Why Do Arrows Fishtail? (And How To Fix It)

by | Mar 20, 2024

Why do arrows fishtail? Have you ever wondered why your arrows sometimes seem to have a mind of their own? Whether you’re a seasoned archer or a curious beginner, understanding why your arrows are fishtailing and how to fix them can make a world of difference in your accuracy and performance.

In archeryfishtailing refers to the lateral movement of an arrow during flight, resembling the wiggling of a fish’s tail. This phenomenon can be both puzzling and discouraging, but fear not!

In this article you’ll discover practical tips and techniques to troubleshoot and fix this common problem, ensuring straighter, more consistent shots.

Key Takeaways:

  • Fishtailing refers to the lateral movement of arrows during flight, and it can be caused by various factors.
  • Sloppy releases, incorrect centershot settings, and mismatched arrow spines are common culprits of fishtailing.
  • Tuning your bow, adjusting form and technique, and selecting the right equipment are essential for minimizing fishtailing.
  • Observing arrow flight patterns, conducting paper tuning, and fine-tuning your setup can help troubleshoot fishtailing issues.
  • Addressing spine issues, minimizing torque, and assessing arrow contact and clearance play crucial roles in improving arrow flight and reducing fishtailing.

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Why Do Arrows Fishtail? 

Understanding Fishtailing Arrows

Fishtailing arrows are a common issue in archery, characterized by the left and right movement of the arrow during flight.

Understanding the factors that contribute to this phenomenon is crucial for improving arrow flight and accuracy. In this section, I will explore the key elements that can lead to arrow fishtailing.

Why Do Arrows Fistail?

Sloppy Release and Arrow Roll

A sloppy release is one of the primary causes of arrow fishtail. When an archer lets the string drag off during the release, it can result in the arrow rolling in mid-air.

This rolling motion disrupts the arrow’s trajectory and causes it to move from side to side. To avoid this issue, it is important to focus on a clean and consistent release, ensuring that the string is released smoothly without any dragging.

Incorrect Centershot Setting

The centershot setting refers to the alignment of the arrow with the center of the bow. If the arrow is not properly aligned, it can contribute to fishtailing.

An incorrect centershot setting can cause the arrow to veer off to one side during the shot. To address this, archers should ensure that the arrow is aligned with the center of the bow, allowing for a straighter arrow flight.

Mismatched Arrow Spine

The stiffness of the arrow shaft, also known as arrow spine, is another crucial factor in arrow fishtailing. If the arrow spine is not matched properly to the bow’s draw weight and the archer’s draw length, it can result in erratic arrow flight.

Using an arrow with a spine that is either too stiff or too flexible for the setup can lead to fishtailing. It is important to select arrows with the appropriate spine rating to ensure optimal arrow flight.

By understanding the causes of fishtailing arrows, such as a sloppy release, incorrect centershot setting, and mismatched arrow spine, archers can take the necessary steps to improve arrow flight and accuracy.

Causes of Fishtailing ArrowsEffects on Arrow Flight
Sloppy releaseArrow rolls in mid-air, disrupts trajectory
Incorrect centershot settingArrow veers off to one side during the shot
Mismatched arrow spineErratic arrow flight, inconsistent grouping

The Role of Arrow Spine in Fishtailing

When it comes to arrow fishtailing, the stiffness of the arrow shaft, also known as arrow spine, is a crucial factor.

If the arrow spine is too stiff for the bow’s draw weight and the archer’s draw length, it can result in fishtailing during flight.

This issue is often encountered in programs where equipment is lent to participants without considering their individual measurements.

Another important aspect to consider is the length of the arrow shaft. The length of the shaft affects the spine, and tuning the bow may require adjustments to the arrow shaft length.

It is essential to find the right balance between the arrow spine and the specific characteristics of the archer and the bow.

Fishtailing can also be influenced by the positioning of the nocking point and clearance problems with the arrow rest.

Incorrect placement of the nocking point and inadequate clearance can lead to a phenomenon known as porpoising, where the arrow exhibits a wave-like motion during flight.

Ensuring the proper positioning of the nocking point and addressing any clearance issues with the arrow rest are vital steps in minimizing fishtailing.

To further explore the topic of arrow spine and its impact on fishtailing, refer to the table below:

Read More: How To Read An Arrow Spine Chart

Arrow SpineBow Draw WeightArcher’s Draw LengthFishtailing
Bare ShaftToo stiffToo longFishtails
Bare ShaftToo weakToo shortFishtails
Nocked ShaftProper spineProper lengthImproved arrow flight

The Importance of Proper Tune and Equipment

When it comes to minimizing arrow fishtailing, proper tune and equipment play a crucial role. By addressing specific elements of your setup, such as the centershot, fletchingdraw length, and torque, you can significantly improve arrow flight and reduce fishtailing issues.

1. Centershot:

The centershot refers to the alignment of the arrow with the center of the bow. A misaligned arrow can cause it to veer off course and fishtail during flight.

Ensuring the correct centershot setting is essential for maintaining arrow stability.

2. Fletching:

The fletching, which consists of feathers or vanes attached to the arrow, affects its stability and flight characteristics.

Properly fletched arrows can help counteract unwanted arrow movements and reduce fishtailing. Experimenting with different fletching designs and materials can optimize arrow stability.

3. Draw Length:

The draw length, the distance you pull the bowstring back, can impact arrow flight. If the draw length is too long or too short for your body proportions, it can introduce inconsistencies that lead to fishtailing.

Adjusting your draw length to match your individual measurements can help improve arrow flight.

4. Torque:

Torque, the twist or rotational force exerted on the bow during the shot, can cause the arrow to fishtail. Minimizing torque through proper hand placement and grip technique is crucial for maintaining arrow stability.

By focusing on your form and reducing torque, you can achieve smoother arrow flight and minimize fishtailing.

Proper tune and equipment are the key to reducing arrow fishtailing. By ensuring the correct centershot alignment, optimizing fletching, adjusting draw length, and minimizing torque, you can improve arrow stability and achieve more accurate shots.

Proper Tune and Equipment Checklist:
Align the arrow with the center of the bow (centershoot).
Optimize fletching for arrow stability and flight.
Adjust draw length to match your body proportions.
Correct hand placement and grip technique to minimize torque.

Troubleshooting and Fixing Fishtailing Arrows

Troubleshooting and fixing fishtailing arrows require a systematic approach. In this section, I will discuss two key techniques: paper tuning and selecting the correct arrow spine.

Paper Tuning for Improved Arrow Flight

One effective method to diagnose and address fishtailing issues is paper tuning. With paper tuning, the archer shoots an arrow through a sheet of paper, allowing us to analyze its flight pattern.

By observing the tear or mark left on the paper, we can identify any adjustments that may be necessary.

Here’s how you can perform paper tuning:

  1. Set up a large sheet of paper or a specialized tuning board in front of your target.
  2. Stand at your usual shooting distance.
  3. Aim for the center and shoot the arrow through the paper.
  4. Observe the tear or mark on the paper. A clean, bullet-like hole indicates good arrow flight, while tears or sideways marks may indicate a fishtailing issue.
  5. Make adjustments to your bow setup, such as nocking point position, arrow rest alignment, or bow tuning, based on the tear pattern.
  6. Repeat the process until you achieve a clean hole.

Through paper tuning, you can identify any inconsistencies in arrow flight and make the necessary adjustments to improve straightness and minimize fishtailing.

Read More: Is Paper Tuning A Bow Necessary?

Selecting the Correct Arrow Spine

Another critical factor in why arrows fishtail is selecting the correct arrow spine. Arrow spine, measured by the stiffness of the arrow shaft, can greatly affect arrow flight.

Using arrows with the wrong spine can result in fishtailing and inconsistent arrow grouping.

When choosing arrow spine, it’s important to consider factors such as your bow’s draw weight, draw length, and arrow length.

One common arrow spine measurement is the numerical value; for example, a 600 spine arrow indicates a specific stiffness level.

To select the correct arrow spine:

  1. Determine your bow’s draw weight and draw length.
  2. Refer to the manufacturer’s arrow spine chart or consult an expert to match your specifics.
  3. Choose arrows with the appropriate spine measurement.
Arrow SpineBow Draw WeightBow Draw LengthArrow Length
40040-50 lbs26-29 inches27-31 inches
50030-40 lbs24-27 inches25-29 inches
600up to 30 lbsup to 24 inchesup to 25 inches

Choosing the correct arrow spine ensures optimal arrow flex and stability during flight, minimizing fishtailing.

It’s crucial to consult expert advice or refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for specific bow and arrow combinations.

In addition to paper tuning and selecting the correct arrow spine, it’s essential to pay attention to the end of the arrow.

The weight distribution and balance, often referred to as the arrow’s front-of-center balance or FOC, can influence arrow flight and help address fishtailing issues.

Balancing the arrow’s weight properly promotes smoother and more stable arrow flight.

Common Factors Contributing to Fishtailing

When it comes to arrow fishtailing, several common factors can play a significant role in its occurrence. Understanding these factors can help troubleshoot and fix any issues that may arise.

Let’s explore some of the most common contributors to arrow fishtailing:

The Type of Bow

The type of bow used can have a direct impact on arrow flight. In the case of fishtailing, the use of a recurve bow, which has a different design and shooting technique compared to other bows, can affect arrow flight dynamics.

Therefore, it’s essential to consider the specific characteristics and requirements of your bow when addressing fishtailing issues.

Using the Wrong Arrow for Fishtailing

Choosing the correct type of arrow is crucial for optimal arrow flight. When it comes to fishtailing, using the wrong arrow can exacerbate existing issues.

For instance, using an aluminum arrow instead of a carbon one can harm flight performance. Therefore, it’s essential to select the appropriate arrow type for your specific shooting requirements and bow characteristics.

The Distance of the Shot

The distance at which you are shooting can have a significant impact on fishtailing. A shot taken from a longer distance, such as 20 yards, can magnify any existing fishtailing issues.

The increased distance allows more time for any deviations in arrow flight to manifest, resulting in a more noticeable fishtailing effect.

Therefore, it’s important to consider the shot distance when troubleshooting and fixing fishtailing arrows.

Having a clear understanding of these common factors contributing to fishtailing is crucial for addressing any arrow flight issues effectively.

By considering the type of bow, choosing the appropriate arrow, and taking into account the shot distance, you can make informed adjustments to improve arrow flight performance.

Common Factors Contributing to Fishtailing
Type of Bow
Using the Wrong Arrow for Fishtailing
Distance of the Shot

Adjustments for Improved Arrow Flight

When it comes to improving arrow flight and minimizing fishtailing, making adjustments to various elements of your setup can make a significant difference.

From the type of bow you use to selecting the right arrow specifications, every detail can contribute to enhanced performance.

Using the Right Bow

If you’re shooting with a longbow, it’s essential to understand that its unique characteristics may require different arrow specifications compared to a compound bow.

The design and shooting style of a longbow can influence arrow flight, so it’s crucial to choose arrows that are specifically designed for longbows.

Modifying Point Weight

The weight at the front end of the arrow, known as point weight, can have a significant impact on arrow stability. Modifying the point weight can help fine-tune arrow flight and minimize fishtailing issues.

Experimenting with different point weights and finding the optimal weight for your setup can lead to improved arrow stability and accuracy.

Selecting the Appropriate Arrow Spine

Arrow spine, which refers to the stiffness of the arrow shaft, plays a vital role in mitigating fishtailing. For certain setups, such as those involving a 500 spine arrow, selecting the appropriate arrow spine is crucial.

Using arrows with the correct spine ensures that they flex appropriately during release, resulting in straighter arrows and improved flight.

Proper Bow Handling and Form

How you hold the bow and execute your shot can significantly impact arrow flight. Maintaining a consistent grip on the bow, proper bow handling techniques, and following good form principles can minimize inconsistencies in your shots and reduce fishtailing.

Pay attention to your hand placement, finger positioning, and overall shooting technique to achieve better arrow flight.

As you make these adjustments to your setup, be patient and monitor the changes in arrow flight. Remember to observe how each adjustment affects your performance and make additional fine-tuning as needed.

By finding the right combination of bow, arrow specifications, and form, you can achieve improved arrow flight and minimize fishtailing for a more enjoyable archery experience.

Fine-Tuning Techniques

When it comes to addressing fishtailing issues and improving arrow flight, fine-tuning techniques can make a significant difference.

By making specific adjustments, archers can enhance arrow alignment and reduce fishtailing. Let’s explore some effective techniques to achieve optimal arrow performance.

1. Move Your Rest

One technique to consider is adjusting the arrow rest. The arrow rest is the device that supports the arrow as it rests on the bow.

Moving the arrow rest slightly can help improve arrow alignment and reduce fishtailing. Experiment with different positions to find the optimal setting for your setup.

2. See the Arrow

Another useful technique is actively observing the arrow during flight. By carefully watching the arrow’s path, you can gather valuable insights into the cause of fishtailing.

Look for any patterns or irregularities in the arrow’s movement and adjust accordingly. This visual feedback can inform your fine-tuning adjustments and lead to improved arrow flight.

3. Assess the Nock Point

The position of the nock point, where the arrow is attached to the string, can also play a crucial role in minimizing fishtailing.

Evaluate the location of the nock point and make adjustments as needed. This fine-tuning technique helps ensure that the arrow is properly seated on the string, leading to more consistent arrow flight.

4. Consider Brace Height

The brace height refers to the distance between the bowstring and the grip of the bow. This measurement can impact arrow flight, including fishtailing.

Adjusting the brace height and finding the optimal distance can help improve arrow performance. Experiment with different brace heights to find the setting that works best for your bow setup.

By utilizing these fine-tuning techniques, archers can address fishtailing issues and achieve improved arrow flight.

Making adjustments to the arrow rest, observing the arrow’s flight path, assessing the nock point position, and considering brace height can significantly enhance arrow performance and overall shooting experience.

The Role of Arrow Contact and Clearance

When it comes to arrow flight, the role of arrow contact and clearance cannot be understated. Understanding how these factors affect your arrows can help you address fishtailing issues and improve overall performance.

Dynamic Spine 

One important concept to consider is dynamic spine, which refers to how the arrow bends during the shot.

Different arrows have different dynamic spine values, and using the correct dynamic spine for your setup is crucial in reducing fishtailing.

It’s important to choose arrows that match the specific requirements of your bow’s draw weight and your shooting style.

Adjusting Point Weight 

Another factor that can influence arrow behavior is the point weight. By using a 125gr point weight, you can alter the arrow’s flight characteristics and potentially minimize fishtailing.

Experimenting with different point weights and finding the optimal balance for your setup can make a significant difference.

Arrow Grouping

When troubleshooting fishtailing issues, it’s crucial to observe whether your arrows are consistently grouping or if there are anomalies.

If your arrows are grouping well, it indicates that your setup and adjustments are on the right track. However, if there are inconsistencies in the grouping, it may be necessary to further refine your setup.

Consider Different Arrow Types 

If you’re still experiencing fishtailing despite making adjustments, it may be worth considering different arrow types.

Some arrows are specifically designed to minimize fishtailing and improve overall arrow flight.

Exploring different options and finding the arrow type that works best for your setup can help address the issue.

Addressing Form and Technique

To achieve good arrow flight and minimize fishtailing, it is essential to focus on form and technique. By maintaining proper form throughout the shot, including consistent release and follow-through, archers can greatly improve the accuracy and stability of their arrows.

Additionally, making adjustments to the centershot, which refers to the position of the arrow rest, can significantly reduce fishtailing.

Interchanging different components of the bow setup, such as vanes or nocks, can help assess their impact on arrow flight.

This allows archers to experiment and find the best combination for optimal performance. Moreover, paying close attention to the back end of the arrow, including the fletching, plays a crucial role in overall bow setup and arrow stability.

Below is a table summarizing the key elements of addressing form and technique:

Key ElementsDescription
Good FormMaintain consistent release and follow-through for better arrow flight.
Centershot AdjustmentMake necessary changes to the position of the arrow rest to minimize fishtailing.
Component InterchangeExperiment with different vanes or nocks to find the optimal combination for arrow flight.
Back End ConsiderationPay attention to the fletching and other components on the back end of the arrow for improved bow setup.

By focusing on form, technique, and making the necessary adjustments, archers can achieve good arrow flight and reduce the occurrence of fishtailing.

It is important to remember that each archer is unique, and fine-tuning may be required to find the ideal setup for optimal performance.

Troubleshooting Advanced Issues

Troubleshooting fishtailing arrows can become more complex when dealing with advanced issues. In such cases, it may be necessary to delve into more in-depth adjustments and tuning techniques.

Let’s explore some strategies that can help address these advanced problems.

Moving the Nocking Point

One effective technique for improving arrow flight is to adjust the position of the nocking point. By moving the point where the arrow attaches to the string, you can influence the arrow’s flight characteristics.

Experimenting with different nocking point positions can help correct fishtailing and achieve better arrow stabilization.

Using a Stiffer Spine

Another solution to address fishtailing is to consider using a stiffer spine arrow. The stiffness of the arrow shaft, also known as spine, plays a crucial role in arrow flight.

For specific setups, a stiffer spine arrow may be necessary to achieve optimal performance and minimize fishtailing.

Consulting with a knowledgeable archery professional can help determine the appropriate spine for your bow and shooting style.

Fine-Tuning Your Bow

Properly tuning your bow is key to achieving accurate and stable arrow flight. Fine-tuning involves adjusting various aspects of your bow, including its weight and settings.

By carefully evaluating and making necessary adjustments, you can optimize arrow flight and minimize fishtailing issues. It is recommended to seek guidance from experienced archers or bow technicians who can help you fine-tune your equipment effectively.

Analyzing the Length of the Shaft

The length of the arrow shaft is another factor that can influence arrow flight and potentially contribute to fishtailing.

Analyzing the length of the shaft in relation to your draw length and bow setup is crucial. An arrow that is too long or too short may not perform optimally and can lead to stability issues.

Ensuring the proper length of the shaft can greatly improve arrow flight and help mitigate fishtailing problems.

By applying these troubleshooting techniques and carefully considering factors such as the position of the nocking point, spine stiffness, bow tuning, and shaft length, you can effectively address advanced issues related to fishtailing.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to the archery community for guidance and support as you work towards achieving optimal arrow flight.


Why do arrows fishtail?

Arrows can fishtail due to factors such as a sloppy release, incorrect centershot setting, and mismatched arrow spine.

How does the arrow spine affect fishtailing?

Arrow spine, or the stiffness of the arrow shaft, can influence fishtailing. If the spine is too stiff for the bow’s draw weight and the archer’s draw length, it can cause the arrows to fishtail.

What is porpoising?

Porpoising refers to the up and down wavering of the arrow during flight. It is often caused by an incorrect nocking point position and clearance problems with the arrow rest.

How can I improve arrow flight and reduce fishtailing?

Proper tune and equipment are essential. Ensure the correct centershot setting, consider fletching and arrow weight, and address form and technique issues to improve arrow flight and minimize fishtailing.

What is paper tuning?

Paper tuning involves shooting an arrow through a sheet of paper to assess its flight. It helps identify any adjustments needed to improve arrow flight and reduce fishtailing.

What are some common factors contributing to fishtailing?

Factors such as the type of bow used, the choice of arrow, and the distance of the shot can all contribute to fishtailing.

How can I make adjustments for improved arrow flight?

Consider using a different bow or adjusting the point weight, arrow spine, or the way you hold the bow to improve arrow flight and reduce fishtailing.

Are there any fine-tuning techniques to address fishtailing?

Yes, techniques such as adjusting the arrow rest, observing the arrow during flight, and assessing the position of the nocking point can aid in fine-tuning and reducing fishtailing.

What role does arrow contact and clearance play in fishtailing?

Arrow contact with the bow and clearance problems with the arrow rest can contribute to fishtailing. Paying attention to dynamic spine, arrow weight distribution, and straightening arrows can help improve arrow flight.

How can I address form and technique issues to minimize fishtailing?

Maintaining good form, adjusting the centershot, interchanging different components, and considering the back end of the arrow, including the fletching, can help improve overall bow setup and reduce fishtailing.

What if I’m experiencing advanced issues with fishtailing?

If you’re facing more complex issues, such as spine issues or clearance problems, adjusting the nocking point, using a stiffer spine arrow, fine-tuning your bow, and evaluating the length of the shaft can help address fishtailing.

Any final thoughts on fishtailing and arrow flight?

Remember that addressing fishtailing requires a systematic approach, considering various factors and making necessary adjustments. Understanding correct spine, minimizing torque, and assessing the bow’s riser are key to improving arrow flight and reducing fishtailing.