Finding the Best Bowfishing Reels for the Right Price

Bowfishing can be a very fun and rewarding method for catching fish. Combining archery and fishing, it makes for a great way to spend a day either killing off invasive species or grabbing some tasty fish meat. Having the right bow is essential, but having the right reel can really make or break the whole experience.

Bowfishing means you are taking either a conventional hunting/shooting bow or one designed explicitly for bowfishing, and firing an arrow that is attached by line to some sort of method to retrieve the line. There are several methods for this, such as a drum reel, a conventional reel, or a retrieval reel. Each method has its own benefits, but one stands alone as the absolute best method. Since you have different options, you have a lot of ways you can approach this new hobby. You could start with the biggest and the best, or you could spend a little and see if you are even interested.

If you are like me, when you get into something, you want to spend a lot and get the very best—because you like fancy toys. Well, it’s stupid. Sometimes I end up spending a lot of money on something that I may not even enjoy for more than a few weeks, if at all. So now I am out hundreds of dollars and forced to sell whatever I got into at a loss. So I started to look at things differently and working on trying simple, cheap, and seeing if I want to invest more down the road. My idea is to spend a little, save a you can spend more later when you know what you are doing.

4 Best Bowfishing Reels - Comparisons

4 Best Bowfishing Reels - Reviews

The Drum Reel

The drum reel is a quick an inexpensive way for most to determine whether or not they actually enjoy bowfishing. The drums are attached easily by either tape or line on the bow's stabilizer hole. It’s quick and dirty, gets the job done, but does have its notable drawbacks. When you lose the arrow, the line does not come off as easily or as fast as other methods. This means the arrow is going to fly a lot slower, making hitting faster-moving targets a lot harder. It also means that if you shoot and miss, you probably won’t have a second chance. Plus, you’ll be limited to a hand retrieval method.

So you will be pulling in the line manually, which takes more time and effort, and in the event you harpoon a large fish, the line can cut and burn your hand a bit during a fight or an ill-placed shot because of the arrow speed. The weight of the line also plays a determining factor in speed, and drum reels use somewhat thicker and heavier lines. 

Fin-Finder Heavy Duty Drum Reel

Fin-Finder makes a great drum reel that is really simple to use. All you have to do is attach it to the stabilizer bushing and bingo, you are fishing. It is a good quality design that will hold up for a while and won't fall apart on you. The line is retrieved by hand and spun back onto the reel manually. The line is strong and made to last fighting even the most stubborn of carp. For your money, it’s hard to beat this little reel. It gets you started for little cost, and from there you can see if you want to invest more money.

What we liked

  • Sturdy aluminum construction
  • Comes with plenty of line (80 ft.)
  • Easy to install and easy to use
  • Inexpensive

What we didn't like

  • Slow release 
  • Not very fast on retrieval 
  • Not the easiest to fight

Also Read: Trolling Reels Review

The Spincast Reel

Another method is the spincast reel. This is basically a conventional fishing reel attached by a kit to the bow. The line is attached to a line off the arrow and housed in the reel like any other fishing reel. Simply flip over the bail and let the arrow fly. Since the line is lighter (it’s basically fishing line) the arrow flies out with relative ease and speed, making those shots on speedier fish a lot more attainable.

The lighter line coupled with the fact it’s on a traditional reel means retrieving fish is as easy as reeling them in, so it is a lot faster than doing it by hand. However, having to manually flip over the bail each time can get a bit tedious, and failure to flip over the bail due to negligence or malfunction can cost you an arrow. The line being lighter means it’s not as strong, so if the bail is locked in place when you shoot, it will cause the line to just snap and the arrow is gone.

Zebco 808HBOW, 80, BX3 808 Series Reel, Bowfisher, 2.6: 1 Gear Ratio

Zebco has been making reels for many decades, and most anglers cut their teeth using Zebco reels. It is a name we all know and trust, especially for their durability and simplicity. The 808 Bowfisher Spin-Cast Reel is a great little reel for bowfishing. Having the bail being operated simply by pressing a button is what you want when you are out on the water making quick shots on fast fish. The line is being fed out like a conventional fishing line, which means speed is well on your side. You attach it to your rod via a small rod that goes into the stabilizer. You can even buy an additional attachment to give it a little rod tip to help with those fat pigs you might put an arrow in. They are great if you need speed, and we all need ease of use. Zebco is a proven brand so this is reel a great investment for most.

What we liked

  • Allows good and speedy release 
  • Can have a rod tip attached 
  • Easy retrieval 
  • Easy to master

What we didn't like

  • It’s a bit difficult to install
  • Won’t fit on all bows 

The Retriever Reel

If you’re looking for something that can give you the best of both worlds, something that will give you strength in the line, the simplicity of a drum reel, as well as the speed and ease of use found in conventional spin-casting reels, there is a great product that bridges that gap—and, in my opinion, it is the best method for bowfishing. Enter the retriever reel.

The retriever reel is truly that happy medium between drum and spin-casting reels. It easily attaches to most bows, including compound and re-curve. They are lightweight as well, and very simple to use. Utilizing the stronger line that you would find on drum reels, you can still hand-fight fish, if need be, but you can also reel the line back in place. Since the line is fed into a storage compartment and is not spun into a reel, that means there is a lot less stress and wear on the line. So it will last a lot longer, and make bringing in those fish you just nailed a heck of a lot easier. Now, the line is like the drum reel line, meaning it is thicker, so it will not fly out as fast as it would on a spin-casting reel. You are compromising speed a little, but in return you are getting durability, ease of use, and since its lighter, carrying the bow all day on long trips will be just that much easier. So for me and my money, it is hard to beat a retriever reel. 

AMS Tournament Retriever Pro Bowfishing Reel

AMS makes a top-of-the-line retriever reel and it truly has no rival. It is solid and extremely durable. The line is strong and of good quality, however, the gear ratio for the reel is FAST so you will not have to worry about those missed shots. With this reel, you’ll have your arrow back in the boat and ready to fire before everyone else, giving you the edge over your buddies. You won’t lose arrows with this reel either—the line is reeled into a bottle so it’s not all spun up on a reel, making it weaker over time. You won’t have to worry about flipping over bails and drag settings costing you a broken line, lost arrows, and lots of cuss words.

I am hell on equipment and the AMS holds up. It is durable and built to last—this reel will stand up to the biggest fish, the dumbest misses, and the most rookie of mistakes. Even stepping on this reel only ends up with you having a hurt foot and the reel being fine. Going with this upgraded pro model will mean never having to buy another reel again, unless of course your plan is to own several bowfishing setups. Hands down, this one is the best reel available.

The one glaring downside of the AMS reels is that they are somewhat more costly than the other alternatives. So if price is an issue for you, there are other retriever reel options for you and you can still get the best of both worlds, just not as good as AMS. They are still good options, and of course saving money is always a great bonus. 

What we liked

  • Lightning fast release 
  • Sonic fast retrieval 
  • Easy to maintain and operate
  • Durable 
  • Get 2 shots when everyone else is still bringing in their first 

What we didn't like

  • Expensive
Cajun Hybrid Bowfishing Reel AFR1300

Cajun makes a good hybrid bow-fishing reel that functions fine and will not break the bank. It works much like the AMS in that it is a reel that stores the line in a bottle and utilizes a thicker line found on drum reels. Basically, the Cajun does everything that the AMS does, just a bit less efficiently. The bottle can sometimes jam up if not seated well, the reel is a slower than the AMS, and it’s more complicated to attach. It does work though, and for the price it is absolutely worth the drawbacks. It’s not that the Cajun is bad, it’s that the AMS is that good.

What we liked

  • Easy to use
  • Quick release and good retrieval time 
  • Affordable
  • Quite durable for the price

What we didn't like

  • Bottle tends to jam
  • Slower retrieval than other hybrid reels 

Final Verdict

When you are choosing the right bowfishing rig for yourself, you need to make sure that it is durable, that it’s easy and intuitive to use, and that you will be able to get your arrow back and fast. There are a lot of methods out there that will get you on the water and putting arrows into fish, each meeting the needs of most, and some meeting the needs of all. A good start is to look into drum reels for their simplicity and low pricing point. Or you can take a look at conventional spin-casting reels designed for bow fishing that are a lot faster for those shots and also easier to use. But if you want to try and bridge the gap and have the best of both worlds, a good retriever reel will make your life a lot easier and will save you lot of time—but that’s going to come at a cost.

Bowfishing is like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it—it all depends on what you want and how you want to approach this sport. There is no wrong answer really when it comes to fishing, so give some of these options a look-over and see what you think will work for you. Good luck, and have fun! 

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David Valle

I started this blog to provide advanced material, guiding you towards a better and more comfortable fishing experience. I deliver more than fishing gear guides, and motivate people to hit the water!