Bowfishing With a Compound Hunting Bow: How to Set Up Your Bow

Bowfishing hunting bow

Can A Hunting Bow Be Used For Bowfishing?

One of the best parts about bowfishing is you can use pretty much any bow to get started in the sport. Recurve, compound, and even crossbows can all be modified to get you going.

Let me reemphasize, you do not need a bowfishing specific bow to get into the sport. A stripped-down hunting bow with a reel, line, and bowfishing arrow is all you need to go bowfishing. Don’t let cost deter you.

This is a good thing. It means you don’t have to rush out and drop a wad of cash just to try bowfishing out. However, if you want to keep all the attachments and gadgets you have on your current bow’s setup, getting another bow may be a good option.

In deciding whether not to keep your current bow or get another cheaper one for bowfishing, there are a few things you may want to consider before making that decision. 

Bow Considerations


One thing to consider when choosing a beginner bow should be to make sure it is cheap and efficient. Often, especially for beginners, people get too caught up in having the latest and greatest gear. But, this is simply not necessary. Use what you have and see how well you like the sport.

If you currently don’t have a bow, consider finding a used bow on the secondhand market. My first “bowfishing” bow was a cheap pawn shop purchase. I added a reel, bought an arrow, and got after it.


Your bow should also be durable. Bowfishing is not a finesse sport. Often times, in the heat of the moment, things get dropped, stepped on, etc. Even the rough ride to get to where you are going can be tough on a bow if you are using a boat.

Because of that, it is highly recommended to leave your uber-expensive hunting bow at home and buy a cheaper one you don’t mind banging up.

Bowfishing inherently involves a lot of action and moving around. If the bow you have is bulky or large like a longbow, it might be best to leave that one at home as well. This will help minimize wear and tear.

Lightweight and Comfortable

Ideally, your bow needs to be comfortable and lightweight. Unlike bow hunting, bowfishing involves a lot of shooting and moving around. Having a comfortable, lightweight bow will decrease the strain on your arms and body. In turn, this will keep you on the water longer.

Draw Length

Another thing to consider is the draw strength. Hunting bows usually have a very high draw strength since the game you are hunting is primarily larger.

However, fish are not that tough and typically require less energy behind the arrow. Even the toughest fish, like an alligator gar, cannot compare to a deer. If your bow has more than a thirty to fifty-pound draw you might not want to use it at that draw weight, since it will unnecessarily tire you out. 

How Do You Set Up A Compound Bowfishing Bow?


AMS Bowfishing reel

In order to set up your bow, there are a few things you are going to need that is different from a hunting bow. The first and most obvious item is going to be a reel.

A reel is necessary to retrieve your arrow or a fish after taking a shot. Reels come in three basic varieties: hand reel, spinner reels, and bottle reels. While these three reels are covered more in-depth in our beginner’s guide to bowfishing, undoubtedly the most popular reel is going to be the bottle reel. 

A bottle reel is a great choice for beginners since it is a point and shoot model. You do not have to worry about threading line each time and to reel back in, simply pull the trigger and start reeling.

No matter which one you choose all three will fit a compound bow. Just make sure the trigger is easily reachable by your non-dominant index finger.

Arrow Rest

Another item to consider is an arrow rest. The arrow rest is the portion on the riser where the arrow lies as you are lining up your shot.

Investing in a good arrow rest allows for cleaner shots and acts as a safety since a rood rest will prevent the line from being tangled in the bowstring. This is a hazard known as “snap back” and is where the arrow stops mid-flight and shoots back towards you. 

Safety Slide

bowfishing arrow safety slide

Another safety item needed to prevent snapback is a proper safety slide. Safety slides are sold by pretty much every arrow manufacturer and slip onto the shaft of the arrow.

The safety slide works by keeping the line out ahead of your bowstring so that when you let loose it does not get caught and snapback. A proper rest combined with a safety slide help add additional safety measures while bowfishing. 

Finger Savers

bowfishing finger savers

While not a safety item, finger savers, or finger guards, are really good for comfort and protecting your fingers from wear and tear during prolonged use. A lot of hunters use release aids when hunting for larger game, but those are not necessary for bowfishing since you are taking a lot of shots pretty quickly.

The repetition of shooting with nothing to protect your fingers, especially for someone not used to it, can cause injuries and at the very least be uncomfortable which will affect your aim and fun. Finger savers attach to your bowstring, so you don’t have to worry about bringing an additional item.

How Do You Attach A Bowfishing Reel To A Compound Bow?

AMS bowfishing reel

Attaching a reel to your compound bow is pretty easy. Luckily for you, the mounting process for every kind of reel is pretty generic. The basic process is as follows: 

  • Attach the screws of the mounting bracket through sight holes
  • Adjust mounting bracket so that you can place reel closer or farther away from hand
  • Install T-post in the mounting bracket
  • Attach the reel

That is pretty much it! There are plenty of Youtube videos online that show people doing this in a couple minutes. While there might be some variation from company to company, the basic process is the same, and it should not involve drilling any holes. 

A word of caution is that if there is not enough space between the reel and riser you can take the whole assembly off, add a space, and then reattach it.  

Tips And Tricks For Setting Your Bow Up

bowfishing bow

During and after your setup, you might want to customize or adjust your rig for various reasons. Below we have compiled some of the best tips and advice for setting up your new bow: 

Move the arrow rest further out or closer in on the riser.

Do not settle with the initial position you first put it at since arrows perform differently depending on what kind of bow you have.

Some trial and error are necessary here, but you should keep adjusting it until you get as little fishtailing as possible. Fishtailing is where the arrow wobbles after shooting and throws it off target.

Consider buying newer arrows made out of composite materials like fiberglass.

You can definitely use traditional wooden arrows, but these are more likely to break when hitting the water or bouncing off the bottom. These are usually lighter weight than old fashioned arrows and will take some time to learn to use them properly but will last longer than hunting arrows.

You can also shorten the arrows that you have.

One benefit of this is that this will cut down on your draw length which will make it easier to shoot. It also prevents accidentally overdrawing on your bow and is a great alternative to buying another bow or paying to have the draw strength lessened.

Buy arrowheads that are lighter in weight.

bowfishing arrow head

While it is suggested for beginners to not fool around with mixing and matching arrows and heads, it can make a difference if you can find a lighter, sharper head since this will stiffen the pine of the arrow giving you a straighter, further shot. 

To increase accuracy, it might be beneficial to lower the nocking point on the bowstring.

The nocking point is that part where the end of the arrow seats onto the string. Doing so will help the arrow enter at a shallower angle and helps it plane less when it hits the water. 

Do not worry about using fancy sights.

Often, you will not have time to track a fish and the best way to shoot them is just to react. Instead, work on instinct shooting and learn how to judge the point of aim based on the angle and depth of the fish. 

When you are first starting out, buy arrows that already come with points.

As long as the point is barbed it will suffice for bowfishing. Only after you get some more experience under your belt should you try and mess around swapping combinations of heads and arrow shafts. 

Use quality line.

bowfishing line

The fish that you are going to hunt while bowfishing are known for putting up a fight. Especially carp, and even larger fish like alligator gar. Investing in a quality line of at least several hundred pounds is a smart move.


Converting your compound hunting bow to use for bowfishing is quite easy. All of the reels come fairly standard, and to be honest, after you buy an arrow the bow is ready to go. You can always add a rest, finger savers, etc., at a later date.

It will take some playing around with to make sure everything is set up right, but it’s pretty simple. Remember to think about safety first and always be mindful of things like snapback.

After setting up your bow, you can play around with the arrows, reel position, and nocking placement to continue fine-tuning your rig.

Happy fishing!


Colby has been involved in the outdoors for over 30 years. Part of his problem is that instead of focusing on one specific outdoor hobby he spreads his time over a multitude of outdoor adventures. This has provided him the opportunity to have varied experiences across a broad spectrum of outdoor activities. Jack Outdoors has provided him an outlet to share the things he has learned as well as his successes and failures.

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