A Beginner’s Guide to Bowfishing Snakehead

If you live in a snakehead-infested area like Florida, learning how to bowfish snakehead can be very rewarding. If you like using bows and arrows to catch fish, then bowfishing is for you. However, you should note that fishing bows and arrows are not like the typical ones utilized in archery. Bowfishing arrows are much heavier and have pronged arrowheads. The art of bowfishing snakehead fish involves grasping vital concepts and techniques that enhance your fishing efficiency. Since snakeheads tend to inhabit rivers, swamps, and ponds with lots of vegetation, you’ll also need to horn your skills in locating the fish while ensuring safety. 

How to Identify a Snakehead

As the name suggests, a snakehead has a head resembling a snake’s head. Snakeheads often have a distinct brown and black coloration. However, snakeheads tend to lose the brown color as they grow older, and most large snakeheads are predominantly black. There are approximately 50 snakehead subspecies worldwide. 

Snakeheads quintessentially measure anywhere between 12 and 36 inches and have an unmistakable truncated tail. They also have a slender body compared to other fish species. The heaviest snakehead ever caught weighed 20 pounds. If you’ve ever tasted this fish species, you’ll agree that snakeheads have mildly flavored, white, and firm meat.   

Where Can You Find Snakeheads in the Us

You’ll likely find snakeheads in Eastern and Southern US states like Virginia, New Jersey, Mississippi, Maryland, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania. Snakeheads inhabit river systems, estuaries, canals, ponds, and swamps. The best areas to ambush snakeheads include areas close to aquatic vegetation cover, mudflats, and deep channels.

You should note that snakeheads love to hide in shallow waters with spatterdock, fallen trees, lily pads, submerged brush, grass, and other vegetation types. The upper reaches of the Potomac River have shallow water that allows significant snakehead populations to thrive. Aquia Creek and Occoquan River are also ideal locations for you to bowfish snakeheads as a beginner.

Brown Snakehead fish
Brown Snakehead fish

Strategies and Techniques for Bowfishing Snakehead

As a beginner, you want to shorten your learning curve by implementing practical strategies and techniques for bowfishing snakeheads well in advance. The first thing you should know is that the limits of your imagination directly influence your bowfishing potential. As such, you should stretch your imagination to achieve optimal results. 

Experienced bowfishermen will tell you that shooting snakeheads accurately is one of the most challenging aspects of bowfishing. Bowfishing in shallow waters gives you a better chance of hitting snakeheads accurately. Shallow waters also allow you to get close enough and track a snakehead’s movements for a more accurate shot. 

It would be best to aim at snakeheads in shallow water because your arrow will travel a shorter distance through the water. Arrows tend to lose more energy as they penetrate longer distances through water. The last thing you want is your arrow bouncing off the snakehead’s body. 

If you want to have a successful bowfishing expedition during the day, you should consider bowfishing during springtime when snakeheads are spawning. However, you can do nighttime snakehead bowfishing in all four seasons with incredible results, but nighttime bowfishing requires you to have excellent bowfishing skills. 

Storms stir up river sediments, making it difficult to sight snakeheads. In such instances, you should wait until the sediments resettle on the river floor before bowfishing. When bowfishing snakeheads, it is inevitable that your arrow will get stuck on the river floor. Although you can always retrieve the stuck arrow by hand, it is advisable to carry several arrows with you in case your arrow gets lost in the silt. 

What Gear Do You Need to Bowfish Snakeheads? 

The gear you need to bowfish snakeheads depends on whether you intend to bowfish on river shores or from a skiff boat. If you plan on bowfishing from the riverbank, you need basic gear, including arrows, a bow, and a reel. It is worth noting that you can use any bow to do bowfishing. An ordinary hunting bow can do the trick.


1. Arrows

You require special arrows to bowfish snakeheads successfully. Bowfishing arrows are heavier than ordinary hunting arrows. The extra weight enables them to hit fish with a more significant impact. Heavier arrows also retain energy as they penetrate through the water. 

Notably, bowfishing arrows are composed of fiberglass, making them sturdy, flexible, and hard to break. Their inability to splinter is a significant advantage since they frequently hit rocks on creeks and river bottoms. The arrows also lack fletching to increase their accuracy in water. 

When choosing bowfishing arrows, you should select those with barbed endings. The barbs ensure that your arrow does not dislodge from the snakehead as you reel. Bowfishing arrows also come with a slide bar that facilitates the attachment of a line. 

2. Boat

You need a boat if you intend to bowfish snakeheads on a skiff. However, you should know that not all vessels are ideal for bowfishing snakeheads. It would be best to look for a boat with a deck and sidelights for nighttime bowfishing.  

You need a shallow draft skiff if you intend to bowfish snakeheads in shallow waters. The vessel should be quiet and sufficiently stable to enable you to stand on the deck without toppling over. Lastly, the boat should be narrow enough to navigate through different waterways. 

Bowfishing snakehead from a boat
Bowfishing snakehead from a boat

3. Landing Net

You require a landing net to scoop snakeheads once you reel them close enough. The landing net should be robust enough to handle a 20-pound snakehead without giving way. Its netting should also have the requisite tensile strength to hold giant snakeheads without tearing. 

4. Bug Spray 

You should carry a bug spray if you intend to bowfish snakeheads at night. Since snakeheads inhabit vegetation-covered rivers and ponds, bugs are an inevitable nuisance on your bowfishing trip. The bugs tend to mill around the floodlights on your skiff’s bow. 

Extra Tips for Bowfishing Snakeheads

  • Always mind your fingers when shooting bowfishing arrows. It is advisable to use shooting gloves to avoid bruises and blisters. 
  • Maintain silence on your bowfishing expedition to avoid spooking snakeheads. 
  • Consider bowfishing snakeheads at night to increase your chances of success. 

What are the Challenges of Bowfishing Snakeheads? 

Bowfishing snakeheads is not a walk in the park. As a beginner, you should strive to learn about the challenges associated with bowfishing snakeheads and how to overcome them. Notably, overcoming the challenges makes the learning experience even more rewarding. 

A significant challenge you are bound to face when learning to bowfish snakeheads relates to light refraction. It is worth noting that light refraction makes it hard to zero in and shoot a snakehead accurately. The phenomenon distorts your perception of a snakehead’s actual position in the water. 

Shooting a snakehead in your direct line of sight guarantees an inevitable miss. If a snakehead is 10 feet underwater, you should shoot approximately 3 inches away from its perceived position for an accurate shot. Experienced bowfishermen use their instincts to nail snakeheads with deadly accuracy. As a beginner, you learn through experience how to overcome the challenges brought about by light refraction. 

Snakehead fish
Snakehead fish

Is Bowfishing Snakehead Fish Illegal? 

It is advisable to check state laws and regulations for bowfishing before going out on your snakehead bowfishing expedition. Notably, different states have varying rules governing snakehead bowfishing. In the US, 49 states, save for Alaska, allow fishermen to bowfish non-game fish such as snakeheads all year round. 

State laws also dictate areas and times of day you can bowfish snakeheads. Georgia’s regulations outlaw the firing of arrows when there are other individuals within a 150 feet radius. The state’s laws stipulate that bowfishermen can only bowfish snakeheads at night when the water body in question is more than 500 acres. 

Virginia regulations permit bowfishing common carp, gar, grass carp, and snakeheads. The state’s rules also outlaw bowfishing snakeheads in water bodies with stocked trout. However, Virginia’s laws do not restrict the time of day you can bowfish snakeheads. Additionally, the regulations do not place creel limits on invasive fish species such as snakeheads. 

Delaware and Maryland allow bowfishermen to bowfish snakeheads all year round. The states’ laws also allow bowfishermen to catch as many snakeheads as possible. However, the states outlaw possessing live snakeheads. You must kill or release any snakeheads you catch on your bowfishing expedition. It is worth noting bowfishing often deals a fatal blow to snakeheads, and the chances of catching and releasing them are considerably low. 

Also, note that all states prohibit the utilization of poisoned or exploding arrows. These arrows cause unnecessary suffering to snakeheads and contribute to environmental damage. As a beginner, you should look at your state’s licensure requirements for snakehead bowfishing. 

Key Takeaways

Learning how to bowfish snakeheads is a gratifying experience if you are a sports fishing enthusiast. All you need to do is study effective strategies and techniques for bowfishing snakeheads before doing it practically to shorten the learning curve. You also need the right gear to successfully bowfish snakeheads. As a beginner, you are likely to face challenges in making accurate shots consistently. By consistently horning your skills, you can overcome the challenges and soon become an expert at bowfishing snakeheads. So, go ahead and take up bowfishing as a hobby today. 

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