Bowhunting Fish During the Winter



Bowfishing is predominantly done through the summer months, but don’t hang up that bow––there are plenty of fish to be shot during the winter.

With temps hanging in the low 40s and continuing downward, we headed for the mouth of a creek where we always found schools of silver carp bunched up in summer. The water was markedly clearer than in summer and lower, giving us a peak at the secrets the river bottom held.

The silvers could not be found near the creek mouth but we did begin seeing spotted gar––big ones. They weren’t on the surface like we were accustomed to in spring and summer; most were suspended at least a foot below the surface. Some lay almost motionless on the bottom, only moving when we finally stuck them or bothered them with too many arrows.

Eventually we found the rest of the familiar fish faces…silver carp, commons, and grassies. The silvers tended toward deeper holes around downed trees. The commons nosed around on gradual, shallow, muddy banks. The grassies held in small eddies just off areas where the river necked down into rapids and riffles. The other thing we noticed in short order, 90 percent of the fish we saw were big. There were few dinks in the bunch and some gar and grass carp were sheer monsters. It didn’t take us long to begin connecting on shots and dropping fish into the ‘deadwell’ (our nasty old fish-oil-soaked garbage can). Suddenly we all forgot about our frozen fingers.

Wintertime bowfishing is similar to hunting fish during the warmer weather months, but there are a few differences you’ll need to pay attention to be successful.

Dress for success
Falling into a summertime backwater on the river is no treat (close your mouth and eyes), but getting wet during the winter can be life threatening. Wear clothing that allows you to move freely around the boat and keeps you warm. Natural fibers like Merino wool or Alpaca make the best base layers for applications around water because they retain their insulating properties even when wet, giving you a better chance of surviving an unintentional dip.

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Gloves that are both warm and allow you to shoot are helpful too. It’s likely your hands will be wet and exposed skin with even the slightest breeze on the water will chill your paws in no time.

Prepare the depth charge
Many of the fish we shoot during warm weather are just below the surface, or in the case of silver carp, leaping well above the surface. There’s much less of that in winter. Most fi sh will be holding deeper and it will likely take you some time to get dialed in and accurate on these targets. Over time, you’ll develop a sense for what’s in range and what’s just too deep to bother about.  If you have some adjustment left on your draw weight, this would be a good time to put some extra oomph behind that fiberglass. You’ll also want to keep your tips sharp to maximize the energy transfer in each arrow.

If you like bowfishing, check out the February issue of MidWest Outdoors magazine, available the first full week of February at a newsstand near you, or by subscribing on our website.