We've done well this year, with BAG members keeping the site fresh by sending in submissions every month.
First - DuaneR, FL, 01/06/06
Most Submissions - TimG, IL, 10; NickV, FL, 9
New Hotspots - 56(Fifty six!)
State with most new Hotspots - NC, 7 (Honorable mention, FL, WI, 5 each)
2 new Recipes, 2 new Tips
States with first time submissions - KY, WV
State with most submissions - FL, 18
States (Provinces) with submissions - AL AR FL GA IA IL IN KY LA MA MI MN MS NJ NY NC OH ON
PA SC TX VT VA WV WI
Slacker States (States with a record of fins but no submissions) - MO NE NH OK TN
New State Records - WV
have caught many dogfish in my day and I wanted
a challenge. On 4/14/05, I put a steel leader on my ultra-light spooled
with four pound line and stuck a live bluegill on a large circle hook.
After a fifteen minute battle, I finally pulled in this 10lb 33 inch
monster. It's my biggest yet, but hopefully not for long.
Zach A. 08/23/05
bucktail was hammered in Hazy Bay by what I
thought was one pissed off muskie! But lo-and-behold it wasn't a muskie
but a much more dangerous fish to have thrashing in your boat. Ladies
and gentlemen...I give you my personal best Bowfin ever. 28" of
Jamie R 09/08/04
Out There: The extraordinary bowfin
This living relic is a fish of legends that fins through
By Keith "Catfish" Sutton
Special to ESPNOutdoors.com
"Cast to those bushes," I said to Larry Stark one hot
afternoon on an Arkansas oxbow lake. He did as I suggested and crawled
his lure over the muddy bottom. It traveled maybe three feet before it
happened: Something picked up the plastic worm and started off with it.
No telltale thump-thump, as when a bass hits; something just picked up
Larry's worm matter-of-factly and swam away with it. The worm obviously
belonged to that something the minute it picked it up. "Reel up the
slack, Larry fast!" I instructed. The "something" out there was now
traveling at a steady clip straight toward the johnboat, creating a
wake as it picked up speed. Larry spun the reel handle as quickly as he
could, but to no avail. The fish was moving too fast. Then suddenly,
astoundingly, the creature smashed head-on into the boat, ker-whang,
and made an about-face. "Now you're in for it," I said.
Larry's slack-jawed face suddenly
looked pale. He spun the
reel handle furiously, and, when the line tightened, he set the hook
with a powerful backstroke. Something thrashed violently in the
tannin-stained water, creating a huge boil that parted the carpet of
green duckweed floating on the surface. "Jumping Jehosaphat!" Larry
shouted, or something to that effect. His rod doubled over, and his
opponent stripped off line, making the drag on his reel screech like a
banshee. The battle continued for perhaps two minutes, then the
leviathan sounded, made a loop-de-loop around a branch and erupted from
the water. It thrashed its scaly reptilian head side to side like a
terrier shaking a rat, then broke Larry's line like it was nothing more
than rotten thread. The battle finished, Larry slumped back in the boat
seat and sighed.
"That, my friend, was a grinnel," I said, smiling.
Stark, a resident of Minnesota, called me in 1992 to arrange a
bowfin-fishing excursion. He was
working on a book at the time, "Fishing America," which would describe
fishing trips for different
species in each of the 50 states. The target for Arkansas was bowfins,
and I agreed to be Larry's guide.
We fished for bowfins three days in a variety of lakes, but we
never put a bowfin in the boat. Not
because we couldn't find them. We did. And we hooked our share. One
nice bowfin, a 5- or 6-pounder, jumped over the corner of the boat
before it busted my line. Several more monsters waged battles that
lasted several minutes. But the bowfins always came out on top. They
As his trip ended, Larry commented on this extraordinary
fighting fish. "I always heard bowfins were nothing fish," he said.
"Boy, was that wrong. I never imagined they'd put up such a battle."
The bowfin is a living fossil, the last surviving member of a
family that swam the earth with the
dinosaurs. It has several nicknames, including mudfish, dogfish,
cypress trout and blackfish. Southern anglers know it best as
"grinnel," though more vulgar monikers often are used by frazzled
fishermen with broken lines, mauled lures and shattered poles.
These relics range throughout Southern
lowlands and north
through the Mississippi River watershed to the Great Lakes. The long,
cylindrical body is crowned with an unbroken dorsal fin extending
two-thirds its length. The wide mouth thickly studded with razor-sharp
teeth fits the fish for the predatory role the bowfin thoroughly
fulfills. The olive body color looks like it was issued for World War
II combat, and the nose sports two short, tubelike whiskers.
Bowfins are the stuff of legends. In Louisiana, for instance,
folks say a cooked "choupique" will uncook itself if left untouched
overnight. Some believe that, given a ritual burial during the proper
moon phase, a bowfin will metamorphose into a live snake. These tales
have no basis in reality, but the truth about bowfins is no less
For example, the bowfin's lung-like air bladder allows it to
survive under remarkable conditions. James Gowanloch, in his book
"Fishes and Fishing in Louisiana," wrote, "They have actually been
plowed up alive in lowland fields of Louisiana, weeks after flood
waters have fallen and the land has become dry enough for cultivation
to begin." A Canadian report describes a bowfin that was dug from the
earth where it lived in a chamber four inches below the surface,
one-quarter mile from the nearest river.
Jim Spencer of Little Rock, Ark., is one of few ardent bowfin
anglers I've encountered. He's fished for the species throughout the
South, and, in 1973, he claims he caught a bowfin on an Arkansas bayou
that tipped the scales at an even 22 pounds eight ounces heavier than
the current world record, from South Carolina.
"I wasn't particularly record-conscious in those days,"
Spencer says, "and after weighing the fish and showing it off, I gave
it to a friend, who fed it to his hogs."
Spencer went on to relate just how
exciting fishing for
bowfins can be.
"I once pitched a spinnerbait to the far end of a log and
hustled it back to the boat. The lure was within two feet of my lowered
rod tip, and I was about to lift it from the water when everything blew
up in my face. It was possibly the most violent strike I'll ever see in
my life, regardless of the species. No white marlin ever slashed a
trolled skipjack any harder than when that grinnel hit my fast-moving
spinner. The water around the lure erupted like a miniature volcano,
and it seemed that most of the displaced water landed on me. I set the
hook purely out of fright," he continued, "and when the fish felt the
bite of the steel hook, it swapped ends and pulled off 15 feet of line
against the heavy drag before I could even get the rod tip up. It was
all I could do to hang on to my fishing rod. I backed off a
quarter-turn on the drag in case the fish decided to make another run,"
Spencer said. "It was a good thing I did, because the fish shook its
head a time or two and plowed off in a new direction. The fish ran off
20 feet of line this time, and I barely managed to stop it before the
fish reached a log pile. But that run took the starch out of the fish,
and, a couple minutes later, I had the 10-pound bowfin beside the boat.
It was still making short, powerful lunges in every direction, but I
was finally in control."
Spencer leaned over the boat and used pliers to twist the lure
"The grinnel lazed in the water two feet from my face, eyeing
me sardonically," he recalled. "Then it gave a flip of its tail and was
gone, leaving me with a well-chewed spinnerbait and another good
When fishing specifically for bowfins, use the same tactics
employed when fishing for largemouth bass. Work lures around dead
timber, weed beds, cypress trees, willows and other cover and get ready
Your fishing tackle should be sturdy. I use a 7-foot,
medium-heavy rod and a heavy-duty baitcasting reel spooled with heavy
braided line. Black plastic worms have been my best producer, but I've
also caught grinnel on spinnerbaits, spoons, crankbaits, jigs, topwater
plugs, live minnows and crawfish.
Sight-fishing for bowfins is one of the most exciting forms of
In summer, bowfins rest at the water's
surface, gulping air to
compensate for decreased oxygen levels caused by hot weather. The
angler sights a bowfin on the surface, then casts a baitfish-imitation
plug a few feet in front of it, allowing the lure to remain motionless
except for an occasional twitch. If actively feeding, the bowfin will
soon make a headlong dash for the plug. When it does, hang tight to
your rod. The strike of a surface-feeding bowfin is like that of a
lightning bolt, and the angler who's not prepared for it may find his
favorite rod and reel headed for Davy Jones' locker.
Bowfins are ignored by most anglers. As it is, most bowfins
are incidental catches, taken while fishing for more popular targets.
But these prehistoric fish have much to offer the angler in search of
fish-fighting fun. Five- to 10-pounders are common in many waters, and
a hooked bowfin puts up a fight unrivaled by the sportiest game fish.
Give these misfits a try. There's always a chance you'll catch the next
world record. Jim Spencer proved it's possible. Just be sure you don't
feed it to the hogs.
To contact Keith Sutton, email him at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
with the first of many fins to be presented here Details when I get
them. Caught 5/13/03