Can You Bowfish in the Ocean?

Bowfishing in the ocean

With the recent trend of bowfishing, many are asking if such a sport could be accomplished in the ocean.

The ocean is teeming with so many different species, and therefore it’s only natural that fishers want to cash in on all that the large body of water has to offer.

Bowfishing can be done in most bodies of water. Keep in mind that a bowhunter must be targeting close-range animals. This means that to bowfish in the ocean it would be best if the water were shallower, such as near beaches, deltas, estuaries, and bays.

This sport is attracting more and more loyal fans, who find it challenging as well as rewarding.

Consider learning more about this method of fishing and how you can better fish in saltwater and freshwater alike!

Bowfishing in the ocean

The reason that you typically want to fish in more shallow areas is that the more water that your bow is forced to travel through, the softer the impact will be.

That is why most bow fishermen hunt in water that’s 3-4 feet deep. This allows for excellent penetration opportunities and a higher chance of being more accurate.

It’s ideal if you can see to the bottom of the water when you’re bowfishing.

There are more things to consider when bowfishing though; for example, when bowfishing in the ocean, your rate of accuracy can be greatly affected by things such as the type of species you are hunting, the density of the school, the opacity of water, and where you are fishing.

What species can you bowfish in the ocean?

For bowfishing, it is common that you will hunt what are called ‘rough fish‘. These fish are the ones that are not desirable due to being not commonly eaten or are invasive species.

Therefore, because they are not hunted regularly by traditional fishermen, the populations of such species can get out of hand.

This is where bowfishing steps in to regulate and control the numbers.

Depending on where you are in the country, every state has a list of rough fish that you can legally hunt.

Some of the options for saltwater fishers include certain species of sharks, flounders, and stingrays.

But typically bowfishermen are only allowed to capture rough fish, not sport fish.

So make sure to check with the state that you are fishing in what you can and cannot hunt.

Bowfishing requires a fishing license, and some states regulate what type of equipment you can bowfish with.

It is imperative that you check these things out before you engage in the activity. The most popular species for saltwater bow fishermen are sharks and redfish.

But although they are extremely popular, they have the most regulations of when and where you catch them.

This makes it complicated for bow fishers because they must be able to size up and identify what they are about to shoot within seconds before they release.

Therefore the common phrase you will hear is, “If you don’t know it, don’t shoot it”.

For most states though, you can bowfish any species that is considered an invasive species and cannot be identified as sport fish.

How water affects your accuracy

The biggest challenge found when bowfishing is learning to trust your brain rather than your eyes, as most people are accustomed to.

A fish can look like it is only two feet deep in the water when in reality it is five or six feet deep. This can be extremely frustrating for avid hunters, who are used to being able to trust what they see.

Due to water being denser than air, this means that light travels through it differently. This is easy enough to understand, and when light waves hit the water and warp, this is called ‘refraction’.

So, what does this mean for your bowfishing technique? It means that you should always aim lower. A good rule of thumb for beginners is to aim six inches lower than where you think the fish actually is.

You will be surprised by how quickly you will instinctively figure out where to aim after some practice.

This is why it’s best to bowfish in shallow waters. Saltwater bowfishing can allow for some great catches and awesome experiences.

Just make sure you stay away from the deeper parts of the ocean if you want to have a productive day.

Otherwise, you will find your chances of catching something are slim to none because not many fish hang out within shooting range.

The best times and locations for bowfishing

In almost any place you choose to bowfish in, the best time to do so is during the spring spawns. This is an especially important time of the year if you want to go bowfish during the day.

To get the best results, bowfish when the water is at its clearest and everything is calm.

For bowfishing in saltwater, try to look for areas such as sandy bars.

Most freshwater bow fishermen tend to look for fish in grassy areas, but for saltwater, sandy places are easier to spot the fish you are seeking.

Try to go during high tide in the early morning before the winds pick up and disrupt the smooth waters.

Most fishermen say that early morning and dusk are the best two times to go bowfishing because that is when the fish are most productive.

Either way, make sure you are aware of where you are fishing and maintain a safe position.

Ideal bow fishing equipment for the ocean

The gear that is commonly used for freshwater fishing work just fine for saltwater, but keep in mind that anything you use must be cleaned in freshwater afterward to prevent salt corrosion.

Do not try to use the powerful bows you would use for regular bowhunting. A forty-pound draw is not necessary, and instead, most bow fishermen prefer a twenty-two-pound draw.

Make sure your arrow has a barb that will be able to keep the fish speared when reeling it in, and that the arrow has an attached line.

For bowfishing, the general line is a 200-pound-test line, since it can withstand the weight of most of what you will be catching.

Should you be seeking larger prey, such as larger sharks, a 600-pound-test bowfishing line will work fine.

Bowfishing is a great sport that although can be controversial at times, is generally agreed to be a great way to manage invasive species and population control.

Saltwater bowfishing is very popular, especially in Louisiana and Florida.

Knowing and understanding the rules associated with this method of fishing is crucial, but once you have them down, it is smooth sailing from there!


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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