What’s the Best Bowfishing Reel in 2021? (+Reviews)

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Nothing is worse than actually making your shot only to have the fish get away—with one of your precious bowfishing arrows no less. The best way to prevent this tragic tale is with a good reel. We took a look at some of the most popular bowfishing reels on the market and found a few that really stood out. Read through our buyer’s guide to see what features and specs we looked for when making our selections, and then dive into the reviews to see why these six made the list.

The Best Bowfishing Reels – Our Picks

Note: Our individual reviews are below, but you can also click any of the links above to check current prices on Amazon and other retailers

Interested in bowfishing? Checkout our other bowfishing roundup articles:

Bowfishing Reel Reviews

AMS Bowfishing Retriever Pro Bowfishing Combo Kit

For those who want to hit the ground running with bowfishing but don’t have a ton of experience, the AMS Bowfishing Retriever combo kit provides more than just a reel. It also comes with two AMS bowfishing arrows equipped with AMS arrowheads. Bowfishing arrows and arrow points are somewhat different from those of normal archery, so this helps you get started faster.

AMS Bowfishing Retriever Pro
AMS Bowfishing Retriever Pro

As for the reel itself, it features 25 yards of a 200-lb line in a bottle/retriever mechanism. This kind of reel is great for beginners since it has no buttons and doesn’t require much more know-how than shoot and retrieve.

The reel has a basic crank which pulls in 17 inches of line per rotation. This is fast enough to get a missed shot pulled back in quickly, but it’s not so fast that it’ll overwhelm a beginner.

Along with the crank, this combo kit has a mount designed for easy setup, including a telescoping clamp so you can position just right for your hand and grip. Similarly, there’s a built-in arrow rest and safety, great for beginners who may be more prone to mistakes.

What we liked:

  • 2 AMS arrows included
  • Simple mechanism and use
  • Moderate crank speed
  • Telescoping clamp 
  • Built-in rest
  • Built-in safety

What we didn’t:

  • Short line
  • Line strength low for bigger fish

Muzzy 1097 XD

The Muzzyy 1097 is a classic spincast reel that’s ideal for experienced fishermen looking for quality in their bowfishing setup. It’s a smooth, intuitively designed reel that’s suitable for serious outings.

Most notably, this reel has a gear ratio of 3.4:1, the largest of any spincast reel on our list. That not only means you can pull errant shots back in faster, but you have better control when reeling in a fish. This is further improved by the automotive-style disc drag that makes it even more difficult for strong fish to get away.

Mounting is versatile and simple thanks to the quality stainless-steel construction. In fact, it can be set up for either right- or left-handers, something that’s often difficult to find. 

The reel itself contains 50 yards of 150-pound line, which means experienced bowfishers can take advantage of their expert aim.

What we liked:

  • 3.4:1 gear ratio
  • Automotive-style disc drag
  • Stainless-steel construction
  • Right- and left-hand setup
  • 50 yards of line
  • Lightweight

What we didn’t:

  • Low line strength

AMS Bowfisher TNT

The TNT is our recommendation for serious bowfisherman who still like the simplicity and versatility of a bottle retriever reel. That’s because it comes with 35 yards of 350-lb line. That’s enough to hold up even when you’re fighting monsters.

Of course, as a bottle reel, there’s zero drag. That means you can send that 35 yards really flying, not to mention make more accurate shots. Plus, you can reel it back in fast, also facilitated by the crank that pulls in 27 inches of line per rotation.

Lastly, as one of AMS’s top-shelf models, the TNT has a tough stainless-steel construction that’s built to last. It has machined-brass gears and standardized t-screws that make it easy to mount on and take off of your bow’s sight holes. It even takes this convenience one step further by including a built-in quiver for your arrows.

What we liked:

  • 35 yards of 350-pound line
  • Reels in 27 inches per crank
  • Anti-corrosive stainless steel
  • Machined-brass gears
  • Quick and easy mounting
  • Built-in quiver

What we didn’t:

  • None

Cajun Archery Winch Pro Bowfishing Reel

The Cajun Archery Winch Pro’s claim to fame is its “Fighting Wheel Brake” design. This is unique for bottle reels and allows you to brake the reel and crank it at the same time, making it harder for big fish to get away.

Cajun Archery Winch Pro
Cajun Archery Winch Pro

As you can guess then, Cajun Archery designed this reel for serious bowfishing. That’s why it also comes with 25 yards of 250-lb line.

If you’re a serious bowfisher, you also want a reel that can stand up to rough conditions. The Winch Pro is just that thanks to aluminum construction and numerous mounting brackets. 

The aluminum construction isn’t just tough, though, it’s also lightweight. That makes it easier to hold steady and aim, even at long distances.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a top-quality reel without an easy-to-use, convenient design. There’s an adjustable string guide, and the mounting allows for horizontal and vertical adjustments so you can get your shot just right. 

What we liked:

  • Fighting Wheel Brake
  • 250-lb line strength
  • Lightweight aluminum construction
  • Adjustable string guide
  • Vertical and horizontal mounting adjustments

What we didn’t:

  • Short line
  • Higher price range

SinoArt Bowfishing Reel

The SinoArt reel is a great budget option for those who want to take advantage of their bow outside of hunting season. While sitting in a lower price range, it still manages to take advantage of sturdy stainless-steel construction that’s easy to mount on most bows.

In fact, mounting is ambidextrous and easy to change to suit both right- and left-handers. It just involves removing a single bolt to change the positioning of the rocker.

For a budget model, this SinoArt reel actually has a really impressive gear ratio of 3.3:1, rivaling some more expensive models. This means you can still pull back arrows in fast, making it conducive for serious bowfishing even if you don’t bowfish that often.

The weight on this model is on the heavier side at about 1.01 pounds, but you can counteract this thanks to a thread for a bow stabilizer. 

This reel comes with 40 yards of line, so you’re ready to go.

What we liked:

  • Low price range
  • Stainless-steel construction
  • Ambidextrous mounting
  • 3.3:1 gear ratio
  • 40 yards of line

What we didn’t:

  • Heavy
  • Line may tangle

Zebco BOWDM

You can tell the Zebco BOWDM is a quality model just by looking at its sleek aluminum construction. This means resistance to the elements and durability.

Our favorite feature of this model, though, is definitely the adjustable drag. This makes it great for expert bowfishermen who want to calibrate their reel’s resistance to the strength of the fish they’re trying to catch. The adjustment itself is through an intuitive dial that you can move with just your thumb.

You can then reel in with a power handle that’s smooth and stable. That said, we were a little disappointed that the crank only has a gear ratio of 2.6:1. This is surprisingly low for such a top-shelf reel, but still enough to get the job done.

This model is ambidextrous and features an ergonomic grip that makes transition from the bow to the reel smoother. This grip also includes an advanced color-coded safety that can be operated with your thumb just like the drag dial.

What we liked:

  • Aluminum construction
  • Adjustable drag dial
  • Ambidextrous
  • Ergonomic grip
  • Color-coded safety

What we didn’t:

  • Higher price range
  • Heavy

Can I use any type of reel for bowfishing?

Basically, yes. You can use any type of reel for bowfishing. The only thing to keep in mind is that bowfishing is a lot easier if you can mount your reel onto your bow, which has led to a number of reel models designed specifically for bowfishing. Among these, there are several options to choose from.

Types of bowfishing reel

Spincast reels

Spincast reels are the standard reels you’re probably used to from fishing poles. You just mount it on a bow. Spincast reels feature a spool that holds the line and a crank handle or lever that spins the spool thereby pulling in the line. 

Uniquely, they also have a drag mechanism that prevents the line from going out when employed. They often initiate automatically when you start reeling in. This makes it more difficult for the fish to escape, but you have to remember to release the drag when you cast the line, in this case by shooting the arrow, or else it won’t go. On a powerful bow, that can actually be dangerous.

Retriever/bottle reels

Bottle reels, sometimes called “retriever reels,” are one of the most popular types of reels for bowfishing because there is no drag against the line, which provides for more distance and accuracy with an arrow.

Instead of a spool, bottle reels consist of, well, a bottle, into which the crank bails the line. No buttons to push or mechanisms to worry about, and maintenance and mounting are easy. The main downside is the lack of drag to hold large fish, so they are more common for mid- to small-sized fish. 

Drum reels

Drum reels are the most basic, little more than a spool around which you must wrap the fishing line by hand. Mounting is basically up to what you can improvise on your own, if you even mount it at all.

Naturally, drum reels provide no extra benefits, and you have to pull in the fish by hand, which can be difficult. However, they are inexpensive and easy to use, and their basic design makes them durable. As a result, they’re still popular even with more high-tech options out there on the market. 

Gear Ratios

A reel’s “gear ratio” refers to how many times the reel’s spool turns relative to a turn of the crank. In other words, if a reel with a gear ratio of 5:1, one turn of the crank will spin the spool 5 times. This means that a reel with a higher gear ratio pulls the line back in faster.

For regular fishing, different gear ratios are necessary for different types of fish and situations. This is because fishermen want bait to hang at a specific level of the water and then move at a specific rate back toward the fishing rod.

Of course, none of this is a concern for bowfishing. You basically just want the fastest gear ratio you can get. Most importantly, this lets you pull back missed arrows more quickly, but it can also help you wear out and reel in large fish.

Bottle Reels

Only spincast reels will have a gear ratio because only they have both a spool and crank. Nevertheless, bottle reels do have ratings for how quickly the reel pulls in the line. Usually it’s just rated in length. For instance, a given reel might pull in the line at 20 inches per crank. Like with spincast reels, the faster the better.

Things to look for

Safety

Many reels have safeties that must be switched off before you can shoot an arrow. This is mainly important for spincast reels because the drag mechanism has to be released when you shoot. If it isn’t, the line won’t go out, and the arrow could misfire, which could be dangerous for both you and your bow. The safety will remind you to release the drag as well.

Weight and construction

It’s not unusual for your bowfishing reel to get wet, so you want it to be made of something that will resist corrosion. The most common materials are aluminum and stainless steel as well as plastic polymers.

Aluminum is usually much lighter but tends to be more expensive. Light weight is ideal because you can hold the bow steadier for longer and therefore make more accurate shots.

Line length and strength

Longer lines mean you can shoot farther, and stronger lines mean you can fish for bigger quarries. Line strength is always rated in pounds and reflects the size of fish you should theoretically be able to catch with it. For instance, a 200-lb line is good for 200-lb fish. Bowfishing lines tend to be quite strong since their visibility isn’t a problem.

Mounting

Most bows aren’t designed specifically for bowfishing. As a result, it’s the reel that has to adapt to the bow. A good bowfishing reel should be versatile. It may have options for mounting using the threads for bow accessories like sights or stabilizers.

An important thing to note is whether the reel can be mounted for both right- and left-handed users. If not, make sure the version you’re getting goes with your hand. 

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