Species of the Week: Bowfin

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Corey's picture
Species of the Week: Bowfin
<div class="field field-name-body field-type-text-with-summary field-label-hidden"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item even"> <h3> Welcome to the fifth installment of Species of the Week!</h3> <p>This (weekly or biweekly) system allows the community to add more comprehensive information to the species pages.&nbsp; Everyone should post their best information, tactics, and descriptive information for the species.&nbsp; Pictures of average-sized, juvenile, and jumbo specimens are all required.&nbsp; Each species should have at least one habitat photo (This means getting creative)!&nbsp;</p> <h3> This week&#39;s species is the Bowfin, <em><i><em><i>Amia calva</i></em></i></em></h3> <h3> <em>Click <a href="http://www.roughfish.com/~roughfis/species/2"><strong>HERE</strong></a> for the current bowfin page.</em></h3> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/~roughfis/sites/default/files/bowfin1.jpg" onclick="window.open(this.href, '', 'resizable=no,status=no,location=no,toolbar=no,menubar=no,fullscreen=no,scrollbars=no,dependent=no'); return false;"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/~roughfis/sites/default/files/bowfin1.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 160px;" /></a></p> <p>Please share your experiences with this species below!</p> <p>Please share some of the habitat types you find bowfin in, what rigs and baits you use, artificials, and general bowfin behavior!</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p>
Phil's picture
Awesome photos Ben, and wow

Awesome photos Ben, and wow Corey – do you ever run out of good ideas?  I love this topic theme. . . but suckers, and shovels and bowfin . . . you are making me sob for spring time!

Well I guess I should contribute something.  Bowfin are well known for their love of backwaters and obstructions in rivers but I find distinct satisfaction in chasing the bowfin experience at dusk or after dark in the extremely shallow water surrounding the worst jungles.  Artificials can produce smashing strikes but often water is so full of vegetation and other cover that casting is not possible.  So often it’s a lighted bobber and a piece of cut bait hanging 3 inches underneath.  The bobber will still lay lifeless and flat until all of a sudden the float will stand up, seeming to flare with urgent excitement, and then bob and dip under the surface, steaming off across the water at the head of a large wake.  To experience that moment is why I am a roughfisherman.

I will also dish on a little secret tip that actually was developed by the Carp Chaser. If there is a night when the jungles are a little too full of mosquitoes try a stop at boat launch or any channel cut through the cattails at your local lake, you may be surprised to find what lurks there.  However, contrary to the widely held myth that most roughfish will bite on anything, I believe that Bowfin that hang around these high traffic areas can become highly conditioned and educated (not bad for a dinosaur) and will not fall for a nightcrawler, spinner bait, or even a minnow.  Cut bait will often do the trick – but don’t be afraid to try something completely different like a chunk of beef jerky or sausage on a free line – just fish it ‘casual’ as it was a left over goody chucked out of the boat at the end of the day.  It sounds funny but just watch what happens at end of the day at the launch and think like an opportunistic fish!

Here is a photo of a decent Bowfin that fell for that technique in one of its preferred habitats – called summer.

DavidG's picture


The Bowfin, my favorite species of all!

I did a pretty extensive write up/article which can be read at the following link.






DavidG Blog:  http://www.boundless-pursuit.com

Corey's picture
Bring on the buzz-saw!!!

Now we got some real fish talk goin'!!!!!!

andy's picture
Kick ass bowfin stuff guys!

Love it.  I don't have too much to add to this species, so I will defer to y'all.  All I have to say is the mighty bowfin eats entire families of micros for breakfast!

Cast_and_Blast's picture
I have a spot on the

I have a spot on the Mississippi backwaters where there is a spring that keeps the water open even during the coldest of days.  This warm water spring is a magnet to fish including the Bowfin.  I have seen dozens of them down there at a time and big ones approaching the 10 lb. mark.  I have even caught them on a worm while jig fishing for sunfish there through the ice. 



Here is some underwater video with my Aqua View at the same location.  Notice the large Shad die-off.  I wonder if the Bowfin feed on them?


Jknuth's picture
What can I add about bowfin. 

What can I add about bowfin. 
The most Bad assed fish in North America. 

Look for bullhead! I have had amazing luck over the last few years in areas with a HUGE populations of bullhead. You know the spots. Areas filled below dams where there are schools and schools of 4-6" black bullhead. Nobody fishes there because all you get are bullhead. 
It seems to me in these places the Bowfin key in on Bullhead. I will use bullhead chunks and HAMMER bowfin all day long. Some of these spots have produced 20-30 bowfin a day for me and my friends. 

here is a video I made of my Dad and Gary and I fishing below one of those dams. 
Mind you it was HOT.. 108* and we all may have been suffering heat stroke and were going mad. The fish might not have been giant, But the fishing was EPIC!


Ill add more info later.

Jason E.
Jason E.'s picture
Great tips.  Cast n' Blast,

Great tips.  Cast n' Blast, it's wild to see a dogfish near any kind of snow or ice!  I echo others' tips about backwaters, boat launches, and cut bait.  I also love catching them at night.  I'd add only two other ideas:

1. Slow moving creeks and rivers, especially after dark.  The Yahara river near Madison, Wisconsin comes to mind.

2. Lakes with populations of decent-sized panfish, but few bass or northern also seem to have doggies in them.  There's a lake near Oconomowoc, WI that gets hammered by bass and northern anglers but still seems to have decent-sized bluegills in it.  It was always a mystery to me how the fishery avoided having stunted populations, until I started hauling in nice sized dogfish.  They can serve as the ecosystem "balance-keepers" when other predatory fish are gone.  Anglers release the bowfin, since they don't want to eat them, and this helps keep the panfish population in check.


Dr Flathead
Dr Flathead's picture
Bowfins are sweet.  Like

Bowfins are sweet.  Like fishing for dinosaurs pretty much.  Dont know why people think so little of the Bowfin, or how people can shoot them one after another, and throw a cool fish like that in a pile to rot.  What a waste!  They put up such a good fight on hook and line, are willing biters most of the time, and that green they get during spawning, I'd paint a room that color if I could...


Heres a couple few pics...

Male Bowfin:

Female Bowfin:

One of my favorite pics of all time.  Caught this fish with a good buddy (you know who you are)  You can see his super sweet combo in the background, awaiting the next good rip.

Couple more pics:



Juvenile Male.  Was a strange day when this was caught.  Found a bunch of small ones like this up in the lock part of a dam.  Think they may have been spawning in there.  Biggest one we got that day was under 2 lbs.  Maybe small ones like this size are already old enough to spawn?


Gunnar's picture
My favorite bowfin quote:

My favorite bowfin quote:

"The bowfin is wholly carnivorous, and exceedingly voracious....He is the ravening wolf of the dark lagoons, the nightmare of the slumbrous coves. Skulking in deep water by day, he invades the teeming shallows by night, spreading terror and bloody execution in his wake." (from "Hellhound of the Sloughs" by Havilah Babcock, Field & Stream, April 1944)


My lifer from June 2012:


Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers: moxostoma.com

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

Phil's picture
Bowfin = Bad Ass . . .   and

Bowfin = Bad Ass . . .   and the quote about bloody terror is hardly far-fetched as I seem to quite commonly end up bloody when I deal with these fish.  I have handled countless pike, walleye, and even a gar or two and never came away with any personal damage.  But it isn’t even a surprise any more when I get a finger or the meat of my hand laid open by the septic maw of a Bowfin.  I think they are trying to evolve a komodo dragon-like technique where they put a bite on a large prey animal and then trail the weakened victim to a point where they can overcome and devour it.

Also, Bowfin can be a real handful for me when trying to get a decent photo, they will play all nice until they see their opportunity and when your guard is down they will leap out of your hands without warning.  That is when I usually make a desperate grab and get the shit bit out of my hand. While I don’t seem to have saved any, there have been quite a large number of over exposed night shots with an airborne Bowfin in the foreground and me with my hands flailing and a screwed up and surprised look on my face in the background.  Perhaps others have had similar experience, I love DavidG’s second photo where at first glance he seems to be casting an admiring gaze over the conjured giant, but just beneath it there appears to be an attentive glare – as if to say “don’t try it!” even though he knows that fish is going to unleash mayhem at any moment. 

TonyS's picture
They are one tough customer.

They are one tough customer.  One of the toughest fishing fish on the line that I've caught.  And out of the water, only eels are tougher  in regards to difficulty of handing out of the water.  Bowfin display amazing strength out of the water where so many other fish finally give up.  The bowfin does not know giving up.  

perkinsdonald's picture
Ive never targeted bowfin...

Ive never targeted bowfin... it desides when to find me. For me their always caught on cut bait. Im never disappointed with the fight that they give . This north american "wolf fish" as I think of them can put it's head where it's tail is faster than you can snap your fingers! The first three were caught off of sand bars.

this last one was caught in some WI River back water. The photo is a bit disturbing I cropped as much as I could...



The gods do not subtract the alotted span in men's lives the hours spent in fishing.

perkinsdonald's picture

What happens on the river... stays on the river  .......



The gods do not subtract the alotted span in men's lives the hours spent in fishing.

Jason E.
Jason E.'s picture
Doc, I never knew that that

Doc, I never knew that that weird green color was due to their spawning, I thought they were simply covered in algae or taking on the color of their surroundings.  I know that sometimes they can be almost tan or brown colored, while other times they take on a brilliant green.  I also love the big spot on the tail, kind of reminds me of a butterfly or moth, in a weird way.

Muskymags's picture
All I can really add is a

All I can really add is a picture of the most colorful Bowfin I've ever caught.

I can also add a habitat picture; my best Bowfin lake.


CoolWater's picture
I can't offer much as I haven

I can't offer much as I haven't found a place where they are in numbers good enough to target.  The couple I have caught have been inadvertant bonus type catches.  My Bowfin hit on inline spinners, once fishing for bass and once fishing for Steelhead.  Love the species and love everyone's photos of them.

CoolWater's Blog:  www.coolwaterfish.com

Reekfish's picture
Just a couple more pics to

Just a couple more pics to add...