from region to region or county to county. With that said, you can usually use crossbows for bowfishing even in areas where they may have made it illegal otherwise for hunting.

Check with the local DNR because you don’t want to suffer the consequences of an expensive fine. They cost up to $2,000, and you could face up to a year in jail. In addition, you may want to print out the rules and carry them around with you because there have been cases where even the game warden didn’t know the exact rules.

Bowfishing isn’t as well known as regular fishing, and it still hasn’t picked up as much in popularity. The problem only compounds itself when you add a specialized item like a crossbow.

This keeps you from having an unpleasant day out on the water that would have otherwise been a good time. Even if they’re wrong and want to continue pushing, never argue with a law enforcement official since they can make your life difficult. Take it to a lawyer who can protect your rights. In addition, tell them that is why you took the extra step of printing it out and carrying it on you. To prove the rules to the official.

Along with knowing the crossbow fishing laws, you also have to know the laws on crossbows in general. The crossbow has a shaky legal status because of its “potential for deadly force,” which doesn’t make much sense to me when guns and bows can do the same thing.

You have to check with your local state regulations to know the exact laws, but you do have a common thread that runs through many states. For example, every state seems to allow them on some level, but you have to find out how much. What specific regulations does your state have? In some cases, they can only be used for disabled hunters. Some states classify them as a firearm, rather than as a bow.

Whether or not they will let you bowfish with a crossbow will depend on your state. In some states, they will only allow you to bowfish if you’re disabled and can get a permit for it. In Minnesota, for example, you can’t obtain a crossbow without a permit and being disabled. This may change in the future, but for the time being, they don’t allow it.

Other states don’t have regulations on this, and you can simply bowfish with one if you feel like it. Check the local and state laws ahead of time to avoid trouble.

If you’d like to see how it works, check out the video below. It shows 21-year-old Brad Jordan who has dwarfism and shooting with a crossbow helps him to bowfish:

You can use a bowfishing reel on a crossbow, and in fact, you will need one if you plan to bowfish with a crossbow since they consider it illegal to bowfish without one. You may want to check to see that you buy one specifically for the crossbow. This ensures that it will work, but we don’t think the reels have anything special about them. They’re about the same as with a regular bow.

The reel will usually mount right below the trajectory for the bolt path. The best way to get this set up right from the beginning would be if you were to go with a kit since it will come with everything needed and some instructions on how to get it going.

For the reel, it will usually come with a 200-pound dacron line, which ensures that the fish don’t break the line. Like with bowfishing, the crossbow should come with a safety slide because you don’t want the bolts to come flying back at you.

People have died this way or lost an eye, so it is important to take precautions. Without a safety slide, that’s the one serious danger to it. It gives you peace of mind. The AMS Bowfishing 5/16 inch EverGlide Safety Slide keeps the experience of crossbow fishing fun because you don’t have to worry that the bolts will come flying back at you.

In general, the cost of a crossbow reel isn’t the most expensive part of it, and you can usually pay as little or as much as you want. It depends on you. Usually, once you have a setup, it will last for years.

Bowfishing isn’t like regular hunting because most of the shots that you take will happen from within 10 to 20 yards at most. Most of this type of shooting is called snap shooting. That means you take short and instinctive shots. You could do it as you would with hunting, but in most cases, bowfishing requires you to react fast before the fish move.

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You don’t have a full three minutes to take a shot. Instead, you have to lift the weapon and take the shot as quickly as possible. This makes it different to where you don’t need the sight on your crossbow.

If you have the sight on your crossbow, you can remove it easily. Much of what you do with it on the water involves an instinctive aim and release. You won’t have time for much else. It takes some practice, but bowfishing is known for being a high adrenaline sport.

The one thing that stopped me from using a crossbow all the time, however, was that I couldn’t reload as quickly as with a bow. I like to string an arrow and take another shot as quickly as possible when bowfishing.

In addition, you don’t have difficulty with aiming because most of the shots happen from 10 to 20 yards. That’s especially good for a crossbow because they have a much shorter range than bows that can usually shoot accurately within 30 to 60 yards.

You have a couple of reasons that you may want to try this weapon. For example, a lot of people use the crossbow for hunting if they’re disabled and can’t use a bow. You could also consider the chief benefit of using the crossbow. If you can’t necessarily use a bow, you can always go with a crossbow.

Someone who’s getting older and doesn’t have the strength to pull back a bow like in past years may choose the crossbow instead. Someone with only one arm can still participate in the sport. You can also just do it for kicks and giggles.

The other advantage is that it doesn’t cost a lot if you already have one. You don’t have to worry as much about bumping your weapon into the boat—something common with bowfishing bows—because of how its design is less bulky and difficult to maneuver. In that regard, you could probably get away with using the crossbow that you use for hunting. We wouldn’t recommend that you do that with your best bowhunting bow, however.

I also find how I like the ease of use with a crossbow. I can aim it fast and easily, and I pull the trigger when ready. It doesn’t take much time at all to take a shot. In the past, I liked it so much that I didn’t use much else for bowfishing. Regular bowfishing does have its merits, however. Although, if it weren’t for the much slower shooting of the crossbow, I may have stuck with a crossbow altogether up until now.

If you enjoyed watching the action with the crossbow, check out this video of crossbow bowfishing down in Florida:

One of the biggest complaints that a lot of people have about the crossbow comes from its weight. You can get rid of some of that weight by getting rid of the quiver. Not only do you reduce the weight, but you will also make the size smaller.

That might sound like a small thing, but when out in the boat all night, the extra weight can make the experience tiresome. The other issue comes from how the quiver can catch in the wind, which makes aiming more difficult. On a lake or river, you tend to get more wind because you have nothing to impede it.

Anyway, you often only need one or two bolts when out bowfishing with a crossbow because of how you tie a bolt to a string and crank it in after each shot.

If I were to make a recommendation, I’d say that the best bowfishing crossbow is the Killer Instinct Lethal 405 Crossbow. This crossbow shoots at 400 fps, and you get anti-dryfire for the ultimate safety.

It also comes with three crossbow bolts, but these aren’t the bolts that you need for bowfishing. You will have to buy the special bowfishing crossbow bolts separately, and you can buy the AMS Bowfishing Crossbow Bolt here. The advantage is that you can use it for both bowfishing and hunting.

Some of the pros of this crossbow include lightweight and compact size, faster and quieter than other crossbows and you get 400 FPS. You won’t find much better out there for the price!

What about some of the cons? The cocking string is a bit short, and it makes a lot of noise that can scare off potential fish before you hit them. However, you can eliminate this problem by using lactate on the pivot screws. With that said, they should’ve done that before at the factory, rather than making the customer do it.

A bowfishing crossbow can be a lot of fun. I used one for the longest time after my shoulder surgery and because of how I found it more convenient in a lot of ways. That said, I got out of it because I like how a regular bow can string another arrow much faster. I do believe bowfishing with a crossbow has its merits, and you may even want to try it to see if it would work for you.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you have found this guide helpful. If you have any thoughts or comments about crossbow bowfishing, we would invite you to leave them in the comments down below. Bowfishing with a crossbow is a slightly different experience, but it doesn’t differ all that much from regular bowfishing. There may be some specific laws and regulations that you want to be aware of, however, since it isn’t exactly the same as a bow. Know your local laws ahead of time to ensure that you don’t run afoul of the law.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>