How to - Bow fish in Saltwater - equipment and methods

Read this and you will understand that "Bow Fishing" is one of the most ecological, green and humane methods to commit as fishing !!!


NOTE (ERROR CORRRECTION): This article was re-edited because the line type mentioned as Dacron is not correct, it should actually read "Dyneema braid".

"Dyneema" is a High Modulus Polyethylene (HMPE), It is extremely "low stretch" and "low creep" hence it is good quality for bow-fishing line as "braid" because it is low recoil and much safer.
Dyneema is so low stretch it has other applications, such as alternative to metal cable in electric winches on 4wd vehicles and marine rope!

"Dacron" is a polyester, Dacron braid fishing line is also a "braid" but has a small quantity of creep until it is used and a little higher in elasticity but nothing much.

"Both are used and marketed commercially" as "braid" fishing and Bow fishing line, but Dyneema is the superior quality synthetic braid although not a large difference except Dyneema is considered zero stretch zero recoil.

The methods and equipment herein described are the "parameters required" to commit a humane and safe successful shot upon saltwater fish species allotted to Bow Fishing method and its equipment.


It is presumed that you understand that under Australian and NSW spear-fishing law some of this method and equipment is not prescribed by law but the problem is the legislation and laws about some of the equipment is definitely completely faulty (example: legal line being allowed no more than 15 yards (47 feet) and woven nylon wet line, this rule was created by some form of total incompetence or fraudulent judgement), of, the legislation, some faults of it will be explained not least its unethical results.

A second serious fault with bowfishing legislation in Australia (NSW) is also existent, that of a bizarre domino effect of rudeness that to successfully use bow-fishing apparatus it requires spending something like a further 1000 dollars for some form of flotation water craft as a platform to shoot from in saltwater because the legal line length is 15 yards (47 feet) and incredibly short to handle a running large fish!
If someone were to sensibly use bow-fishing equipment from the shoreline they require to be at least 3 to 5 meters above the ocean surface (to clearly identify a fish through glare refraction angle) meaning the first 10 yards of line is what it requires to reach the ocean surface, leaving five yards for legal length "ocean species" of 10kg to 20kg to run on ! , Stupid, it requires at least 100 meters of line because successful safe humane shots through simple processes and better standard retailed equipment can be done up to 50 meters range!

Perhaps the most subtle trouble with Bow fishing legislation is that unlike a fly fisher or bait rod angler, a bow fisher cannot "reach" an acceptable size limit species fish when it is present unless it is around 5 yards from the shore (by point of practicality and humaneness with the prescribed legal bow fishing equipment).

Finally, the strangest lunacy by legislators yet, the economics of "recreational tourism" from internal or foreign sources has never been catered for in the terms of "freshwater species" for at least a e.g. 50Km stretch on at least one river and one species per state/territory!
The general classification term legislators like to use for a "fish population" in these terms is a "natural resource", HOWEVER, how do you have a "resource (how is that possible to call that a resource)" if it is never used because it has never had legal assessed allocation for the purpose or possibly recognised to be put economic use !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Such recreational tourism (and inclusive bowfishing) and its points of "species to hunt" and its location are the very reason for coming from a foreign to a country and is big business around the world. In effect Australia has no such industry and no such notoriety, AND not so much as notoriety either for the internal national tourism !

Non commercial Spear and Bow fishing is allowed in NSW saltwater where shown by the Department of Fisheries of NSW maps and conjunct with a recreational fishing license.

external link: Fishing Safety

external link: Spear Fishing Safety (PDF)

The equipment required (explained in order below):
The strange object holding the line is a special adaptation to prevent "thin fishing wire like" Dyneema and Dacron bow-fishing line types from being blown around behind the reel (that would cause severe danger, injury, or fatality if it occurred)
It is called a "anti-wind and reel rim anti-drag loose line loop safety extensions holder". NOTE: NEVER USE ORDINARY NYLON FISHING WIRE types AS A BOWFISHING LINE!

The videos : About simple non compound bow and drum reel set-up , and the other a 40 meter test shot from an 80lb PSE compound over 40 meters with Dyneema woven synthetic fishing line

Ideally the "drum reel" should be 2 inches below the arrow (to pass the barbs and slider safely) , the lower the reel location from the arrow is can also cause excessive starting angle of the line from the drum and hence jamming but more usually heavy bump by the line and rim on the arrow upon firing, there is an adaptation i made on the drum reel in the video below the through bolt into the stabiliser of the drum reel allows extremely low mounting position of the drum reel below the arrow and thus prevents line catch on the drum reel when firing the arrow.
It should be used with a couple of 15cm loops set into the notch after looping in excess line onto the reel (pull 60cm of line out again) after mounting the arrow ready to draw, the two loops should be 15cm long ("approximately 60cm of line hanging in the notch" 2x2x15=60)


One of the best i have seen on the internet.

1. Bow of 50lb draw weight MINIMUM or up to 80lb draw weight (recurve, bow or Comound type) with a suitable (for drum reel bolt) positioned hole for an ISO-Archery standard stabiliser

2. A Bow Fishing "Drum reel" (not a cranking line retriever)

3. Fishing arrow with flat sheet barb (point type for soft fish - alternately a non springing triple barb head) AND fitted with line anti-recoil "slider"

4. 100 meters of "woven Dyneema synthetic" fishing line minimum 80 lb test

5. Gloves (tight fit e.g. cheap gardening potting gloves with sticky plastic palm and material)

6. Binoculars (...are not a visual aid) and Polarized sunglasses

Because almost all worthwhile Bow-fishing (legally classified as spear-fishing) is carried out in saltwater there are some problems with using the prescribed bow-fishing tackle system that is designed in NSW bow-fishing law by Australian legislators.
It is because the reasons for products and their legal parameters of those products assessed by legislators do not match the manufacturers actual practical intent of the manufacturers products' use.

1. The bow
A bow of at least 50lb requires to be used in saltwater.
This is because much of the bow-fishing will be done as "rock fishing" from the shoreline, upon fish that will often be more than 15 yards (47 feet) out from the edge of the water. In a 24 hour period not much suitable to take is in close to a position on a 3 - 5 meter high ledge closer than 10 yards from the edge of the water-side.

It does not follow that because a saltwater fish is 15 yards (47 feet) away from the edge that the trajectory from a bow of less power is sufficient to perform a "clean kill sensibly humanely and safely" for the creatures own benefit against suffering, the aim and trajectory of a low powered bow is extremely stifled and lower of accuracy (indictment 1 against legislators on bow-fishing line "type" being "pre wet line").
It again, does not follow that the line itself will hold an allowed and acceptable large size limit fish of a good eating quality species (meaning targeted species) if it is hit at 15 yards (47 feet) because the legislated line, first is extremely heavy and fired wet lowering the impact considerably on a large fish allowing it to potentially flick the poorly set arrow out after severe injury, and second can easily run more than 15 yards (47 feet) away after being hit breaking the line or pulling out the arrow(indictment 2 against legislators for bow-fishing line length).

Moreover, a "compound bow" if used "should be 70lb to 80lb draw weight" , much heavier than a non mechanically assisted bow draw system.
This feature point of 70lb to 80lb compound bow is partly because the trajectory over longer distances such as up to 50 meters for human archer acceptable accuracy keeps the trajectory flatter while dragging line from the reel while inclusively does not lose striking power through water and a large size limit heavy weight fish.
So this first feature about "high end bow power product" with greater accuracy and better kill capacity of high level accuracy over long range shot also allows a clean humane successful kill UNLIKE a maximum 45lb bow as prescribed by law for bow-fishing.(indictment 3 against legislators)

And again a second point, A 70lb to 80lb compound bow "can have some real control over its power by the archer"
At close range, at 70lb and above compound bow specification , "the string can be short-drawn" up to the start of main tension begining on the cams (resulting in around 30lb pressure for firing on small fish) rather than roll the cams over to let-off weight!
This all makes a compound bow of 70lb to 80lb draw weight almost ideal, HOWEVER, in a boat or on a SUP or Kayak it simply isn't as ideal as a 50lb - 80lb non mechanical bow that will not get rust corrosion damaged cams, and a non mechanical bow can be controlled to any power level up to its maximum specified tension.
(So this a part 4th indictment of legislators about bow draw weight power)

2. A Bow Fishing "Drum reel" (not a cranking line retriever)
[ See the information text above the image near the bottom of the page ] A bow fishing drum reel is mounted onto the bow with a "through bolt" into an international standard size archery "stabiliser socket" ,and the outer-most diameter of reel rim of the drum reel must sit an 2 inches below the arrows firing-ready resting position height. Its' mechanics (or more sensibly physics) "of use" is extremely similar to "side-cast reel" or "hand reel" with one "side" of it facing forward as shown stripping line from it by firing the bow-fishing arrow. It is a problem of the type of line that should be used in saltwater fishing. Woven Dyneema synthetic fishing line "is not nylon fishing wire", it extremely thin alike the standard rod nylon line but does not kink or permanently bend to tangle except over a long time of use. A standard rod nylon line is far too dangerous to use for Bow-Fishing but the main reason for a drum reel not a "retriever" is that synthetic woven BRAID Dyneema line is not usable with a crank winding retriever, crank winding bow-fishing retriever only operated properly with "pre wet bow-fishing line".

A final point to remember when using a "drum reel" bow fishing tackle rig is when you hit a fish to continually point the "drum reel through bolt at the location of the fish from as soon as you fire to the time it settles down from being struck" or your line will jam from not being able to be stripped from the reel and/or your bow will be torn from your hand.

3. Fishing arrow with flat sheet barb (point type for soft fish - alternately a non springing triple barb head) AND fitted with line anti-recoil "slider"
There are some extremely intricate points about bow-fishing arrows.
First, Bow-fishing arrows are solid strong fiber-glass shaft capable of striking a rock face and not shattering with an 80lb bow!
Bow-fishing arrows are also extremely heavy, as much as 10 times the weight of fully fitted normal archery land based target arrows!
The point-tip of a Bow-fishing arrow is designed with a barb to assist preventing the arrow from slipping out of a fish, and i will mention here that with saltwater fish, "do not use a carp point Bow-fishing arrow" for saltwater fish UNLESS the target species and "only desired size to fire on is 50 center-meters or below of length" (two prong wire barb cheap Bow-fishing arrow called a "carp point"), OR when you are firing point blank on a surface level fish from a water operated platform (Kayak,SUP or some type of boat).
So, in saltwater, basically only point blank on the surface(top fin) into the creatures heaviest region without ability to miss.

When an arrow is fired at the fish over long distance such as 20 meters, it is important to (apart from first identifying the fish species and hence its size and limit) only aim at larger size limit species cruising just below the surface leaving a surface disturbance or exposing its top fin.
The above technique allows all the required accuracy over distance 20 meters to 50 meters because it also does not require judgement for water surface visual refraction !
(legislators consultants may or may not have known anything of this and makes 15 yards (47 feet) legal bow fishing line length an absolute blunder against recreational fishing)
However, it requires at least a 50lb bow at 20m to 30m and a 70lb bow above 30m range with a Dyneema braid line to reduce drag and raise velocity to flatten trajectory of the arrow.
(Here legislators have made another mistake, when a fishing arrow with slider enters the water "fired at 80lb" its maximum effective travel in properly spearing a fish is only 2 meters at best because by 3 meters its slider resistance against the water is severe enough to halt it immensely quickly)
Here is a system that does allow the point to break away but intrinsically it will gain only a meter more through the water because of line restriction of extra tip extension line wrapped behind the point on the arrow at carrying the arrow behind it as they are all joined together on the line, but its main reason is because the arrow embedded in the fish is considered a large reason for the point pulling back out through the fish!
AMS BreakAway Bowfishing Bolt w/AnKor FX Point

If anything can be said (and just can!) for the "carp point arrow" in terms of saltwater bowfishing, it is an immense show-up of the difference between simple activity failure and "environmental wreckage of standard bait and lure cast rod and reel".

Unlike a rod and reel, when a small or large fish slips off the bow fishing arrow dead "(standard wire barb pair) carp point" (or any other arrow type somehow), the struck fish' carcass will be consumed by other marine creatures, so no huge real harm done!

The statistical consistency of "the number attempt-able fish in range in a 50 meter radius" with use long line will never be particularly many when fishing from rocks , but has just as many points similar for statistical frequency in a kayak, SUP or boat with long line. Far fewer attempts will be made on legitimate size fish than are ever bothered with a road and reel. Having a long bow-fishing line does of no signifigance and is little danger to environment compared to much of the standard rod and reel tackle rig types and systems.

Second, Bow-fishing "does not contain much playing of a fish on the line (only some and generally bigger size limit species, unlike a rod reel and hooks), it often kills the fish or incapacitates it quite quickly and "bow-fishing only attempts or hits the targeted fish", rod and reel goes through many unwanted fish making bowfishing much more humane !!!

Finally, one great benefit of the humane and green difference over rod and reel actually is "the composite of usables / consumables" of the bow-fishing tackle, it tends to be "less tangling than fishing wires", and "contains NO lead or severe hooks" !!!

Always use "at least" a "triple barb non flexible non wire barbed" arrow or flat-sheet barb arrow (sometimes called a soft fish arrow).

The picture with the red border is the most common cheap basic arrow sometimes called a "carp point wire barbed (tip)", Carp are the only creature it generally will shoot humanely because of physiological complications of the fish and the ineffective barb catching in real world on saltwater fish.



Because a line requires to be attached to a bow fishing arrow, a special device called a bow fishing arrow "slider" was specifically developed for bow-fishing arrows, its' preceding version was a small metal ring of no specific design but had problems of difficulty in fitting and tying the line.
Bow fishing arrow sliders are "plastic" "specifically designed to fit the arrow shank" for "flawless sliding" and to "tie the line to the slider" for better flight balance.
The slider allows the arrow to be drawn "while keeping the line in front of the reel"!
Without the bow fishing arrow slider, bow fishing would be immensely dangerous because the line could easily fall behind the reel or catch on part of the bow loaded with post firing energy, which would recoil on the line and cause either severe injury or fatality!
At no time did manufacturers and developer enthusiasts ever design "the bow fishing arrow and slider for" assistance at limiting line length or to protect anyone other than the initial archer firing the bow-fishing tackle rig!
The bow-fishing lines' main and almost exclusive function IS TO RETRIEVE THE EXPENSIVE AND SPECIALISED arrow NOT to restrict arrow reach, NOT to impede arrow velocity, NOT to protect other people or animals from harm, or, even again, it is NOT SPECIFICALLY designed to hold the fish to play the fish either, that happens to be incidental benefit with "Woven (braid) Dyneema synthetic fishing line" !

4. 100 meters of "woven Dyneema (braid) synthetic" fishing line "minimum 80lb test"
At least in the previous subject headings, use of "Dyneema woven (braid) synthetic fishing line" has been explained for most.
"Woven Dyneema (braid) synthetic" does not form kinks or loops particularly easily by damage such as crushing or stretch (it does not present the danger of nylon fishing wire , It does not have the impeded weight friction and aerodynamic (inaccuracy) characteristics of "Standard Nylon woven pre wet bowfishing line").
In fact "woven Dyneema (braid) synthetic" actually has good qualities for alike (AKA)TBO by number of heavy usage incidents before it has to be considered risky and mainly only by accidents such as crushing and abrasion that would cause breakage more than any other fault.
Of the legislated 15 yards (47 feet) pre wet, bow-fishing woven material line, the line type and its length contributes to inhumane action upon fish for reasons before mentioned!

Saltwater fish and the targeted species are often with a taking size limit larger than 70 center-meters, while it can often be a 20 yard shot it will usually be up to 50 meters on these larger species sizes and heavy weight and they can run after an appreciable hit, not far, but less than 100 meters of line to cope with it would be an absurdity.

Finally, "winding the line", Dyneema line diameter is not dissimilar to that of nylon fishing wire, so there is a process to be particularly careful of when winding it back onto the reel for the next shot, and one only detail making it similar to nylon, that being if you take a fish and pull the line in looping it onto the ground not the reel it can easily tangle, so be prepared to sit around sorting the loops "carefully" after a "take".
There is a process to wind the thin light-weight "woven Dyneema (braid) synthetic" fishing line onto the reel "so it will effectively never jam".
a) After tying the line into the reel hole, start at the inside back of the reel and wind 5 times firmly but not tight.
b) now wind 5 times from (the way/direction your sight sees the internal line storage depression groove) one side at the back across to the front opposite side.
c) now wind 5 times across from the opposite front side as the previous step (b) to the opposite rear side.
d) now wind five times around the rear inside of the line storage groove of the reel, a little in front of the first set that were at the back (a)
e) repeat all this process continually in layers until all the line is onto the reel with some spare slack for mounting the arrow with the slider up the front end of the arrow. (As shown in the pictures).

Here is a current link to such a product (AS EXAMPLE) of there are many suppliers and brands inside the required specifications

Link: "Dyneema Braid" line

Link: woven Dacron (braid) synthetic fishing line

If you simply want reliable quality to not go wrong , abrasion, ant-stretch e.t.c...(these)

Link: Muzzy braid and Dacron lines video youtube

Link: Quality Dyneema line - Jarvis Walker "Rovex Air Strike Braid" 300yd 80lb

5. Gloves (tight fit e.g. cheap gardening potting gloves with sticky plastic palm and material)
It would seem this could be covered in heading "4." and is simple, but it is "required to use gloves" or as with ordinary nylon line you hit a fish and it runs you will have an awfully painful burn mark or cut on your hand or fingers from a fish running for a short distance while you commit braking on the line with your hand until it figures that doesn't work for it.
Gloves also allow you to do "finger shooting" and stop the bow string cutting into your draw-hand fingers.

6. Binoculars (...are not a visual aid) and Polarized sunglasses
Spear fishing regulations in NSW do not allow you to use a "visual aid" to shoot with either a spear gun or a bow!
It is mainly a point that underwater there are problems of light gather and focus that make the target less visible but mainly less identifiable in some situations. Anyone whom has used rifle scope type systems to improve zoom will understand you can end up looking at the wrong location so they are banned and too again fair enough with archery bows. Any other device acting as a lens to improve visual aid is also banned.
However, pin sights are for most about trajectory and not a visual aid, simply a point location and azimuth aid.
This should be more clearly explained in the NSW spear fishing regulations as pin sights on a bow are also beneficial with ethos of non cruelty!

Polarized sunglasses prevent eyes getting tired from glare on the ocean surface but also assist by seeing through that glare into the water for identification of the fish. However, a set of Binoculars (totally dis-conjunct to the bow and thus not a visual aid) are a must for identification if you wish to shoot at a fish beyond 20 meters.

Because the cost of bow fishing would go up around 1000 to 2000 dollars if you were to use a dingy or some other flotation transport device on the ocean, "of you may not have or be able to obtain", one real piece of help is to understand to find a perch on a rock or ledge that is at least 3 to 5 meters above the ocean surface, it allows you to see much better through the ocean sunlight glare without sunglasses to identify a target-able fish.

IMAGE Below:
("the tape holds the white plastic notch tab onto the reel face below the through bolt" NOT line, the notch holds the "anti-wind and reel rim anti-drag loose line loop safety extensions of line (as readied line)").

The makeshift "smooth plastic object" stuck on the center front of the reel "holding the excess line in place in a slot" is to prevent the light-weight line blowing around in the wind for most, so it does not cause accident and injury by getting caught behind the reel.

NOTE(warning): It should be located "CENTRAL AND DIRECTLY BELOW BY AT LEAST 1 INCH", the level of the through bolt that holds the reel onto the bow in the archery ISO stabiliser fitting bolt hole !

IT IS COMPLETELY REQUIRED (and easy to make one).

An extra loop around 15cm long dangling "IS NOT SHOWN HERE held in with the excess" but "should be put with it in the real world situation because it stops the heavy tight hit upon the rim of the reel by the first few loops on the reel dragging at a heavy angle when the arrow is fired !

Without it, hell can break loose and dangerously! Just get a plastic coffee stirrer throw away stick and cut a 5mm slot pointing out in firing direction and mount it bent pointing out with the slot on the outside end with some duct tape!

Simply be sure "the 5mm slot" you cut "is one smooth clean slice" not jagged and no gap between the two sides of the slot.

Finally of the "anti-wind and reel rim anti-drag loose line loop safety extensions holder" in the tackle system, it "allows a clean balanced accurate firing action to occur" without interference or danger from line reel rim drag resistance and wind on the tackle rig setup "PARTICULARLY WHEN USING THIN WIRE LIKE Dyneema and Dacron LINE TYPES".

IMAGE Below:
Note: The arrow in the picture is often known as a "carp point", it has two thin single strand wire-like barbs,
it is unsuitable for for fish bigger than 50cm. The bow is 60lb compound, capable of long distance shots 20m - 50m with a fishing arrow, unfortunately has 15 yard pre wet woven Nylon line (and 45lb set at 25 inch draw length).

IMAGE Below:
Standard archery arrow rest set to sit static , The bow is capable of long distance shots 20m - 50m with a fishing arrow, 80lb compound (adjustable down to 45lb on the one draw length).

IMAGE Below:
NSW Ocean shoreline rock ledge in foreground, it shows the logistics of reaching the ocean surface with 15 yards of line.