The image of the archer is a powerful and rather elegant one – the bent bow, the tense string, the sudden hawk-like flash of the arrow skimming to its target, guided by the steady hand and eye of the bowman. When one first hears of bowfishing, one is inclined to think that any bow and any arrow will do – that the same weapon and ammunition can be used as is employed from a turkey-hunting blind or a deer stand.
However, such bows and, in particular, arrows would be ineffective, possibly to the point of uselessness, when firing at a fish in the water. Bowfishing arrows are specially designed for their specific environment and quarry, and you must be careful to obtain the proper arrows if you want to have a chance of hitting what you are firing at.
Bowfishing arrows are heavier than a regular hunting arrow, since it must drive through the water as well as the target fish. Shots are made at extremely close range, so the effect of the additional weight on maximum range is moot. The heavier weight gives the arrow plenty of inertia so that it will not be easily deflected by the water – although an ordinary arrow would easily be shifted far enough out of true to miss by only a few inches of liquid.
Bowfishing arrows are typically made out of heavy-duty fiberglass, which gives them the weight noted above as well as enough sturdiness to survive multiple impacts with the water and the strain of possibly being pulled by a good-sized fish or alligator. Since the arrows are connected by a line to a float more often than not, it is essential that the arrow should not break off before the fish ceases to flee, since this would cause the loss of your catch.
For especially large, vigorous targets, such as alligator gar – the hundred-pound or more freshwater giants who have only recently come to be recognized as a sport fish – arrows made out of a composite of aluminum and fiberglass may be used. These fish are exceptionally hard fighters, and need a strong shot to finish them off, so these arrows are used by many fishermen who are seeking them specifically.
Bowfishing arrows have no feathering, since this would cause them to twirl irregularly in the water rather than plunging straight through it. A feathered arrow would be so erratic as to be useless, while a smooth arrow without flights is more like the spear from a spear gun.
The final detail that sets these arrows apart is that most have a safety slide on their side – a feature that allows you to attach a line and bowfishing reel where the line will not tangle with the bowstring during firing and potentially cause injurious “snapback.” With all these features, bowfishing arrows are quite different from their land-based counterparts, but they are well suited to your needs when you are taking aim at a game fish gliding beneath the surface of shallow waters.