Lake Conditions:  Partly Cloudy - 82° / Lake Temperature  74° - 359.33'

Bowfishing at Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley

Bowfishing has become a popular sport for visitors to Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. Using a form of archery equipment, fishermen are allowed to shoot and retrieve fish. Western Kentucky and Middle and Western Tennessee are filled with lake waters teeming with fish that bow fishermen seek, including various types of carp and gar.

Types of Fish

Bow fishermen are allowed to retrieve rough scale fish, such as Asian Carp, Bighead Carp, Grass Carp, Common Carp and Buffalo Carp. In Kentucky, the only legal game fish that bow fisherman can shoot is catfish. You can take in as many as 15 catfish per day or two paddlefish (also called spoonbill catfish) per day. There are a limited number of places in the United States where bow fishermen may retrieve the prehistoric spoonbill catfish. Therefore, a fishing trip to Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley is a unique and rewarding experience.  

Tips for Bowfishing

Much like other forms of fishing, bowfishing is generally most productive in the spring and summer months. The best time to engage in the sport is when the water begins to warm up to temperatures of around 73 degrees. You'll find various species of fish in the backs of coves and in the tailwaters of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

"I can pretty much take someone out during the warm months and get 'em some fish," Fowland Outdoors bowfishing guide Zac Crutcher says.

Fruitful tailwaters of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are located near the dam and a number of bow fishermen will shoot from these shores. Creek inlets also make nice locations for fish to spawn in the warmer months of the year.

While bowfishing does not require a boat, it is generally better to fish from an aluminum boat outfitted with a bowfishing deck and lights.

"If you're serious about getting into bowfishing, then you'll want to consider having one built. The deck gives you more room to walk around on the front of the boat and it elevates you enough to provide better shooting angles. The elevation offers room under the deck to place lights" he says.

Unlike other types of fishing, nighttime presents a good opportunity for bow fishermen. While daytime fishing can be fruitful with a pair of polarized sunglasses, nighttime fishing offers a unique opportunity to find fish on the surface and in shallow waters.

Another condition that aids in a successful bowfishing trip is the state of the water. You should always seek out the clearest water. Heavy rains and flooding can produce muddy waters which can make it difficult to see fish.

Benefits of Hiring a Bowfishing Guide Service

Bowfishing guide services, such as those offered by Crutcher are available at Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

"Since a lot of people only go bowfishing a couple of times each year, hiring a guide can save a lot of money," Zac says. "Experienced guides spend a lot of time out on the water and know where to find fish in the conditions at that time."

Bowfishing guides can be helpful resources for those new to bowfishing, as well as for those seeking to hone their skills.

  1. Bowfishing has significant start-up costs to those who do not already own some form of an aluminum boat. Because many folks indulge in bowfishing only a couple of times each year, it is often more affordable to hire a guide while at Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.
  2. In addition to the cost of a boat, bowfishing equipment can also be a great expense. Bowfishing requires a bow and arrow and retrieval kit. Basic equipment generally costs a minimum of $350 and goes up from there, says Crutcher.
  3. Experienced guides know the ins and outs of the lakes. They know where the fish are likely to spawn, habits for certain fish, and they know where the water levels are too low for boats to enter. According to Crutcher, Kentucky Lake tends to be shallow in certain spots, so having a guide who knows how to navigate the obstacles that the Lake's waters hold can make for a much more enjoyable fishing experience.

"There are things that people don't know about the lake that can be dangerous to bow fisherman," Crutcher says. "When you're on the tailwaters you have to be careful with the turbines and old bridge structures that lie just below the surfaces. The water current can be unforgiving, or other people can be out on the lake at night without proper lighting. An experienced guide can help keep you safe on the waters, especially at night."

Guide service rates vary among Kentucky Lake bowfishing guides, however, one can expect to spend a minimum of $350 for a group of four people.

Plan a Unique Fishing Trip

For those seeking a different kind of fishing experience at Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, bowfishing provides a unique adventure for beginners and more advanced fisherman, alike. There are loads of resources for guide services, equipment and boat rentals in the region, so be sure to take advantage of all the Lakes region has to offer and enjoy a fishing trip that you won't experience anywhere else in the country.