Despite the fact bowfin are powerful fighters, beautiful fish, and they can reach 20 pounds, they’re way less popular than pike, trout, walleye or largemouth bass amongst anglers. Some of the reasons they’re less popular are maybe because many anglers have lost their lures in their powerful jaws, and because the do hunt the other fish of interest.
Also, EPA lists them as some of the fish with the highest contents of mercury.
On the other hand, bowfin are quite tasty fish, just like most predatory fish, they have a nice, white meat, feasible for various excellent dishes. They’re also called mudfish, lawyer or dogfish (note that dogfish are also a species of small spotted shark).
Anyway, here are a few bits of advice about the habitat of the bowfin, best fishing methods, tackle and baits.
Where to Catch Bowfin
First of all, bowfin are native to eastern North America, being most common in southeastern Canada and eastern U.S. Voracious predators and highly piscivorous, they prefer clear, slow-moving, medium water streams and canals, but they can also found in weedy-swampy waters and lakes. They stalk and hunt their prey in the shallows, and near the riverbanks. One of the reasons they prefer the shallows is their slightly different anatomy. They use their swim bladder differently, as a primitive lung, sometimes coming to the surface to gulp air and regulate their buoyancy. Due to this fact, they have to stay in close range to the surface, and also feel quite at home in waters with low levels of oxygen.
They can be caught yearlong, and ice fishing for bowfin can also be very productive.
Bowfin don’t prefer certain moments of the day for feeding, they will basically hit anything that raises their interest, at any time. So, you can catch them in the morning, afternoon or evening, in cold or warmer temperature conditions, and clear or turbid waters.
Bowfin Fishing Methods
Many anglers hook bowfin when fishing for trout, muskie or walleye, so basically the same fishing methods used for any well-known predatory fish, should work perfectly on bowfin. In other words, jigging or actively fishing with various lures, flies or wobbling live/dead baits are great ways to catch these fish.
They’re not very picky when it comes to bait, but in general, they seem to prefer live or dead, natural baits, rather than lures. This being said, still-fishing with various rigs, with or without a float seems to be more productive.
Bait and Lures for Bowfin
Two of the best natural baits to use when fishing for bowfin are nightcrawlers and crayfish (or shrimp). These a great to use when practicing still-fishing or stalking. However, almost any type of small fish, alive or dead (minnows, whitefish, roach, bluegills etc.), or fish strips should work well. Also, given the fact that they prefer shallows, and can strike baits near the bottom, as well as at the surface, catching them in clear waters, with large green locusts, fly-fishing style, can be a lot of fun.
When it comes to lures, you can’t go wrong with Mepps spinners, Blue Fox or Vibrax Minnow Spins, Lambo spinner lures, shrimp or crawfish imitating crankbaits, like a Ditch Brown Rebel Crawfish or Jackall Chubby Crankbait Shrimp. Minnow jigs can be very productive as well. However, if you’re going to use a plastic, rubber or wooden lure, there’s a good chance a bowfin will ruin it with its powerful jaws, so it’s a good idea to stick to metallic artificials.
Tackle for Bowfin
Rods. You can use the same tackle as you would use for walleye, bass or trout. In general, light or medium light rods are the best for catching bowfin. You can go with a G. Loomis Classic Bass Spin Jig Rod, a Shimano Clarus Salmon & Steelhead Rod, a G. Loomis Walleye or a Shakespeare 2-Piece Light Action Ugly Stik. In general, your average bowfin rod should be a light or medium light one, between 6′ – 9’6″.
Reels. Pair your rod with a medium or light reel, such as a Shimano Symetre, Penn Battle BTL3000, an Abu Garcia Orra or an Okuma Hellios, paired with a light action stick should do.
Line. Your line for bowfin should be somewhere around 15-20lb. test, braided, since you’re probably be fishing in snaggy waters. A good choice would be Berkley Fireline – 15lb., and have a 1-footer leader of 30lb. + just in case a pike might take the bait.
Hooks. Bowfin have big mouths and don’t shy away from big bait, so it’s best to use big hooks. This way you can also avoid the bait being swallowed completely. Circle, Eagle Claw hooks, from 3 to 3/0, are the best choice for bowfin. However, since they’re muscular fish, and have strong jaws, there’s a chance they might straighten the hook, so choose thicker hooks. If you’re going for catch and release, it’s best to get barbless hooks, or the ones with one, smaller barb. Of course, if using nightcrawlers, leeches, long fish strips, or in general, longer baits, hooks with a medium shank will allow you to fix the bait better.
Rigs. One of the best rigs that you can use for bowfin, when using live or dead bait, is a general, 1-hook or 2-hook bean sinker rig. Have a swivel as a stopper for the bean sinker, and your final leader, with the hook(s) tied to the siwvel. Since bowfin have quite sharp teeth, you might want to use a superbraid leader, 20-30 lb. test. Although bowfin aren’t easily spooked, a heavy leader might put them off (they do have good eyesight), so it’s not a bad idea to use a green or brown color one, to resemble the root of a plant or a weed. You don’t have to use jig heads, or sinkers near the hooks, it doesn’t really matter if the bait is on the bottom or floating. If it looks all right, they’ll take it.