How to Aim Properly When Bowfishing

Bowfishing is like a cross between bowhunting and fishing, yet without being too much of either. As such, aiming is critical if you hope to bring any fish home in your cooler. Whether it’s your first time bowfishing or your fifth, how do you improve your aim?

To aim properly when bowfishing, aim below the targeted fish. This accommodates the water’s light refraction, which otherwise makes it harder to visually track the fish’s location. The goal is to hit the fish with your arrow in a thicker part of its body so you can easily reel it in.

This guide to aiming when bowfishing will be chock full of useful information that will help you excel. Make sure you keep reading, as you certainly won’t want to miss it!

Light Refraction 101 and Its Effect on Your Aim

Bowfishing has a scientific element to it, in that you must understand how light refraction works. If you don’t, then even though your aim can seem on-point, you’ll miss shot after shot. 

Refraction refers to how light bends. It’s not just light waves that refraction affects but all waves, from those in the ocean to sound waves. For the sake of this article though, when we mention refraction, we’re only talking about light refraction.

Why does light have to bend at all? For several important reasons. When you look at any object, light refraction is part of how you see. The light enters your eye, where the cornea refracts it. Next, your eye’s crystalline lens does the same, sending the light towards the retina.

Besides aiding our vision, light refraction is a critical part of the production of rainbows. Magnifying glasses rely on light refraction, as do prisms.

Okay, so how does light refraction work in a body of water such as the lake or stream you want to go bowfishing in? Light goes from the air to the water, slowing as it does. Its direction also changes, which is refraction.

When you look into the water and see a fish, you can aim at what you see, but that’s not truly where the fish is. Usually, the fish is several feet beyond the point where you’re aiming due to light refraction. 

Once you understand how light refraction works, you can change your aim to accommodate the bent light, which we’ll talk more about shortly. You will have to disregard what your eyes are telling you, which can be difficult considering that you trust your eyes for so much. 

In this instance though, your eyes will always steer you wrong. 

How to Aim When Bowfishing 

Okay, so how do you trust more in your brain than your eyes when bowfishing? It’s easy. Aim low.

There’s more to it than just that, of course, but if you remember to aim lower than you think you should, you’ll already be in good shape. 

You need to know the rough depth of the water at your local lake, river, or stream. This will influence how much lower your bowfishing aim should be. Most anglers follow this rule: for every foot deep in the water the fish is, move your arrow three inches lower.

For example, let’s say the fish is three feet under the surface. That means you should aim your arrow nine inches lower than that. 

Some anglers also follow what’s known as the 10-4 rule. This rule mandates that if you’re standing 10 feet from a fish that you should reduce your aim height by four inches. 

As an example, if you and a fish were 15 feet from one another, then you’d want to lower your aim by six inches.

Some anglers follow one rule over the other and some combine both. 

Besides how low you aim, where you aim at the fish matters as well. As we touched on in the intro, you want to aim for the thickest part of the fish’s body. This will help your arrow pierce into the fish better so you can successfully reel them in. 

Sights vs. No Sights When Bowfishing 

You have two options when bowfishing. You can either shoot instinctively or use a sight. Which you choose will affect your aim, so let’s talk about both options now.

Instinctive Bowfishing

To aim and shoot instinctively, you need to have developed a sense of instinct first. Bowfishing beginners might want to start with a sight and then gradually wean themselves off it. You can also sharpen your instincts through trial and error, but this will be a more difficult experience. 

Sight-Augmented Bowfishing

Bow sights are a frequent feature of many bowfishing setups. The pros say you can forego sights, but they’re pros for a reason. They have a lot of bowfishing experience. As we mentioned before, beginners can get a lot of use out of sights. You’ll make more accurate shots. 

All you have to do when using a sight is select the correct sight pin to hit your target. That said, you must be sure of the precise distance between you and the target, be those yards or feet. Without this information, a sight doesn’t work as well. 

The Importance of Form When Bowfishing

Do you have a proper bowfishing form? If you don’t, then even if you do everything above correctly, you still might not make as many successful shots as you could. Here are some tips for refining and improving your form to make you a better angler.

Allow for Flex in the Bow Arm

Your bow arm is the one that’s holding the bow, so it has a major impact on the accuracy of your shots. You want to keep your arm flexible as you aim and fire. This will prevent the bowstring from colliding with your forearm, which is known as a string slap.

While you’re at it, loosen up your bow arm grip too. You don’t want the bow to be able to fall right out of your hand, of course, but a slack yet stable grip will allow you to pull the string only when you want to.

Bend, Don’t Hunch

Aiming low requires you to lean your body forward, but you shouldn’t hunch yourself down. That will make for quite a painful day of bowfishing. The next morning, you’ll likely wake up with a very stiff and achy back.

Rather, bend yourself forward at the hips. This small technique is a major difference-maker!

Square Your Shoulders

If you’ve handled other bows before, then you know the importance of squaring your shoulders and your stance. In bowfishing, you want to do the same. 

More Bowfishing Tips for Success

Aiming and form are integral parts of bowfishing, but if you want to continue to improve further, be sure to follow these tips!  

Related Reading: Which states is Bowfishing legal and illegal?

Practice Makes Perfect

All the pros out there that made you want to start bowfishing got to where they are today through practice, dedication, and perseverance. The more hours you spend on the water working on your aim and your technique, the more successful you will become at bowfishing.

For improving your aim, we recommend filling a bottle with fluid and then putting it in the water. The bottle will sink several inches into the water but still be floating. Try to sink an arrow into the bottle. 

Use a GPS

Scouting is a big part of the bowfishing experience, which simply means finding ideal spots where the fish are more prevalent. 

With a GPS, you can mark down coordinates so you’re not eyeballing the lake or pond based on the placement of something like a stick that might not even be there the next time you return.

Wear Polarized Glasses or Sunglasses

Although you can’t use X-ray vision to see into the water where the fish are, polarized glasses are pretty darn close. 

Polarized lenses will limit how much light passes through, which might reduce the effects of water refraction. In other words, it’s now that much easier for you to see where the fish are.

Sharpen Your Arrow Tips

Dull tips are bound to happen when bowfishing, especially if the water is rocky or shallow. Continuing to fish with dull tips will seriously impede your progress. Before you head out for the day, sharpen your arrows with a mill file.

If your arrows have replaceable heads, then all you have to do is change the head out. This might be a more appealing option if you frequently end up with dull arrow tips when bowfishing. 

Final Thoughts

Bowfishing combines the best of archery and fishing into a unique sport. Due to how light refracts on the water, you need to aim lower than what feels natural for accuracy. 

You might be able to use sights to help you with this, but sharpening your aiming instincts is something to work on for later down the line.

We hope the information in this post helps you boost your bowfishing game!

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Striped Bass.

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