You always want to aim below the fish because the refraction of light makes the fish appear closer to the surface than they are. The distance that you aim depends on how far away you are from the fish, and how deep the fish is in the water. If the fish is a foot in the water, then you may want to aim four inches lower than the fish appears to be. I’ve guided a lot of first-time bowfishermen in both Alabama and Georgia, and the first thing I tell them is, “Aim low on the fish.” The first time most people shoot at fish with their bows, they shoot over the top of the fish.
I’m also asked, “Are you using any sights on your bows?” and the answer is no. Bowfishing is learning to shoot instinctively. Because you shoot so much, even on the first night you’re out, before long, your eye-hand coordination and where you’re aiming becomes instinctive. I compare learning to shoot fish with a bow like balling up a piece of paper in your office and throwing it in a trash can that may be 6-10 feet away. After you’ve tried to ring that trash about 20 times, you know how much force to use and how to make the throw. When bowfishing, once you’ve made 20-30 shots, you begin to understand how the bow shoots, how the arrow flies, and how to aim to hit a fish. After that, your eye-hand coordination kicks in, and you start making much better shots.
The carp that’s the most fun to shoot is the silver carp. When you go through an area where they’re holding, they’ll start jumping. You have to be able to time the jump and aim at the fish in the air. Many people want to know, “How do you shoot a carp that’s jumping and moving in the air, while your boat’s moving?” To perform that shot, you have to think about the way you shoot a duck or a dove. You time your lead so that when the carp flush after you recover from the initial shock of, “there he is,” you aim where the carp is going instead of directly at the fish. When you’ve watched the carp jump for a while, you quickly can adjust for how far behind the boat the carp will jump, and the direction the fish will go, and try and time your shot when the carp stays on that steady flight plane.
In some states like Kentucky, where you can shoot the silver carp from the bank, you can time your shot better because you know exactly where they’ll jump. Shooting from the bank is how I got started bowfishing. My mom would drop me off at the boat ramp, I’d shoot carp all day, and then she’d come and pick me up at the boat ramp in the evening. I’d be sunburned and covered in mud from wading, because I’d been out in the mud chasing fish all day long.
One of my favorite places to bowfish is the canals in Florida. In that state, you actually can shoot tilapia, and they’re delicious to eat. Florida homes a lot of hidden opportunities for bowfishing from the bank, and if you study the water where you live, you may find some hidden gems for bowfishing. The silver carp are especially fun to shoot from the bank because during spawning season they go as far up a waterway as they can to spawn - including the tailrace of a dam and the skinny water in the back of a creek or a small river that feeds a larger stream. Below dams is one of the best places I know of to shoot the silver carp, especially early in the morning during the summer months when those hydroelectric facilities start generating current. Those carp will be right up there close to the dam. When that current turns on, it startles the fish, and they’ll start jumping.
One thing about silver carp is everywhere you go, they do certain things at specific times of the year in different waterways. So, you can pattern them just like bass fishermen pattern bass. One of the reasons silver carp begin feeding and jumping when the current comes on is because that’s when the plankton they eat become active. These fish are filter feeders, and when the plankton begins blooming, the silver carp start feeding, usually in 1-3 feet deep water. Shooting a silver carp below dams is really a blast, and you can have some outstanding bowfishing until your arm gets so sore you don’t want to pull your bow back anymore.