Just as fishing rods have different styles of reels, so do bowfishing bows. The two most popular bowfishing reel styles today are the bottle reel and the spincast reel. A bottle reel like the AMS Retriever Pro (available on Amazon.com) has a bottle that collects the line as it is retrieved.
These reels are mounted on the side of the bow in the mounting holes where a sight would typically go. The AMS Retriever Pro reel has a trigger or handle that must be squeezed during retrieval, which essentially pinches the fishing line between two wheels, pulling it in to the bottle. When the handle is depressed, the reel is in free-spool mode, meaning the line can be freely pulled out from the bottle with no resistance. This can be a nice feature, as there’s no button to forget to press which can happen with a spincast reel. The AMS reels have an anodized aluminum and plastic housing, along with a durable (AMS markets it as “unbreakable”) plastic bottle that holds the line. AMS also makes a Tournament Series reel which features a longer crank for added leverage and a faster retreive than the Retriever Pro. The tournament series reel is slightly more expensive (about $20 more,) but it may be worth the investment if you’re going to be fishing often.
A spincast bowfishing reel is fairly different than a bottle reel. For starters, a spincast bowfishing reel looks almost exactly like a fishing spincast reel, except bigger. These reels are mounted on a reel seat that screws into the stabilizer hole on the front of the bow, instead of on the side of the bow.
Unlike bottle reels, spincast reels feature a push-button that releases the inner bail and allows the line to spool off the reel at the shot. The bail is re-engaged simply by turning the crank, which starts retrieving the line – just like a spincast fishing reel. This style of reel also features an adjustable drag, which allows you to better play the fish once they’re on your line. One downside to this style of reel is that forgetting to press the button before shooting can result in a lost arrow. This issue can be resolved by tying your bowfishing line directly to the arrow, but that method is not widely-used and is generally not recommended as it can cause the arrow to snap back at the shooter. Popular spincast reels include the Muzzy XD and the Zebco 808 Bowfisher. Both of these reels are durable and easy to use, and have been widely-adopted in the bowfishing community. Keep in mind that with any spincast-style bowfishing reel, you’ll also need to buy a reel seat and a rod attachment, as both of those items are needed to install the reel on your bow (see diagram above.)
A third line-retrieval option, which is also by far the cheapest of the three listed here, is a spool. A bowfishing spool is basically a cylinder that is mounted to the front of the bow which requires the shooter to wind up the line by hand after shooting. Bowfishing spools come in several different styles, but are generally steel or molded plastic and mount directly into the stabilizer hole on a compound bow. Many people new to bowfishing start with a spool and upgrade to a reel later on, but some do prefer a spool over reels too.