Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Bowfin

Bad case of swamp bass
The bowfin, Amia clava, is a prehistoric fish, over 150 million years old, native to North American waters eastward from Ontario, Canada and southward to Texas.  The bowfin prefers swampy habitats and even waters that are too low in oxygen for most fish to live in, the bowfin can thrive in due to their ability to use their swim bladder to breath oxygen from the surface air.  Varying on region, the bowfin is called many names.  Dogfish, grindle, lawyer, mudfish and swamp bass are among some of the names it is commonly called.

The bowfin mates in early spring at a nest created by the male.  Once the eggs have hatched the male guards the fry for several weeks until the young are old enough to fend for themselves.  During this period, the male becomes a vibrant lime green to attract the female.

Spawning male bowfin

An easy way to distinguish a mature male bowfin from a female is to look for a spot on the dorsal half of their tail.

Although many anglers view the bowfin as a nuisance species, they can obtain a size over three feet long, will often hit live bait or lures and will put up a tough fight to rival any gamefish.  Some anglers incorrectly perceive the bowfin as a threat to a fishery and kill any bowfin they catch.  This is not the case and all bowfin that aren't being kept for consumption should be returned to the water immediately.  Live minnows and crayfish are most often used for bait when targeting bowfin as are any lure that resembles a crayfish.  


  1. I think some angler are probably mistaking them for the invasive Snakeheads. I admit being a bit jealous of your catch. I've tried in vain to catch one on the fly- several times over the last few years.

    1. I think that may be true in some cases, but my father has told me stories of my grandfather and his friends hunting bowfin and gar with a .22. Their reasoning was that they thought they were eating all the bass. I was going to put in the post the difference between the two species. As I'm sure you know the easiest method to tell the two apart is that the snakehead has a much longer anal fin than the bow. For being so similar, the two species are actually pretty distant genetically speaking. I suppose that is a pretty good example of convergent evolution.

  2. Great post on the bowfin! I love how they put up a good fight. It would be crazy to pull up a spawning one!