I am often asked if it is possible to bowfish from a kayak. The answer is, yes…and no. Most kayaks do not allow you to safely stand up, and the cramped cockpit and limited space make it difficult to fool with full length arrows and a normal-sized bow, especially if you use inflatable kayaks like I do.. You are sitting right at the water level, so unless you have a very long upper body, it won’t be possible to shoot a normal, or even short bow without dipping the limbs in the water. Some people try to hold the bow horizontally, but this changes the way the arrow behaves, and hinders the accuracy, which is crucial in bow fishing.
There are some workarounds which I will get to in a moment, but first I want to talk about the most important factor in bow fishing …safety. All of the shooting equipment I will be talking about are serious shooting devices. They are not toys by any means, and can be extremely dangerous if care is not taken. Never shoot at shallow angles, or great distances with full-sized arrows because at shallow angles, they can skip like a rock and travel for great distances. Of course, never point any of these devices at anything you do not intend to shoot. Never knock and arrow or dart until you are ready to shoot, and store them safely in your yak, with the points completely covered, or the entire dart or arrow inside a safe container. Always wear a legal PFD when on the water. And lastly, make sure the device you are using is legal where you are fishing.
Kayak Bowfishing Step #1: Outriggers
There are a few companies that make outrigger for kayaks and canoes. These make it perfectly safe to stand up in a hardshell kayak. Some are inflatable, and others are lightweight polymers, or styrofoam, and attach easily to fittings on your hull. The good ones can be raised up out of the water when you are paddling so as not to detract from the handling of your yak. They can be lowered when you get to your fishing spot. Unfortunately, no one makes any that can be retro-fitted to an inflatable, at least not that I am aware of.
As you can see from the illustrations, they are a workable possibility. I have paddled with them and they work great, and are easy to install with minimal modifications to your boat. They only add about 6-7 pounds to your yak, and when in the up position, I never noticed any difference in maneuverability or speed. .When I stood up, the yak was extremely stable. These outriggers would even work for lure fishing. They also made it easier to get in and out of the boat when launching and beaching when they are put in the down position. If you have a hardshell yak, and want to use standard bowfishing equipment, these are definitely a good option.
Kayak Bowfishing Step #2: Slingbows
Possibly one of the best options, slingbows are gaining in popularity. They can be used for both hunting, and bowfishing, are ultra compact, silent, and very effective. They are also easy to learn how to use, and even a novice can become very accurate in a short period of time. Compared to bows, they are very inexpensive.
A slingbow is simply a slingshot that has been modified to be able to shoot arrows or darts. The modifications are minimal and the slingshots can be converted into a standard sling shot quickly and easily. This means you can shoot arrows for big and small game, or shoot regular slingshot ammo for small game and varmints. Add a fishing reel, and you have what may be the ultimate bowfishing tool.
Back in the early 2000s, several enterprising people were pondering whether a slingshot could be used to hunt big game. At that time, good bows were hideously expensive (and still are…). A few people came up with ways to attach an arrow rest (usually a Whisker Biscuit) to Daisy P-51 slingshots. It worked, and the power was increased by just replacing the bands with high power Theraband tubing (or in my case, speargun tubing). Adding a reel turned them into an efficient bowfishing rig. People like Randy Edwards and Jorge Spave began posting their creations on YouTube, and before long, we were all making our own slingbows with slingshots from Daisy, Saunders and even the old Wham-Os. Some companies began marketing kits to convert a normal slingshot into a sling bow. By 2010 several companies marketed ready-made slingbows at reasonable prices, and even the wonderful PocketShot was modified for Bowhunting and Bowfishing. It doesn’t get any more compact than that.
Here is a diagram of a typical slingbow:
These are both my slingbows that I use in my inflatable yaks. You may have noticed that the first one doesn’t have an arrow rest. I use fishing darts with this one, so an arrow rest is not needed, but the hand guard is crucial so that you don’t stab your hand with an errant dart. The 2nd one is set up for normal fishing arrows. I use safety slides on the arrow to make sure the line never gets fouled on the slingbow. Both have attachments for LED Flashlights and/or a laser sight. Most bowfishing is done at night, and these are very handy. I purchased both on EBay for under $40.00 each, and all I had to do was replace the bands high power Therabands. The bands they came with were OK, but Therabands increase the power tremendously. They both pull around 45 lbs at 26 inches, just about perfect for hunting and fishing. It takes less than 5 minutes to convert them to a regular slingshot.
Be sure to check your local laws before using slingbows. As far as I know, they are legal in most states for non-game fish, and big game hunting during archery season, but check anyway. Don‘t automatically assume it is legal.
Other Options To Bowfish From A Kayak
I have tried many things to be able to bowfish from my kayaks, but so far, nothing has beaten the slingbow. I tried using my crossbow, fitted out for fishing, and quickly found that they take up a lot of space in the cockpit, and are a nightmare to try to cock in a kayak, even with assisted cocking devices. The devices also take up a lot of room. And, it was much too powerful for bowfishing. The arrow would go all the way through the carp and stick in the bottom, making recovery difficult. A crossbow is not a very workable solution.
I also tried fitting a reel to my Cold Steel Magnum Blowgun. It worked, sort of, but a 7’ blowgun is hard to carry and manage in a kayak. Also, the dart is only .62 cal with small barbs, so any fish with any size can easily pull loose.
I have tried using frog gigs as well. They work, but again, managing a 6’ or 7’ pole in a kayak is very difficult.
I had contemplated using a spear gun, but the local Fish and Game Officer told me that you could only use a speargun when completely submerged. I don’t understand this because a slingbow operates on the same basic principle, but it is totally legal here. Oh well. I don’t make the laws. I just follow them.
People have undoubtedly tried other methods, and would love to hear about them. But in my opinion, at this time, nothing beats a slingbow for bowfishing from a kayak.