Bowfin Help

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Birddog's picture
Bowfin Help
<p>My home creek in western NY has a fairly decent bowfin population.&nbsp;&nbsp; I have caught them when I least expected it, when steelhead and pike fishing.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; I&#39;m completing a kayak fishing book this spring, and would like to get some bowfin photos to add to the fun but now that I&#39;m trying for guessed it, I can&#39;t catch one to save my life.</p> <p>What would your go-to bowfin strategy be?&nbsp;&nbsp; I fish primarily with large crankbaits and spinnerbaits, but am thinking some big smelly bait might do the trick.</p> <p>Any of you experienced bowfishermen care to chime in?</p> <p>Thanks!</p> <p>Joel</p> <p></p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
TonyS's picture
Lots of ways to catch them...

Day in, day out a chunk of fresh cutbait freelined in the shallows produces best for me.  If you can sight fish them, that will be the best possible senerio.  Given that they really like shallow, calm water sight fishing is reasonable - unless they are burried in weeds or under logs (which is not uncommon).  Night fishing can be really effective many places as well.  Before too long you'll be able to find them on nests, just like Bass.

Hengelaar's picture

Cutbait is great. Fresh caught, if possible.

I've had good luck with a two-rod setup. A piece of cut on bottom, either with a running sinker rig, or on a freeline on rod number one, and a piece under a bobber on rod number two. Always a good idea to recast the bobber rig regularly, especially if you can see them 'fins swirling at the surface. Preferably right by a weed line or other structure. Can't hurt to hang that bait reeeeeaaaaally shallow, too.


In addition to a piece of cut, a whole, squished minnow, about the length of your index finger, can bring good results. Ya could use a live one, too, but that might get fucky if there are other predators about.


Bowfin are among my favorites. So much primal rage and radness. I wish I could fish for them every week. I've never caught one on a loor, that would be awesome. Catching one on a surface loor would be a dream...



Fishn sure is neat

Gunnar's picture
The biggest one I ever tangle

The biggest one I ever tangled with (I can't say caught because it broke my line when I tried to net it) was just hanging out in the shade under a little foot bridge over a small creek/canal. It was easily as thick as my thigh, and I'm not a skinny jeans wearer. I hooked a large nightcrawler on a big hook (hooked just once in the middle so it could wiggle freely), snuck onto the bridge, and lowered it down in front of the bowfin. It hovered over to the worm and took it in a relaxed, I'm-top-predator-and-you're-a-snack sort of way. Calm as could be. Then I set the hook and all calm was lost. Just insane. We fought for a while. I tried to land it. I failed. Five minutes later I caught another--smaller--one in the exact same spot, using the same technique. But first I got my longer-handled net out of the car.

One other thing: that was my lifer bowfin, so the giant one I lost was the first one I ever hooked.

It doesn't have to be a bridge or dock--anything a bowfin can hang out under is a good bet: an undercut bank, fallen log, rock shelf, bush, lilypads, your own boat (I've been surprised more than once when fishing from a canoe to see a bowfin leaving my shade when I started to paddle away), etc.

Cut bait is higher percentage for targeting bowfins--I've had good luck with live or dead bluegill--but if you can see the fish and get anything edible in front of it, you'll catch it. I wouldn't fish for them with worms otherwise, as you'll have to deal with every other fish that's around.

I've only caught one bowfin on a lure (an inline spinner). Came out from under the bank and slammed it. The adrenaline surge nearly killed me.

My heart's pounding just typing all this. I can't wait for the water to warm up and the prehistoric monsters to get feisty.


Here's my lifer after the would-have-been-my-lifer:


Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers:

2020: 10 days fishing 11 species 0 lifers. 2019: 34/45/13 2018: 39/40/5

Graceclaw's picture

You got my all riled up when you said "any of you experienced bowfishermen", but after a few minutes I realized that you meant bowfin fishermen.

I have nothing to add to the actual discussion- Tony taught me what I know about the species.

andy's picture
Live shiners

I don't catch all that many bowfin, but when I want to try for one I generally target slow backwaters on a river.  I have had success using 4-5" shiners or suckers fished on the bottom.  Only issue is the typical by-catch of bass, pike and catfish where I fish.  

Jason E.
Jason E.'s picture
I've also found backwaters pr

I've also found backwaters productive.  Sluggish rivers and streams, especially at low-light periods and even after dark can produce too.  Also, warm and weedy lakes that receive some fishing pressure yet still have populations of decent-sized panfish seem to be productive too.  My theory is that anglers keep bass, northern, and other predatory "game-fish" but they return bowfin to the water.  Because the lake still has a predatory species around to keep the panfish numbers in check, they actually grow to a decent size.  Just a theory, but it has proven true in my experience.

I've also caught a lot of bowfin on nightcrawlers while fishing for other species.

Divemaster's picture
I've only caught a few in wes
I've only caught a few in western PA, but I caught them on the bottom either with slip sinker rigs or as simple of a rig as a snelled hook and a pair of bell sinkers on a snap swivel (AKA the "lazy man's rig"). For bait, I've caught a few on Nightcrawlers, and one or two on live golden shiners.
Muskymags's picture
Look for open pockets in lily

Look for open pockets in lily pad areas. Backwaters and little coves will likely have most pads. I've found that bowfin like to hide under the pads on the edges of the openings. They seem to wait in ambush of unsuspecting prey traveling through the opening. Just about any lure will work as you trigger a reaction strike. Flies work well if ya can hit the pockets, but slow sinking wide bodied plastics work well and many bass lures.

pmk00001's picture
Sweet fish! Bowfin are simpl
Sweet fish! Bowfin are simply awesome... No other fish has such a bad ass attitude! Congrats! The nightcrawler 4lb test thing just adds to the awesomeness.
Birddog's picture
my post...

It seems as if my post with the bowfin pic disappeared....?

Joel Spring
Author of "The Ghosts of Autumn" 2016 and "The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Fishing" 2017. New book in 2018, just released is "Strong is the Current: A Grieving Father's Meditations on Life, Loss and Fishing" (West River Media).

Tektite's picture
Bowfin tips

I never caught them as bycatch, always from sight fishing.  They're quite aggressive so the main issue is finding them.  In my experience, the best spots involve shallow, flat (even stagnant) water that is still within easy reach of the main current. From what I observed when fishing for them, they patrol their little patch of water (when not holding under structure) picking up food that drifts or wanders in from deeper, faster sections of the creek/river.  I'd cast upstream into the current and then drag my cutbait or nightcrawler to the current seam and let the water push it into the shallows.  If you can time this to coincide with the fish heading away from shore to look for tasty morsels they're probably pick your bait up without even hesitating.

If you have the opportunity, take a nice slow walk along the stretch of water you intend to fish.  When you see something that looks promising, plunk yourself down on the bank and just watch for a while.  If the spot has Bowfin, you'll probably spot one.  Those undulating dorsal fins are really eye-catching.  If you don't see sign of them, but the spot just looks perfect, drag something wiggly and annoying past any structure that could hide them.  

In addition to bait, I got a lot of strikes on white curly tail grubs.  If you do try soft lures, I'd suggest slowing your retrieve just a bit when you see a Bowfin get missile lock on your jig to make sure they gulp down the whole thing, because one nip with those crazy teeth will reduce your "curly tail grub" to just "grub".

Oh, and sharpen your hooks if you can.  They can be a real bitch to keep on your line.

I hope something in here helps.  They're amazing fish.


Graceclaw's picture
Site Upgrade

Birddog- Corey is in the process of upgrading the server for the website, and a few days' worth of posts were lost in the process, including your post with the picture. We would love for you to re-post it!

drawer.bli's picture
Was it just me, or did someon

Was it just me, or did someone else see the defaced page a little while ago? It seems as if a couple pages went missing after that, like the lake sturgeon catch. 

UpperMi roughangler
UpperMi roughangler's picture
I saw that too drawer

I noticed it when I checked the site yesterday morning. It said "this website has been defaced by anon ghost" or something like that. It was like that for a few hours at least. I was worried that not all the files could be retrieved.

Corey's picture
Site interruption

Sorry guys  - there were two things going on. First, the site has been getting so much traffic this spring that I had to upgrade it to a new business-class cloud server. Not to get too technical, but the new location spread slowly across the internet domain servers over the course of 3-4 days - meaning some people were looking at the old site, and some at the new site. Somewhere in the middle of that, hackers with Anonymous out of Sweden defaced thousands of websites across the web, including one of the two versions that were floating around out there. I fixed that pretty quickly, but there was a lot more switchover time than I expected. I should have put the site offline while the transition took place, but when I've done this in the past it only took a few hours so I wasn't expecting to have people posting to the old site for days while the new one wasn't being seen. So, anyway, sorry for the lost posts. Everything is kosher now - and on the plus side, I can restore all the bells and whistles I had disabled earlier trying to reduce the site load. I'll put the random species, lifelists, and forum posts back on the front page. No time for that now, as I'm heading out turkey hunting and fishing for five days starting tomorrow. But rest assured, the site is all good now and things are stable. If you ordered shirts, make sure Andy has your order. It might be a good idea to check the shirt thread to make sure.

Again, sorry about the interruption! I did my best in a very nasty and confusing situation. Thanks for your patience.




Birddog's picture
I still can't reload the photo

I still can't reload the bowfin photo.    I also can't create a link...dialog box is locking up on both.   In the meantime, one good photo showing his toothy face is on my website home page at    (safe for work).

Joel Spring
Author of "The Ghosts of Autumn" 2016 and "The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Fishing" 2017. New book in 2018, just released is "Strong is the Current: A Grieving Father's Meditations on Life, Loss and Fishing" (West River Media).

Birddog's picture

Finally able to re-post this.    Here's the bowfin in the kayak from a week or so ago.   4# test, hit on ultralight while I was fishing for bait to catch...bowfin!     I'm going to this spot again tomorrow, and then my next trip will be targeting gar.   I just discovered a spot only about 30 miles from my home with bowfin and gar...stay tuned.   Love those dinosaurs.  

Joel Spring
Author of "The Ghosts of Autumn" 2016 and "The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Fishing" 2017. New book in 2018, just released is "Strong is the Current: A Grieving Father's Meditations on Life, Loss and Fishing" (West River Media).

philaroman's picture
isn't that a blast?

one time I couldn't catch a baitfish to save my life; cast the bait rig farther out into deeper water & ended up w/ a Flathead & a Channel well over 10 lbs. taking tiny little worm snippets on #16 hooks...   looked over the area from a bridge on the way home & saw several more 10-20 lb. Flattys cruising sunny shallows -- that pretty much explained why the baitfish were not around

P.E.T.A. sucks!!!  Plants are living things, too -- they're just easier to catch!

Dan Morey
Dan Morey's picture

Bowfin will hit almost anything when they're aggressive: cranks, spinners... caught my largest on a spoon.

For sight fishing, I like a big green tube jig or crawfish imitation. They will often gulp these very casually, so sharp hooks and no-stretch line are crucial for getting the barbs in.

Of course, using bait (especially dead) will get you more bowfin, but I only use artificials and catch plenty.