Bowfishing in Arizona

Bowfishing for carp: your next hunting obsession By Matt Smythe

There’s an underrated gamefish making its way into the spotlight — quite literally. Instead of chasing them during the day with rod and reel, though, you’re hunting these bruisers at night with bright lights from a boat and firing a well-placed arrow at them as they roam in shallow water.  

Meet your next hunting obsession: carp. 

Although not the best table fair mainly because they are full of bones, but done correctly carp can be good eating . Most will dismissed them as garbage fish. If you don’t want to eat them they make great dog food or can be ground up into fertilize your garden. Still having amoral dilemma, don’t fret it is techincally illegal to catch a carp and release it back into the water way in AZ.

 Not known for being the most attractive fish the carp has a few redeeming qualities: they’re big, strong, and easy to find — mainly because there are a lot of them. Carp are the third most frequently introduced species of fish in the world, and their history dates back to Roman times when they were actually farm-raised. A food staple in many other countries, carp are regarded as a pest in the US because they out-compete native fish for food, eat their eggs, thrive in water too warm for other species, and in AZ do not have any real natural predators to keep their numbers in check so bowfishing is an excellent tool for keeping number down .

bowfishing in az
Night out bowfishing with clients

Their ideal temperature is 73 – 86 degrees and they’re able to tolerate water with very low oxygen levels by gulping air at the surface. They’re also hearty enough to survive winter under ice, as long as there is some free water. 

Carp are omnivorous opportunists. They eat aquatic plants, plant tubers, and seeds, but will crush insects, crawfish, gobies, worms, fish eggs, and fish remains. They feed throughout the day but go into scrounge-overdrive at night and around sunrise. Essentially, if it’s available, they’ll eat it.

While they may be abundant, they’re not necessarily easy quarry to bowfish. Carp are quick to spook and will leave a cloud of mud 10 feet wide with one flex of their burly tail. 

For John Stallone, owner of Phoenix-based Days in the Wild Guide Service, the thrill and challenge of the chase, as well as the pure fun of the whole experience, prompted him to add an entire guided service focused on bowfishing for the freshwater giants.

“Bowfishing for carp from a boat at night is such a good time,” he said. “There’s a ton of action, which is exciting for everyone on the boat, and it’s just so satisfying when you shoot a really good fish.” 

Carp have long lifespans and can hit 31 inches and 40 pounds. The Arizona state record is a 42-pounder hauled out of Lake Havasu in 1979. Michigan has the biggest carp on record in the country at 61.5 pounds.

Stallone primarily spends his time bowfishing on Lake Pleasant, Saguaro, Bartlett, and Roosevelt Lake where there is prime carp habitat and spawning areas.

“Most of our trips are done from the boat,” he said. “However, during the spawn sometimes we will take people and hike in along riverways and bowfish from shore. This is about the only time we will bowfish during the day.”

“Primarily we are bowfishing at night under 264,000 lumens of Outrigger Outdoors lights on a custom-built Alweld 2070 flat-bottom jon boat — one of the most unique and versatile bowfishing boats out there.”

Currently, they’re running 4-hour trips starting at sundown, but additional hours are available to book.

When a stealthy approach brings a fish into range, it’s time to put all that target-shooting time to work. Stallone has a preferred set-up that’s been dialed in from years of experience. 

“We run the AMS Hooligan V2 because it’s a snap-shooting compound bow and it automatically adjusts to draw length,” he said. “It also has a draw weight range from about 17– 50 pounds.” 

The “snap-shooting” functionality means the bow has no let-off like a traditional compound bow, so the arrow can be released at any point during the draw. 

His arrows of choice fall in the 1,600 – 1,800 grain range. The heavier arrows deliver better penetration, which is important since they have to travel through water before sticking the fish (carp have heavy scales, too).

“We shoot arrows with a shaft release style point so you don’t have to touch the fish to remove from the arrow,” Stallone said. “With tip release, more often than not, you have to handle the fish and carp are very smelly.” 

Of course, when you arrow a carp, you need to retrieve the fish.

“We run the Cajun Winch Pro Reel system because it’s the best of both worlds,” he added. “You have the safety and strength of a bottle-fed system without the worry of messing up the reel or injuring yourself if you forget to push the button on a spin cast style reel.”

If you’re new to bowfishing, or shooting a bow, that shouldn’t keep you from giving it a try. Stallone explained that Days in the Wild offers a one-hour class that teaches participants exactly what they need to know — from safety considerations and getting familiar with the equipment to shooting mechanics and hitting your target underwater. 

“The course is super hands-on,” Stallone said. “So far, everybody has become proficient enough to be successful on the water after taking our bow fishing class.”

No pressure there.

Visit Days in the Wild for more details or to book a bowfishing trip you won’t soon for