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Recent entries

Andrew R

Andrew's Adventures

Bowfin Are Bad Fish? Please!

Tue, May 22, 2012

Nearly thirteen years ago, while walleye fishing, my dad and I caught one of the strangest looking fish we’ve ever seen in our lives. “What the heck is that!?!” we shrieked after we let it go. After some research at the local library a few hours later, we unknowingly and likely released the next Wisconsin state record bowfin, a definite 12+ pounder back into the Minocqua Chain of lakes.

True story. Imagine that.

For the second straight spring in a row, from the same body of water, and by the same tactical fishing means, I hooked into more bowfin. I happily hooked into them, fought off their powerful forces with my bass flipping stick, posed for a few photos with a rare fish I seldom catch, and I happily released them.

I like doggies, and so should you!

They aren’t cute puppies, but they sure fight like hell, are strong and muscular like bull, and fun to catch!

2011 fish that was released:


2012 fish that were released:



Same spots, same techniques, same time of season. Not to mention, same shirt also.

Like many of the cool catches that happen for me, I often post their results and sometimes a photo onto my Facebook page for friends to see and comment on. One particular comment I received following last week’s bowfin catches was really bothersome to me, and the beliefs of certain anglers are an apparent problem in certain areas of the country. It’s an incredible problem when individuals lack the evidence and proof to support their beliefs.

Here it is:

Dogfish. You didn’t put it back, did you? They kill other fish for fun. We always slit the bellies before we throw them back. They are fun to catch though. Strong like bull.

They don’t kill other fish for fun. Like most other more desirable freshwater species of fish such as bass, muskies, pike and walleyes, they survive by eating smaller prey fish. They are predatorial scavengers. Their duties are to clean up the lakes which is something that other desirable species of fish cannot do.

Moments later, another comment was received. This time, it was in full support of these fish:

Bowfin are usually not considered a good food fish compared to more popular freshwater gamefish species, such as pike or trout. They are generally regarded as trash fish by sportsmen in the United States, because they eat more desirable species, including crayfish. However, because bowfin are a native species, they should not be killed unnecessarily. This is the only surviving member of the Amiidae. They are species that has survived hundreds of years. This is a cool native fish. Let ‘em swim.

Thank you to the acquaintance who posted this.

In Wisconsin, where angler sentiment is exceptionally bad towards these game fish, the treatment of these fish is a problem. I have visited boat landings where I have seen fish disposed on shore. I have also seen these fish hung on the bulletin boards and signs of sophisticated access sites as well. For what reasons are these actions made?

Not sure how things are like down here in Illinois, but with everyone freaking out about snakeheads in Chicago, I bet it’s the same.

I severely frown upon anglers who dispose of these fish and blatantly kill them following incidental catches. Do that and you’re never welcomed to join my boat. They are native species that have ancestry to the prehistoric period. They are more native than any carp species that have invaded and infested most major waterways in North America. They are also more native to our North American waters than the Great Lakes salmon species. Believe it.

They are highly adaptable species of fish that can tolerate most environments. However, they fare best in eutrophic waters (warm and weedy, less oxygenated) which are habitats commonly found in the large shallow bays and backwaters of lakes, and rivers.

I don’t understand what makes people want to eradicate bowfin. Is it fun? Are you that bored with yourself that you are longing for excitement or something?

If anglers seriously think these fish are bad for the particular bodies of water they dwell in, they are sadly mistaken. Another common mistake anglers make is their confusion in thinking that these fish are the much destructive, invasive snakeheads rather than innocent bowfins.

Snakeheads have teeth, can travel on land, and have a darkish black purple coloration mixed with white with pink and red tints. Bowfin do not, cannot, and are none of the above.

Here’s my take on the bowfin fishing situation:

I fish for just about everything that swims. My favorite “strange looking fish” to fish for is undoubtedly the silver and river redhorse which populate many of our clean northern rivers, tributaries, and streams. Followed by that is definitely the bowfin, though rare to find where I fish. If I had unlimited resources and connections to world class angling like famed River Monsters television host Jeremy Wade, or Chicagoan and In-Fisherman contributor, Steve Ryan, I would definitely fish all over the world like them for the coolest, largest, most outrageous looking species of fish that I can. But for those of us in North America, bowfin add another dimension to freshwater angling. In my opinion, they are one of the coolest, most outrageous looking fish species in found in the inland freshwaters of this continent. They add species diversity to many of our freshwater ecosystems. In addition, they offer anglers something different in terms of angling pursuits.

I am an advocate for all species of fish, and I enjoy fishing for most species of fish. There is no reason whatsoever why any species of fish other than Asian Carp should be killed for fun, or eradicated due to false beliefs.

To learn more about bowfin, I encourage you to read the writings of my friend, David Graham. He is a contributing blogger and writer at my website, Fishing-Headquarters, and one of the best extreme fishermen whom I know. He is an advocate for these fish and he certainly has the knowledge and credentials to back all of it up. Read his articles on bowfin fishing and information that was featured in the May/June 2011 issue of our online magazine. I highly recommend this story to anyone who may suffer from false hatred towards these fish, or may think that these fish should be killed for the sake of killing.

In addition, you may also learn more by visiting Bowfin Anglers Group, a unique organization dedicated to bowfin angling.

Take it for what it’s worth, ladies and gentlemen; No fish is a “trash fish” unless it totally eats garbage or any human waste we leave behind. Though nasty, it’s true.

Enjoy these fish while we still have them.




I totally agree with everything you said.  Good for you, for telling it how it is.  Too many anglers just don’t get it.  Many of them are so mis-informed and living in the past. 

Side story, Jim and I were fishing a stream in IL last year and Jim caught a big Bowfin on a buzzbait.  The strike was so violent!!!  No smallie could ever dream of striking a buzzbait with that ferocity.  Matter of fact, upon release, we noticed that Jim’s buzzbait was destroyed.

Posted by stream stalker on May 22

In the south they’re called grinnel. They still fight like tigers. We also used to catch fresh water eels up to 3 feet long. Even caught these in Connecticut. Talk about slimy!!  Fight like crazy also. Ever tied into eels?

Posted by springer on May 22

Just got back from Yellowstone Lake, Wisconsin.  Bowfin are proteceted as a catch-and-release species by site regulation.

Posted by Murdy on May 22

People treat garfish the same way.

Posted by mountain man on May 22

Thoughtful writeup with some nice pics. Kudos. I’ve caught ‘em too and always thought they are a neat fish. Live and let live!

Posted by fishthefox on May 22

Thanx for the awesome insight on the historic bowfin…...I have never experianced a fight on my line yet that compares to the absolute raw power and fight that the bowfin possess….I got a 29.5 incher in the freezer waiting for a mount….gon have Rocke’s do it for me as soon as get extra spendin money!…if she lets me! cheese

Posted by CoonassL.a.B. on May 22

Long live the Bowfin!

Posted by Raptor on May 22

Springer, I just caught two eels out of the Illinois River last time out.  I usually catch a few every year

Posted by t.o.m.m. on May 23

I saw a River Monster episode on Snakeheads. They were catching them on common bass lures and there were some explosive/violent strikes! The Bowfin looks very similar Andrew, are they related? Nice blog too.

Posted by coinman66 on May 23

Very informative! This perhaps will at least cause some to look into the facts for themselves and stop going off of hearsay. Very well put and I agree.

Posted by enjycreation on May 23

A very primitive and unique fish for sure. I hooked into quite a few in Florida a few years ago. Each time, I thought I had a world record on my line. lol. They fight like no other.

Posted by Walston on May 23

I caught a 4 pounder when I was kid out of a farm pond.  I fried it up and ate it later that day.  It was actually very tasty.

Posted by mossyoak on May 23

Thanks everyone.

Coinman Frank - Snakeheads and bowfin are not related. Snakeheads are members of the Channidae family (Asia and Africa) while bowfin are in Amiidae family (North America). This is a simple comparison chart between the two: Here’s another good link as well

Posted by Andrew Ragas on May 23

In a blind taste test held at The Southern Illinois University Cooperative Fisheries Lab some years back when I was young. The bowfin won. Beating out the more commonly tasty gamefishes….Surprise surprise….

Posted by Rick_Miller on May 24

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