Bowfin Fish

Bowfin - Bowfin amia calva

Amia calva

Other Names: Chondrostei – beaver fish, blackfish, cottonfish, cypress trout, freshwater dogfish, grinnel, grindle, mud pike, mudfish, Choupique, and swamp trout

Bowfin Amia calva

The bowfin fish (Amia calva) has lived alongside dinosaurs and is currently thriving in eastern North America’s backwaters. It is a voracious and slimy creature that has a mouth full of sharp teeth.

Other common names for the amia calva fish are beaver fish, blackfish, cottonfish, cypress trout, freshwater dogfish, grinnel, grindle, mud pike, mudfish, Choupique, and swamp trout. Choupique is a cajun-french name originating from the Choctaw word for bowfin. Many people believe their nickname “mudfish” references their taste, but it refers to the particular places they live.

It’s an unrecognized freshwater species that has existed since primordial times. It is part of the Amiidae family and is the only living representative of the order Amiiformes, which is traced back to Jurassic times. Bowfin fish are often referred to as a “living fossil.”

Fossils indicate that Amiidae members were once widespread in both saltwater and freshwater ranging across North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa. Today, their range is mostly in the eastern United States and southern Canada. They are abundant in the Missippi river drainage basins, the great lakes, and various waterways in the Eastern coastline of the Gulf of Mexico.

The bowfin fish species always put up an intense fight for anglers; they are considered game fish to many.


The bowfin is a bony sport fish with a long cylindrical body and a long dorsal fin that extends over half the length of its back. The bowfin fish has a rounded tail fin with a black spot on the upper base. The dogfish has a large mouth and an olive green body color that fades lighter on the belly. Females can reach 30 inches in length, and males average a length of 18 to 24 inches. Bowfin average 1 to 5 pounds but can reach up to 19 pounds in size.

Air-Breathing Fish

Similar to gars, bowfins are bimodal breathers who gulp air and water to breathe. Their gills allow them to exploit oxygen for air-breathing by exchanging gases in the water. Bowfin has a gas bladder that maintains buoyancy and will enable them to breathe air from small pneumatic ducts connected from the foregut to the gas bladder. Most other fish use their gas bladders only for buoyancy.

Locating Bowfin Game Fish

The bowfin fish are found in North America’s sluggish waters from the Great Lakes down to the Gulf.

This air-breathing fish species thrives in tidal systems and rivers. However, they do not like the current. If you target them in these areas, you must follow the flow to create a roadmap to where the water is not flowing at all or very little.

Bowfins can thrive in amazingly clear rivers and lakes to the nastiest and muckiest swamps. Irrespective of the aesthetics of their aboard, the waters all share the common trait of heavy vegetation.

Their preferred habitat is abundant in vegetated sloughs, lowland lakes and rivers, swamps, and backwaters.

Bowfins require heavy salad to spawn, and they also love ambushing and hunting in weeds and grass. You are hardly going to find them in open water. Deeper waters seem to be appealing to these fish. If you find a vegetated area that is quite enough, be it on a backwater or bog on a pristine, you should focus on a dense channel cutting through the swamp or the area closest to the main river.

Their availability speaks volumes about the underwater ecosystem’s health. It is a fact that bowfins only live in areas where the water is healthy, which is similar to American Surgeons.


Eating Habits

These fishes are voracious predators regarded as trash fish by many sportsmen because they eat the more desirable game fish. They feed on many fishes, insects, crustaceans, amphibians, small rodents, and larvae. An adult one is mainly piscivorous, but it also eats a wide range of dead or alive animals if it can. This trash fish helps prevent the overpopulation of forage fish and stunting game fish.

It has a reputation among anglers as a nuisance that negatively impacts the local game fish population by eating the young game fish and their prey. However, science has shown otherwise. Bowfins are predators that will eat any prey most abundant in the area, such as shad, minnows, game fish, or crustaceans. Young bowfins will feed on insect larvae and small crustaceans until they reach a juvenile stage when they switch to a fish-based diet. 

Bowfin fishes are ambush predators that lurk in the shallows at night, hunting for prey.

Bowfins can survive for a long time without feeding.


The male bowfin creates a nest in shallow vegetated waters. The nest is made by biting off roots, creating a vegetation clearing for the eggs. Two females often spawn in one nest and will spawn in multiple nests in the spring. Spawning usually occurs at night. The males guard the nests and introduce air to the eggs—the eggs hatch in about 8 to 10 days.

After the eggs hatch, the young bowfin attaches to small vegetation’s small roots by an adhesive organ, similar to pikes—the male bowfin guards both the incubating eggs and fry remaining in the nest. The males guard the young that travel in schools until they reach about 3 to 4 inches long. Spawning for these fishes usually occurs in weedy shallows between April and June in Florida.

Fishing for Bowfins

These fishes are notoriously strong fighters, earning the nickname ‘junkyard dog’ by many anglers. A bowfin can grab your bait and then take off like a jet, looking for the closest weedy cover to swallow it. Anglers should let the fish run for about 5-10 seconds after setting the hook. Anglers should prepare for a battle after hooking a bowfin; these fish will turn, twist, and jump once you hook it.

Based on the bowfin mood, you will have to agitate a little to get them to bite. If you dangle the bait loudly right in front, it will help entice a bite. 

Bowfins have muscular bodies, sharp teeth, and powerful jaws. So, landing your catch might prove to be a challenge. So, ensure you carry a good pair of fish hook removers and a fish gripper. Like northern pike and muskie, bowfin has sharp razor teeth that can smoothly slice through a braided line. This means a steel leader is a must. Bowfins have tough skulls and jaws.

To penetrate their lips, you need a sharp, strong hook with a long shank. Be sure to sharpen your hooks before you target a bowfin.


The local experts prefer a heavy steelhead rig or a lighter stout crankbait rig to handle these bowfin fishes’ strength. The crucial factor when catching these firm sport fish is the line. The power of fluorocarbon makes this the best choice, especially for spinning setups. A moderate-test braided line is an excellent option for baitcasting rigs. A 17 to 35-pound test is generally a good option for these grindle game fishes.

The top baits for bowfin fishing are nightcrawlers, minnows, salamanders, frogs, chatter baits and stinkbait. Other good options to use for catching bowfin are crayfish and other crustaceans. A shiny spinner with bait on the hook is often productive in the murky brackish waters.


Several anglers consider them trash fish and not good enough for table fare, but they can be pretty tasty if prepared properly. Most of the time, anglers go after this fish only for sport as it is not the most popular fish to eat. Bowfin fish might not be known as the river’s tastiest fish, but it can be prepared enough to justify serving it at the dinner table.

Bowfin Record

The longest bowfin that has ever been caught measures 34.3 inches in length. The largest bowfin caught by an angler in South Carolina weighed 21 pounds.

Bowfin vs. Snakehead

Snakeheads are native to Asia and Africa. They closely resemble bowfin and are often mistaken for each other. Both are invasive species; however, they are entirely unrelated. 


  • No bony plates between the low jawbones
  • Enlarged scales on the head
  • Anal fin as long as the dorsal one
  • Pelvic fins are much closer to the head
  • Some species have an eyespot


  • Bony plates between the lower jawbones
  • No scales on the head like Bullhead Catfish
  • The anal fin is short
  • The long dorsal fin extends from the middle of its back
  • Pelvic fins are in the center of the body
  • The base of the tail has a black spot but only in the males

Cooking Bowfin

The key to preparing and eating this is when it is fresh. Ideally, you would like to cook and eat within just a few hours of catching it. The primary reason is that bowfin flesh starts getting mush and will deteriorate when you leave it for too long. Also, it doesn’t hold up well to freezing.

Bowfin is best for frying or breading. With this, you will be able to make great deep-fried fish patties. 

This fish comes with a bone structure that is quite fine, making it better to fillet the fish with the help of a fillet knife. Cut down the fillets but avoid the gut to prevent any unusual taste. 

Ensure that you dip the fish in saltwater before frying it to draw out blood and the muddy taste.