Bowfin Fish

You probably know that it’s also called the mudfish, mud pike, dogfish, griddle, Grinnell, swamp trout, and choupique. However, there’s so much more to know about the bowfin fish before taking your next fishing adventure. Let’s dive in.

What is a Bowfin Fish?

Scientifically called the Amia calva, the bowfin is a bony fish that is a member of the Amidae family within the Chordata phylum. It is a game fish that will put up a great fight for fishermen and fisherwomen looking for a fun battle with great rewards. The bowfin is often classified as a primitive fish because it has maintained some of its characteristics throughout millennia of evolution. They can thrive in both freshwater and seawater.

The bowfin fish is quite a distinct species. In fact, even its closest relative, the gar, is very different. Esthetically speaking, the bowfin can be identified by its long cylindrical body, olive green body that gets lighter in tone by the belly. Its rounded tail fin sports a black spot while a long dorsal fin can extend to over half the length of its back. Dogfish also have noticeably large mouths in relation to their head size.

Bowfin fish usually weigh between 1 to 5lbs and measure between 18” and 30” in length. Juveniles reach sexual maturity by the age of three. Wild bowfins can live for 10 to 12 years while those in captivity may reach 30 years. Their spawnings have a 10-day incubation while a nest can contain up to 5,000 eggs. Their spawn season is between April and June.

As a fish that is thriving in its habitats, bowfin are classified as “least concerned” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. While once seen across Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, the species is now primarily found in North America. Their history can be dated back to the Jurassic period.

The snakehead found in Africa and Asian shares similarities but is not related to the bowfin. Anglers should also know that, while they are small, the bowfin’s teeth are extremely sharp and robust. 

Where to Fish for Bowfin 

While they once inhabited waters around the globe, they are now located in North America in various water bodies running from the Great Lakes to the Gulf. The states of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas are just four areas where bowfin fish are found in large numbers. Bowfins thrive in tidal systems, although they dislike currents and river environments while they are usually found in waters with lots of vegetation. 

Anglers won’t need to worry about whether the waters are dirty or clear, just that there are ample places for bowfins to hide and scavenge for food. The fact that they only live in healthy waters makes them a great barometer of the overall ecosystem. As well as lowland lakes and rivers, they can be found in swamps and backwaters.

Bowfin is also bimodal breathers that will take oxygen through the air as well as the water. As such, they are most frequently found near the surface, even when living in deep waters. This characteristic helps them survive situations where other species may die due to conditions like aquatic hypoxia. For an angler, it means you can fish near the surface of densely vegetated areas of the river or water body as well as at depth because they also like to search the river bed for food.

The species is best targeted in the Spring, although you can fish them all year and still enjoy a degree of success.

Bowfin Fun Facts 

Bowfin are aggressive fish and extremely protective of their juveniles, which perhaps explains why they have survived for so long. Interestingly, the female dogfish grows between 26”-30” while the male of the species only reaches 18”-20”. The males also take care of the eggs during the 10-day incubation. Juveniles born in the Spring can reach 9.1” by the Fall of their first year. The largest bowfin can reach 43” and weigh 21,5lbs. 

The bowfin species is a predatory fish that will enjoy a diet of insects, crustaceans, amphibians, smaller game fish, larvae, and even rodents. They tend to attack prey during the night but are more than aggressive enough to take an angler’s bait during daytime fishing. Dogfish are also happy eating dead fish and creatures. While some anglers think they are a nuisance due to eating more prized fish, their presence is crucial for the natural ecosystem. They will only kill for feeding purposes.

Despite their aggressive nature and vastly varied diet, the scavengers can live for several days without feeding. Bowfin fish do not have the best sight, which is why they also rely heavily on scents to scope out food. This shows why they are happy in dirty waters and areas with large volumes of vegetation.

Bowfin will eat other bowfin fish, but there are very few other natural predators. Alligators are one of the few examples, although they are only found in a small percentage of the waters that dogfish inhabit. Males easily outweigh the female bowfins, with a ratio as high as 3:1 in some places. Juveniles can take on what is essentially their adult diet by the time they are just 4” in length.

The fact that bowfin protect their young is particularly fascinating because it is a trait usually associated with more evolved species. Other species that can date back thousands of years do not have this characteristic. It is likely that many fish species have evolved from bowfins without ever threatening the dogfish’s own existence. The largest bowfin recorded was 34.5”. Their coloring can change to take on hints of blue during the spawning season.

Top Bowfin Fishing Lures & Tips

Most anglers either love or hate bowfin fishing. Those that fall into the second category often point to the fact that the predators kill other valuable fish. However, fishermen and fisherwomen who fall into the second category can cite a combination of their strong population and the fact that they are up for a fight as key features. In a purely sporting perspective, the bowfin fish will offer a fantastic fishing experience for beginners and seasoned anglers alike.

Due to their fighting attributes, it’s vital that all anglers have a suitable equipment setup. A baitcasting reel is essential while large hooks are preferred due to their bony mouths and the fact they will quickly try to escape to cover after taking the bait. With this in mind, you will want to let the bowfin fish run for a few seconds. Light crankbaits and heavy steelhead rigs are both popular choices and should be matched with a fluorocarbon line to handle the fight.

Because they are quite large fish, anglers can enjoy a wide selection of lure sizes. Bright colored lures are a good option as they stand out against the vegetation and can be spotted in spite of the fish’s poor sight. The use of live bait can engage the fish through scent. 

You can use a mid-to-long cast and let the bait start falling to the floor. Dragging along the floor with a loose drag is a commonly used method but you can bounce the lure or even retrieve it at the surface or a few feet above the riverbed. Once the bite comes, you can 

Like catfish, bowfish will often display a pattern. While these may vary from one body of water to the next, once you find a strategy that works for you, stick to it.

Can you eat Bowfin?

While bowfin fish are a great challenge for sporting activities, it’s not commonly considered the best freshwater fish for eating. In fact, many people consider the species a trash fish due to the fact it eats other fish that are commonly deemed to be tastier. As mentioned, that’s not quite accurate given their impact on the ecosystem. Crucially, they are definitely edible, even if you will need to implement the right cooking techniques to unlock their best tastes.

The right cleaning strategy will be required. This involves bleeding it out immediately after killing it before proceeding to remove the scales with a scraper due to the soft skin. Gutting the fish will require cutting behind the pectoral fin and then cutting the head to the lower jaw, following this, you should be able to remove the head and the innards without needing to open cavity from the belly. After scraping the organs you can cut the head, tail, and guts.

Given the mudfish nickname, it’s no surprise to learn that the skin is muddy. You can remove some of this by cleaning it in salted water first. The fillets can be baked or fried on their own in an egg-based batter, or they can be mixed with potatoes to make patties. They can be matched with a wide range of foods. 

To give yourself a good chance of getting the best taste out of your bowfin catch, you must cook it very quickly after you catch it. Otherwise, it will become very bland while the soft textures become mushy. Poor preparation is one of the key reasons that so many people are not overly impressed by the results.

There is no escaping the fact that bowfin fish isn’t for everyone’s taste palate. However, you can certainly try your catch out as a dish, not least because you do not have to worry about the conservation of this readily available species.