This fast-growing sport is fast and exciting, can be done many places in the state, and has potential environmental benefits to boot. All you need is a bow, a bowfishing reel, heavy test line, and bowfishing arrows. A sport fishing license is required to bowfish in Iowa, and allows the holder to take rough fish from public lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, as well as private ponds with permission.
Get some gear, find a friend, and see what you can catch this upcoming weekend. Try these helpful tips and tricks to get you started.
In the Rough
Bowfishing is only for taking “rough” fish. Iowa has a variety of rough fish found in lakes, rivers and ponds such as bigmouth buffalo, smallmouth buffalo, common carp, grass carp and primitive fish such as short nosed gar. These fish are generally very large (but are all sizes), still make for good eating, and you don’t have to worry about length and possession limits. They are usually visible from the top of the water. Be sure you can identify the fish before you shoot. Game fish (ie. largemouth bass, bluegill) cannot be taken by bow and arrow. The restriction exists because it is not possible to catch and release with bowfishing. Excluding game fish gives desirable fish a better chance at reaching maturity. Rough fish often stir up mud in the water, feed on vegetation, or feed on the same food as game fish, such as zooplankton and other invertebrates. Some rough fish, such as bighead and silver carp, are invasive species that damage the ecosystem. A full list of Iowa rough fish species is available in the Iowa Fishing Regulations.
Bring a Friend
Big fish like carp may take more than one shot to bring in successfully, and they tend to travel in groups, especially at spawning time. Bring a friend with you to get a shot you missed, a neighboring fish, or just to help you haul in a big catch. You’ll have more fun and probably more success, which means fewer rough fish in Iowa waters. Carp are particularly easy targets at spawning time, as they tend to move to very shallow water and as much as half of their body may be exposed above the surface.
Aim From Anywhere
Bowfishing is great for those looking for flexibility in their fishing experience. You can shoot day or night from the shore, the shallows, a dock or a boat depending on your preference. However, there are areas in Iowa that do not allow after-hours fishing, and a few that don’t allow bowfishing at all (check locally for ordinances prohibiting bowfishing). Be sure to check the specific rules at any location you visit.
Bowfishing is a great outdoor activity that’s fast and easy to learn. That said, remember to have fun and not just try to get rid of every rough fish in an area. The same overfishing problems can befall any angler who takes too much from one spot: the fish will learn not to be there, and you’ll have to find a new fishing point. Even in the case of rough fish, don’t take more than you can use or dispose of responsibly. This is very important if you want to fish from a boat, because too many large fish can sink your ship faster than you’d think. Rough fish must be disposed properly and not left on the bank.