For the average bowfishing chores, arrow choice is a no-brainer. Solid fiberglass. End of discussion. They're readily available from most sporting-goods outlets, highly affordable, obviously effective, and as tough as anything made (I've got 20-year-old shafts still in service). In short, fiberglass is nothing fancy but gets the job done. Look to Cajun Archery (Solid Fiberglass), Innerloc (Glow & Glass MAX), Muzzy (White & Blue Fiberglass) and October Mountain Products (Fin-Finder Raider Pro), as examples.
Most bowfishermen could stop right here. But what fun would that be?
Splitting hairs, fiberglass generally lacks consistent spine and straightness. To assure best-quality arrows, I buy raw fiberglass shafts by the dozen and select, maybe, three from the lot. I give away the rest. Fiberglass shafts are essentially extruded like noodles, which does allow cool things like adding bright pigment (for positive underwater tracking and refraction adjustment) or glow-in-the-dark elements for night shooting (Innerloc's Glow MAX). Complete fiberglass arrows average 1,400-1,500 grains. They generally spine best from 45- to 50-pound bows. They average around $14, complete with tip.
Carbon fish arrows are newer on the scene, but many balk at the higher price tag (around $25, complete) and wonder what that extra cash supplies. Muzzy's Mark Land says carbon fish arrows (like Muzzy's Classic Carbon, in 5/16- and 22/64-inch diameters) are straighter and recover more quickly after launch which allows for better penetration and straighter "flight" through water. They're also stiffer, meaning they tolerate higher draw weights. You can use them in bows up to 70 pounds if you actually need such a thing while bowfishing. But, while pure carbon fish arrows are quite durable, they will crack under extreme stress or side impacts.
Carbon is also used in composite shafts like Cajun's Red Hornet or Yellow Jacket (strips of bonded red/yellow fiberglass and black carbon) and AMS Bowfishing's Tiger Shark (composite core wrapped with pure carbon). Such construction gives these arrows tighter spine and straightness tolerances and makes them stiffer to easily handle heavier bows. They cost somewhere between pure carbon and solid fiberglass. In a nutshell, they represent a great combination of fiberglass' strength/durability and carbon's straighter/stiffer qualities. Carbon fish arrows weigh around 1,350-1,450 grains (or slightly heavier than fiberglass).
There's another option: Predator and Hybrid MAX aluminum/glass shafts from Muzzy and Innerloc (22/64-inch diameter requiring special points). They're heavier (1,800-2,000 garins, complete) and stiffer to accomodate the heaviest bows (85 pounds at my 30-inch draw length was my threshold). In fact, they require at least 55 pounds of thrust for reliable flight. They cost around $25 complete and will bend under extreme stress.
So why would you bother choosing such a shaft? For the deepest penetration possible while targeting the largest bowfishing targets. Muzzy's Predator shaft is what I used to tag my 12-foot, 6 1/2-inch, 600-pound Florida alligator. The shaft (and 85-pound draw weight already mentioned) was certainly not overkill.
Do you really need an expensive pure- or composite-carbon fish arrow? Probably not. Should you buy one anyway? If you primarily target bigger fish, regularly resulting in deeper water and longer shots requiring increased accuracy, the answer is yes.
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