Saturday, February 5, 2011

a misunderstood beautiful fish

it is a shame to see many anglers not giving the bowfin the respect it deserves. Bowfin also known as mudfish, dogfish, grindle, grinnel, cypress trout, and blackfish is a fish that is a top predator and will attack almost any type of bait, it fights wildly once hooked and can sometimes exceed. 10 pounds. most of your typical bass and walleye guys will tell you bowfin are a trash fish or that they are an invasive species that eats all the eggs of desired sport fish. none of this is true. bowfin do not eat sport fish or eggs of fish. a study was done in north carolina where biologists examined the stomach contents of 200 bowfin from two rivers and found almost 70% of their diet consisted of crustaceans such as crayfish and grass shrimp. smaller species of typically less desirable fish such as american eel, creek chub, pirate perch and smaller bowfin made up another 27% of the diet. so only 3% of their diet consisted of "sport fish". Bowfin have tolerated bass since bass first appeared 12,000,000 years ago. If conditions favor one species over another, that species will dominate that local niche, but bowfin have not and will not "wipe out" those other fish.

Wiping out local populations usually requires an assist from people. A new dam, a golf course, or a shopping mall parking lot can cause more harm to fish populations than bowfin. Do you fish spawning beds? You are helping too - those opportunistic sunnies can decimate an egg clutch while you are playing the fish that was defending them.

range of bowfin(amia calva) in the U.S.
the other typical myth that they are an invasive species in the united states is not true. they are found commonly throughout the central and eastern united states and into canada. they are not introduced to any lakes and you are NOT supposed to kill them as some people may tell you. i've heard quite a few bowfishermen try to justify killing bowfin because they think they are introduced but there is no stocking of bowfin and no hatcheries for breeding bowfin exist. also I've read the regulations for all the states with bowfin populations and none require/request that bowfin be killed. They can be legally returned alive to the waters from which they were caught. Returning dead or dying fish to the water is prohibited in many states. One reason for this is that it is wanton waste, a second reason is to prevent the depletion of benthic (dissolved) oxygen caused by decaying flesh.

people who are not familiar with bowfin may mistake them for a similar invasive fish that is very destructive to our waters known as the "snakehead" to the untrained eye the two can be very hard to tell apart but if you know what to look for you can easily tell the difference.

if you are interested in targeting bowfin good places to look are larger rivers or creeks on warm days. bowfin are related to gar and have the same lung allowing them to gulp air. this means they can survive in water with very little oxygen. if you are in a location that holds bowfin for long enough chances are you will either spot fish close to shore or see them gulping air. typical bait for bowfin when i target them is medium sized shiners or chubs. night crawlers also work very well. they will also take spinners, soft plastics, crank baits and surface lures.

if you really want to have some fun with them you could try fly fishing for bowfin. typically a bait presented right to a fish will entice a strike. good bowfin flies resemble small fish and crustaceans.

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