While May is most known for turkey season and the start of walleye, pike, pickerel, and musky seasons, there is another season that began on May 1 that can be as fun as almost anything else hunting or fishing. It is a merging of hunting and fishing, so you get a little of both. That season is the bowfishing season.
In New York, carp are the only fish that you can bowfish for and you can only use a vertical bow (no crossbows allowed). You must possess either a small game hunting license or a fishing license to legally bowfish in New York. Spring is a good time to try bowfishing as the carp are often in shallow waters to spawn.
Bowfishing is generally done from a boat, most often at night when the carp are less skittish, and the water is calm from low winds. To combat the darkness, the front of the boat is usually outfitted with a bunch of LED lights to illuminate the water in front of the boat. This lets the shooter have a clear view of what they are aiming at.
Typically, you must aim at least a foot below the fish due to light refraction of the water. If bowfishing during the day, look along the edges of the water to find carp with their dorsal fins exposed above the water. This also lets you know right where to aim compared to having to adjust your aim for submerged fish.
Bows set to draw weights in the 40-pound range are common. It is plenty of power for penetration of the arrow into the fish without being excessive on draw weight for someone to repeatedly draw and shoot for hours during an outing. The arrow is fiberglass with a special barbed tip so that the arrow doesn’t pull back through the fish when retrieving it. To retrieve the arrow, it is fitted with braided line, usually around 200-pound test, that allows the shooter to pull the arrow back to the boat after it has been fired whether they hit a fish or not. Once a fish is retrieved with the arrow in it, the tip of the arrow is loosened so the barb can be reversed, and the arrow is removed from the fish.
It has been at least 10 years since I bowfished last. When I first tried it, I went with a friend in his canoe to the swamp in Watkins Glen. It took a little paddling around before we finally saw some fish with their backs sticking out of the water close to shore. My friend had bowhunted for a few years while I had just begun shooting a bow. My friend shot a handful of carp while I missed everything I shot at. After a few more trips, I started to get the hang of shooting the bow while looking down the arrow to aim instead of using any sights and began to hit fish.
The only problem I had was that my bow was set to a 60-pound draw weight and a few times, the entire arrow went through the carp. This made retrieving the fish more difficult and getting the arrow back through the carp was a big hassle. During this same time, I was very into trapping. So, I would take the carp we shot and cut them into pieces to use for mink and raccoon trapping season in the fall. I know some people use the carp as fertilizer for their gardens and there are some people who do eat them.
So, if you are looking for a new outdoor activity to do that involves hunting or fishing (or both!), I would advise you to give bowfishing a try.