Among a subset of people, bowfishing has taken hold as a popular sport for hooking more fish. You’re thinking of getting into bowfishing yourself, but before you do, you must know where you can legally do it. What are the rules on bowfishing throughout the country?
Bowfishing is legal across the United States, although most states require that you don’t fish for game species. Some states allow you to hunt game fish only during certain periods of the year.
This guide to bowfishing by state will provide all the information you need to know about where you and your buddies (or family) can safely and legally go bowfishing.
Let’s get started.
Bowfishing Rules by State
Before we get into the bowfishing rules and legalities as they vary by state, we want to make it clear what the difference between game fish and non-game fish is.
Game fish are fish that are reeled in for sporting purposes and usually include mackerel, bass, shark, billfish, trout, and salmon species. Non-game fish have a much lower commercial value by comparison, as these are bonier, scalier fish.
With that difference out of the way, let’s go state by state and investigate where you can legally go bowfishing and what you can catch.
Few states attract more bowfishing enthusiasts than Alabama. That’s despite that you cannot hunt game fish here, only non-game fish. The pool of open species to catch is still huge, everything from catfish to common carp, grass carp, spotted gar, shortnose gar, and alligator gar.
Try heading for the Alabama Gulf Coast for some good fishing, as the waterways, lagoons, bays, and inlets are usually teeming with non-game fish.
If you were hoping to catch some game fish in Alaska using your bowhunting equipment, you’re not legally permitted to. You can, however, hunt non-game fish in only the Southern and Northern regions of the state.
From buffalo to suckers, burbot, gar, and carp, there’s plenty to fish in this frosty state!
Do you have your heart set on reeling in some striped bass or catfish that are gamier than most? You legally can do just that when bowfishing in Arizona. Of course, non-game fish are legally allowed as well. Keep your eyes peeled for shad, buffalo, goldfish, and tilapia when fishing here!
As will be the case for many states on the map, you can legally hunt non-game fish in Arkansas, but no bowfishing for game fish is allowed. The selection of non-game fish you can catch here is extensive, everything from buffalo to catfish, drum, suckers, bullheads, silver carp, Asian carp, bighead carp, bowfin, and gar.
Did you catch an alligator gar? It happens in Arkansas. Usually, you must have a permit to bring this species of non-game fish home.
Bowfishing for non-game fish is legal in California, with a couple of caveats, of course. For one, you’re restricted to the following lakes: San Vicente, Lower Otay, Sutherland, El Capitan, and Hodges, and only when they’re open to the public.
Second, you can’t legally catch anything in those waters outside of carp.
For more expansive bowfishing freedom, head to Colorado. In this state, if you catch kokanee salmon–a species of game fish–in waters that allow snagging, then you’re legally allowed to bring your catches home.
Non-game fish are on the menu as well, such as gizzard shad (preferably east of the state’s continental divide), whitenose and longnose sucker caught east of the Colorado continental divide, northern pike, common carp, and grass carp.
In freshwater and saltwater alike, Connecticut allows for non-game bowfishing. You might be able to catch eels, suckers, lampreys, and carp. Crossbows may be prohibited, so double-check that you have the proper type of bow for bowfishing in Connecticut before you head out to the water!
Delaware attracts its fair share of bowfishing enthusiasts. This state does not permit you to catch game fish when bowfishing, but you’re freely able to bring home non-game fish such as grass carp, walking catfish, flathead catfish, blue catfish, and snakeheads.
The state does reserve the right to prohibit bowfishing in some rivers or lakes, so always double-check that you can legally go bowfishing before you do it.
Are you more into saltwater bowfishing or freshwater bowfishing? You can’t do both interchangeably in Florida unless you have saltwater and freshwater fishing licenses.
Even with that licensure, you’re still not allowed to hunt for game fish in this great southern state. The multitude of coasts, rivers, lakes, and oceans does give you plenty of non-game fish variety though, like stingray, sheepshead, shiners, gar (except for alligator gar), mullet, tilapia, catfish, bowfin, and common carp.
Only non-game fish are allowed when bowfishing in Georgia. Further, this southern state prohibits the use of arrows if you’re 150 feet or closer to anyone else on the water. You’ll have to make sure you get to your favorite lake, river, or pond early in the day so you can avoid other boaters!
That said, Georgia restricts its fishing hours between sunrise and sunset. Almost every non-game fishing species is permittable here except for flathead or channel carp, neither of which is regarded as a non-game fish in the state.
In Hawaii, bowfishing has no regulations. It’s a popular enough aquatic activity in this island state, but bowfishing is usually subject to the same rules as spearfishing. With the rules being as fuzzy as they are, you should connect with a parks and rec association member to get up to speed before you adventure out in your fishing boat.
Unlike Hawaii, the rules on bowfishing in Idaho are crystal-clear. No hunting for game fish is permitted. To catch non-game fish, you can use any body of water that legally allows for fishing. This gives you plenty of openings for catching tench, suckers, and carp.
If you live in Illinois, bowfishing as a whole is legal, but only for non-game fish. Make sure your compound bow case is visible on your boat if that’s what you use, as this state requires it. Bullfrogs, buffalo, suckers, carp, gar, and bowfin propagate here, although bullfrogs are more of a seasonal find.
From the West Fork of White River to Sugar Creek, Wabash River, St. Joseph River, and Lake Michigan, Indiana is ripe for bowfishing. Just don’t expect to reel in any game fish, as that’s not legal here.
Suckers, gar, shad, bowfin, buffalo, and carp are the most common non-game fish species you’ll come across in Indiana. Outside of rivers and lakes, don’t be afraid to check reservoirs, ponds, and streams for these fish. They are out there!
With a sport fishing license in tow, you’re welcome to go bowfishing for non-game fish in Iowa’s many bodies of water, including private ponds (sometimes) as well as public lakes, reservoirs, and rivers.
Catfish, buffalo, bowfin, gar, and carp will be the catches of the day as you explore bowfishing to the fullest in Iowa.
Most open waters throughout Kansas permit bowfishing for non-game fish. In some instances, even private, township, county, or city lakes are fishable, but you should check the rules out in the area before you assume you can go bowfishing.
If you’re bowfishing in streams or rivers, you cannot bring home any flathead, channel, or blue catfish, but you can take the fish home if you catch them in other bodies of water. You cannot go bowfishing if you’re 50 yards within occupied camping areas, picnic sites, swimming areas, or boat ramps or docks.
Attracting anglers to Lake Barley, Kentucky Lake, and more, Kentucky is well-known for its bowfishing. Part of that has to do with the fact that you can go bowfishing here any time of the year.
You cannot hunt for game fish, which is unsurprising. The most common Kentucky non-game fish are alligator gar, bighead carp, common carp, Asian carp, grass carp, and paddlefish. You’re allowed to bring home two paddlefish and 15 catfish each day you fish.
The Louisiana Bayou is considered a premier destination for bowfishing lovers. If you too want to experience the thrills firsthand, you’ll need either a freshwater or saltwater fishing license or even both depending on which type of fishing you like to do.
You cannot legally catch game fish in Louisiana, but with so many non-game fish, you might not mind so much. Here’s what’s swarming the waters: alligator gar, sheepshead, flounder, catfish, black drum, and redfish. The latter have a catch limit, as each angler can only take home five redfish no bigger than 16 inches apiece.
Although bowfishing isn’t as much of an institution on the east coast, it’s still allowed in every state there, starting with Maine. You’re restricted to tidal waters only, and–as you probably already know–you’re not permitted to catch game fish with your bowhunting equipment.
If you want to hunt suckers, the rules are that you can do so between April 1st and June 30th. For carp, any state tidal waters will do.
In Maryland, the list of fish that you’re prohibited from catching is quite long. These are mostly game fishing, including trout, largemouth bass, striped bass, northern pike, smallmouth bass, tiger muskellunge, and walleye. Any other species of fish should be a-okay, but it’s not a bad idea to contact the parks and rec association just to be clear on the rules.
If you’re clambering to catch some white suckers or common carp, that’s allowable in Massachusetts within reason. You cannot take the fish and then sell them within the Commonwealth. You also can’t bring home suckers, eels, and carp caught in inland waters.
Further, you can’t shoot any bowfishing arrows at least 150 feet of the nearest highway or roadway as well as near any occupied boats or homes.
Michigan has designated trout streams and lakes that prohibit bowfishing. For non-game fish, you can hunt in any other body of water in this state all year long.
Depending on the season and where you go bowfishing, you might hope to catch suckers, smelt, cisco, whitefish, bigmouth buffalo, burbot, goldfish, gizzard shad, drum, bullheads, bowfin, longnose gar, bighead carp, grass carp, common carp, and Asian carp.
In the chilly state of Minnesota, you’re restricted from catching game fish while bowfishing. Further, you cannot go bowfishing in certain bodies of water even if you’re trying to hunt non-game species. Lake Minnetonka is one such location in which these regulations apply.
If your bowfishing setup includes a crossbow, Minnesota requires you to obtain a permit for the bow. You’re limited in how many redhorses and suckers (50) you can haul home, as well as bullheads (up to 100).
In Mississippi, bowfishing is treated differently than in most other states. You still can’t hunt for game fish, mind you, but you’re encouraged to go bowfishing, especially at night. The state wants its bowfishers to reduce the number of rough fish.
Focus on catching buffalo, bowfin, gar, and carp and you’ll be doing the state a favor!
The bowfishing season begins in March in Missouri. You must have a fishing license, then you’re free to fish for non-game, non-endangered fish species. These include gar, drum, buffalo, suckers, carpsuckers, carp, green sunfish, and bluegill.
Once you have your fishing license in Montana, your fishing options open significantly. That doesn’t mean you can catch game fish, but you can legally hunt for all sorts of non-game fish when bowfishing.
Like in Mississippi, Montana embraces bowfishing for species control, although this is more the case in certain areas of the state than it is others. The Canyon Ferry Reservoir is one such body of water in which you may receive quite a warm welcome.
Once you’re at least 16 years old, Nebraska expects you to have a valid fishing license for regular fishing and bowfishing alike. You can use a crossbow or a hand-drawn longbow such as a compound bow legally in this state.
Nebraska institutes limits on the number of fish you can bring home and their length, so keep that in mind.
You can go bowfishing for game fish in Nebraska beginning on July 1st until December 31st from sunrise to sunset each day. For non-game fish, you can catch those anytime of the year 24/7.
Nevada lumps bowfishing in with spearfishing. You’re required to have a fishing license if you’re older than 12, and the state has both daily limits and possession limits. Carps are very prevalent, maybe too prevalent, in Nevada’s waters, so you could end up with a ton if you go bowfishing here!
Invasive fish? Sure! Non-game fish? You bet! Yet game fish are not allowed for bowfishing lovers who live in New Hampshire or are traveling here. You also cannot enter designated special trout areas nor trophy bass waters with your bowfishing setup.
New Hampshire doesn’t make it clear which species of fish are considered non-game, but they usually include suckers and carps. If you’re not sure whether you can catch a species of fish in this state, it’s probably better to refrain.
On the east coast in New Jersey, you can legally go bowfishing for non-game fish. You need a fishing license to do so, but no permits are required for those operating a crossbow. Further, any trout-stocked bodies of water are off-limits, but public bodies of water are not.
Special trout areas and trophy bass waters do not allow for bowfishing in New Mexico, but this is one of those rare states in which game fishing is allowed. You can go bowfishing for game fish in open fish waters. Non-game fish are permitted too, of course.
New York has some gorgeous bodies of water, and many of them allow you to go bowfishing, but only for non-game fish. Just don’t get too close to the city limits, as the nearer you are to people, the more dangerous bowfishing can be.
You’re not restricted on how many carp you can catch and take with you, but the time for allowable carp fishing is between May 1st and September 30th only.
Continuing along the east coast, North Carolina allows for legal bowfishing of non-game fish like bowfin, carp, longnose gar, and catfish. The former three species are especially high in number and a popular target for anglers.
If you’re not keeping the fish you catch in North Dakota, the state requires you to have a proper way to dispose of them. By the way, those fish you’re allowed to catch do not include game fish, only non-game species.
Daytime and nighttime fishing alike are permitted here, but you need bowfishing lights for the former type of fishing. Head to the rough waters where you can legally hunt for non-game fish such as buffalo, suckers, gar, and carp.
In Ohio, bowfishing is perfectly legal. You must stick to non-game fish species only such as suckers, drum, gar, carp, and buffalo suckers. Interestingly, you can catch species such as southern alligator snapping turtles and frogs.
Oklahoma doesn’t regulate bowfishing for non-game species as tightly as other states, which gives you moderately more free rein. For instance, you can usually hunt as many fish as you want, as no daily limits are in place.
It’s not a complete free-for-all, though. Oklahoma does restrict bowfishing in some bodies of water like the Illinois River and some reservoirs. Plus, the take-all-you-want limits don’t appear to apply to paddlefish.
Although bowfishing wasn’t as much of a sport in Oregon a few years ago, that’s quickly changed. These days, the state even has its own bowfishing association.
In saltwater, the non-game fish species you can hope to find are sole, greenling, flounder, perch, lingcod, rockfish, and cabezon. If freshwater bowfishing is more your speed, the usual non-game species abound here, such as chub, sculpin, northern pikeminnow, bullfrogs, carp, and suckers.
Bouncing back to the east coast now, those hoping to go bowfishing in Pennsylvania’s waters will have to stick to non-game fish species only. Bowfishing at night in this state is nearly as popular as doing it by day.
All types of bows are allowed, but you don’t get a ton of non-game fish variety here. Carp and suckers are the types of fish you can usually catch.
In Rhode Island on the east coast, you can legally go bowfishing in open waters for non-game fish. Avoid special trout areas and trophy bass waters to stay on the right side of the law.
Using what South Carolina terms a nongame device (your bow), you’re free to go bowfishing in this state for non-game fish. Well, provided you have a legal and current fishing license as well, by the way.
All 18 freshwater lakes throughout the state are allowable for bowfishing all year long. You’ll have to be good at identifying carp, as grass carp are off the list despite that many other states treat grass carp as non-game fish.
Bowfishing is insanely popular in South Dakota. If you’re ready to go bowfishing with the best of ‘em, then this is the state for you to visit or live in.
We can see what the appeal is. Between March 15th and June 15th, any game fish you catch is yours. Non-game fish are takeable no matter the season and time of day. Asian silver carp is a very hunted species here.
In Tennessee, bowfishing is regulated to the same degree as snagging, grabhooking, and spearfishing are. In other words, non-game fish are fine, especially most rough fish, but not sturgeon or alligator gar. Game fish are not permitted.
For the non-game fish you hunt, most have limits, usually by the number of fish but sometimes by size as well. Keep that in mind when bowfishing for suckers, bowfin, gar, dogfish, northern hogsucker, buffalo, and carp.
Everything is indeed bigger in Texas, and that includes the bowfishing as well. You need either a saltwater or freshwater license (or an all-water license). Non-game fish are the catch of the day in this state, especially sheepshead, mullet, buffalo, and gar.
If you’re fishing in Austin’s Lady Bird Lake, you can only take one common carp of trophy size, meaning it’s at least 33 inches. You’re also limited to one alligator gar a day. On Lake Texoma, most alligator gar bowfishing is prohibited.
In Utah, non-game bowfishing is legal, but the rules can change depending on which part of the state you’re fishing. Carp are the only non-game fish that Utah legally permits.
If you’re curious to try bowfishing in Vermont, you must have a freshwater and saltwater aka all-water or combination license to legally do so. Then you can fish on Lake Champlain and similar bodies of water, but only for non-game fish.
Few sports have risen in popularity as fast as bowfishing has in Virginia. Even still, you can only hunt for non-game fish, including catfish, bowfin, longnose gar, and common carp. For the former two fish, you must stick within the state’s fall line.
If you don’t mind only bowfishing for a few non-game species, then explore the beautiful bodies of water throughout Washington. Which species can you hunt? Just carp or bowfish. If you’re new to bowfishing though and you don’t yet have a license, this state usually doesn’t require one for bowfishing.
Speaking of carp, they’re a common find in West Virginia as well. You must have a valid fishing license if you hope to go bowfishing in this part of the US.
What if you get the itch to catch a species outside of carp? Shooting non-game fish besides carp is legally allowed in West Virginia.
Open for bowfishing all year long, Wisconsin only allows crossbow and bowfishing for bullheads and catfish. You can also go bowfishing for many other non-game species in this state, among them Asian carp, shad, smelt, sea lamprey, bowfin, gar, and common carp.
Finally, there’s Wyoming. You can legally go bowfishing here for non-game rough fish like freshwater drum, gar, suckers, buffalo, grass carp, common carp, and Asian silver carp. The bowfishing season is all year long!
Bowfishing is legal in all parts of the country, but you’re often banned from catching game fish. If you can do so legally, then it’s usually only for certain periods of the year. We hope these bowfishing laws help clear things up for you so you can safely and legally go bowfishing wherever your heart desires!