Should we fish the usual spot, or try somewhere else? Which lake should we try today? How’s the river looking for fish this time of year? These are all common questions bowfishermen ask themselves over the course of a fishing season. While it’s great to have a “honey hole” that consistently produces fish, overfishing can spook the fish or cause your hot spot to dry up. The problem is, how do you find a new bowfishing spot? There’s always trial-and-error, but that can result in a bad night of fishing if you pick a dead spot with few fish. Word of mouth is only good if you trust the source, and just like their rod-and-reel counterparts, bowfishermen aren’t always keen on giving up their secret spots!
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to find a quality new fishing spot without throwing a dart, so to speak. For one, you can scout for fish just like you would scout for deer. Take a drive and look for lakes or rivers that have shallow water, vegetation and other features that attract rough fish. If you find a body of water that looks promising, take a walk along the shore (if you can) and look for rough fish cruising or basking in the shallows (a pair of polarized sunglasses will help you out greatly.) If it’s a river you’re looking to fish, there may be an overpass or bridge nearby that you could use to do an aerial survey and look for fish in the water. In some cases, if the bridge is low enough and the law allows, you may even be able to fish from the bridge.
Another tip for finding a body of water to bowfish is to use your state’s DNR data, if it is publicly available. In many states, such as Minnesota, for example, the DNR does a fisheries survey every few years on select lakes and posts that information online. The information posted includes each species of fish caught, the number of each species caught per net, the normal range for each species in that lake, as well as the average size for each species caught. Here are the fisheries survey results for a Minnesota lake that was sampled in 2013:
You can see in this data table that there were decent numbers of Bigmouth Buffalo, Common Carp and Bowfin found during the survey, which would lead one to believe that this particular lake is probably worth a visit during bowfishing season. Using data like this is an excellent way to find new bowfishing grounds, and can also keep you from wasting a trip to a body of water with few rough fish to chase.
Lake maps or topography maps are also a great tool for finding a fishing spot. Using the topography feature of a map will quickly show you how deep a lake is and point out any shallow flat areas that might hold some fish. In the picture below, you can see this particular lake has a large, shallow basin on the south end which is fed by some sort of river…a potential honey hole for bowfishing.