A bowfishing reel differs from a bow used in hunting on land in a number of ways, which explains the need for specialized equipment – not the least of which is retriever reels, a spool of tough fishing line that is used to connect the arrow to a float. Retriever reels are preferable for big game bowfishing in that they allow a fish to move unhindered. These lines may be immensely tough – for example, lines in retriever reels that are used in hunting alligators may have a weight rating of six-hundred forty pounds or more. Heavier types are also used for alligator gars, whose sharp-edged, armored scales will slice through thinner lines and cause you to lose both your arrow and your fish.
Where a line on a land-hunting arrow would be an immense hindrance – snagging on branches and accomplishing nothing useful for the hunter – a line is absolutely necessary in a bowfishing reel, since there is no other way to retrieve your fish unless your shot happens to kill it instantly. Since bowfishing arrows are fired from a range of a few feet at most, any effects of the line on their flight are basically imperceptible, especially if the line is correctly attached to a safety slide to prevent arrow snapback.
Since the fishing reel line must feed out extremely fast when the arrow is fired, and also needs to go fast enough so that if a large fish speeds away from you it will not wrench the bow out of your hands, spools are sometimes not used in the construction of retriever reels. Instead, the line is coiled inside a bottle or canister to ensure a smooth, rapid feed of the line. The line is often attached to a bright, easily-spotted float which will mark the position of your catch when it finally comes to rest, allowing you to retrieve both your fish and your arrow when bowfishing.
Companies such as AMS, Muzzy, and Allen Bow all make retriever reels for bowfishing that are suitable for mounting on a wide range of different bows. The Muzzy Pro Retriever Reel with Extreme Line Attached is a good example of a bowfishing reel. The Muzzy Pro Retriever has a mounting which gives you plenty of clearance so that you can use it in conjunction with an arrow rest without fouling the line on the attachment. The feed is rapid, smooth, and tangle-free, and the line can handle up to 200 pounds.
The Muzzy Reel is a slightly less advanced model, but still an excellent retriever reel – with a stainless steel and brass drive system and an extra-large roller line pickup pin. It fits into an anchor reel seat and is heavy-duty and tough for handling all types of fish. There is a disc-type drag built into the reel and the retrieve can be converted for either the right or left hand. For those seeking a somewhat thriftier but still good quality retriever reels for bowfishing, Grayling also produces a bowfishing reel that will help you keep track of and retrieve your catch.