Bowfishing is a favorite pastime among many boaters in the south, and many people who own a Jon boat for fishing or hunting rig it up for bowfishing as well. Having the right bowfishing boat will make it easy to get further out to where the fish are, and draw a bead – just imagine the thrill of landing the big catch with an arrow, rather than using a fishing rod and waiting for it to come to you.
You’ll need to obtain a bowfishing license, in most places, if you are over the age of 17 and want to enjoy the sport legally. Check with your local Fish & Wildlife Department to get the guidelines and requirements for your state or county. Beyond that, it’s all about finding the right bow, and of course the right boat, for the job. This guide can help you learn more about bowfishing boats, what they have to offer, and which models are the best ones on the market today. Let’s take a look at:
What Can You Do with a Bowfishing Boat?
Most boats designed for bowfishing have a hull shape which is either flat-bottomed or a slight semi-V shape, so they can get through the shallows. Jon boats, pontoon boats, and fishing skiffs are all commonly used for bowfishing, though some people do customize other types of boats for the sport. Still, there is so much that you can do with these boats. Of course, their low-profile and flat bottom make them ideal for getting through shallow waters, but that isn’t all that there is to it. You can upgrade seats, lights, and other features on your boat to create a custom boating experience. Or, you can buy a basic model and make sure that it has maximum fishing capabilities if you want something simple. With the models available on the market today, it’s easy to find precisely what you need.
Top Bowfishing Boat Manufacturers
Below, you’ll find some top-selling and best-rated bowfishing models on the market.
Gator-Tail Extreme 17
The Gator-Tail Extreme 17 is a Jon boat hull designed to accept a “mud motor” style of outboard which reduces the boat’s draft to, well, soft mud. This is most critical for use while hunting but the ability to get super-shallow also works out very well for bowfishing, especially when attempting to go after fish like snakeheads, which are often found in water just a few inches deep. In that scenario, the bowfisher who’s going to come home with the heaviest cooler is the one who can get to terrain other boats dare not tread. The boat also has a light on the elevated forward deck, which will make a good bowfishing platform, and the company offers an optional bowfishing rail.
See Gator-Tail boats for sale on Boat Trader.
G3 Gator Tough 20
The G3 Gator Tough 20 is available in center and side console configurations, and used to be manufactured in a dedicated bowfishing model. You may find some on the used market, or the new stock Gator Tough 20 will be fairly easy to customize with a bowfishing rail and lights. The boat has an elevated foredeck that will work out well for bowfishing, and since it also has accessories like fishing rod holders, aerated livewells, plenty of stowage, and a leaning post, it will also work out well for sportsmen who enjoy both bow and hook-and-line fishing.
See G3 boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Havoc 1553 DBST
The Havoc 1553 DBST is an aluminum rig, this one with an integrated elevated foredeck and three potent light bars. It’s designed for multiple sporting and hunting uses so it comes in full camo, and also features four-inch recessed handrails, interior lighting, and a trolling motor bracket. The 0.100″ gauge hull is 5086 alloy and has eight degrees of deadrise. An unusual perk of the Havoc which duck hunters will be interest in is the step transom, which makes it easy to get out and set decoys or haul a retriever back into the boat.
See Havoc Boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Tracker Grizzly 2072 CC Sportsman
This lightweight boat is 100-percent aluminum with foam-filled, welded sidewalls for added structural strength and noise reduction. This model has a fixed elevated shooting deck with a rail, tool and arrow holders, two seat base pedestals, and 10 100-watt/10,000 lumen SeeLite LED lights for night bowfishing trips. It also comes with a three-bank battery charger and five batteries plus a Firman W2100i 1,700-watt inverter to power up all the lights. The Kicker version adds in a stick steering system, so you can run the boat on a kicker motor from the bow platform.
See Tracker Grizzly 2072 CC Sportsman boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Comparing and Choosing The Best Bowfishing Boat
Choosing the right bowfishing vessel is all about your intended use. Size matters, obviously. Few bowfishing boats are over 20 feet and if you need a boat that can handle six or more people, for example, you’ll want as large a model as possible. Of course, several different factors go into buying a bowfishing boat. Use the tips here to help you narrow down your options and have a better chance of getting the perfect boat the first time.
Choose materials wisely
When you’re in shallow water, weight matters. For that reason most bowfishing boats are aluminum. Hulls that are 0.10″ thick are the norm, but some boats built to take on obstacles like stumps and rocks will have thicker hulls that can take more of a beating.
Consider your budget
Like all boats, bowfishing models are available in every imaginable price range and style. Therefore, you’ll want to know your budget and limit your options before you even begin shopping. That way, you don’t fall in love with the perfect boat only to find out that you can’t afford it.
Look at the layout
Like the platform, the rest of your boat needs to function effectively for you to make the most of your excursions. Check out the console, the deck, and the lights to ensure that you have space you can work with when you’re out on the water. If you also enjoy hook-and-line fishing, check for the presence of accessories like rod holders and livewells.
Make sure there is a guard rail
A lot of boaters don’t think of it as completely necessary when you’ll be in in shallow waters, but a guard rail is going to be your friend. Accidents happen, and unless you like ending up in the water your model should include a guard rail to prevent said accidents. Most bowfishers prefer a rail that catches them around thigh height, and is sturdy enough to lean against while shooting.
Customizing Your Own vs. Buying New
When searching for bowfishing boats, you might notice a lot of information about builds and plans. That’s because a lot of people will start with a simple flat or near-flat bottomed boat and build up from there to create their custom bowfishing model. This is effective because it guarantees that you get precisely what you want, but it can be time-consuming. If you’re not familiar with parts, you’ll also have to get to know them so that you know what you’re buying.
Sometimes, the best option is a compromise between the two. You can work with a reputable boat dealer or shop to pick and choose the right components to create the perfect bowfishing vessel, no matter what you have in mind. Buying a ready-to-go model saves time and gives you everything in a single, easy package that you can take to the water. If you’re not as picky about components, accessories, or other features, this may be the best way to go. It’s also ideal for first-timers who still might not know exactly what they want in a boat designed specifically for bow fishing.
Building a bowfishing vessel will start with the hull and platform. You’ll need to choose styles that provide the space that you need and offer easy access to the waters where you want to fish. Then, you’ll be able to select your motor (which generally doesn’t need to be too powerful), your accessories (like fish finders, seats, coolers, and other upgrades), and the finishing touches for your boat.
The customization options are so vast that you can find everything from models with one or two optional upgrades to complete custom bowfishing vessels that are genuinely one-of-a-kind. Which is better, though? Honestly, this is all about personal preference.
Take the time to see what’s out there. Compare the price range variances between building and buying, as well as what you get for the money. That way, you’ve got a full picture of your options so that you can build or buy the perfect boat for your needs, no matter what you have in mind.
Must-Have Bowfishing Accessories
Every bow fisherman needs the right accessories to outfit their boat. The critical components consist of the elevated forward shooting deck, the rail around it, and lots of bright lighting. Remember, most bowfishing takes place at night and the more light your boat can broadcast, the more fish you’ll be able to spot. Finally, you’ll need to have a generator or inverter (plus lots of battery power) onboard to power all those lights.
The Bottom Line on Bowfishing Boats
Choosing the best bowfishing boat is all about finding what you want. Fortunately, the best of 2022 offers a lot in the way of modern comfort and fishing utility. If you consider building a boat, remember to work with a reputable retailer or boat builder that knows how to fit the perfect components to create the bowfishing vessel that you need.
Any of the models in this guide are sure to deliver an exceptional bowfishing experience. Or, you can use the insight provided here to find a completely different model or purchase a kit that includes all the components that you want. As long as the hull can get into shallower waters and you’ve got room to bowfish, the rest is really up to you.
This article was last updated in June of 2023.