This is a great site... but what I really wanted was to find out how,
where, and when to catch bowfin, particularly in the Okeefenokee swamp
area. Could you provide any help? I have never fished for Bowfin
before, but would like to try. I'm 14, with a birthday and Christmas
coming up, and I figured out that what I would really want is to take
our canoe to Okeefenokee, about three hours away, and try for something
totally new: Bowfin. After hearing much about their fighting ability as
compared to catfish (on the level, if not more) and b@$$ (much better),
they sound like something very much worth an expedition. But, seeing as
this is a trip I will not be able to make too often (I can't drive,
so...), I would like to have a good time. So, if you could answer or
find someone with knowledge of these questions, I would be very
What type of line and rod/reel should I use?
I've heard a lot about bowfin straightening hooks and annihilating
spinners. If this is true, should I bring many extras?
Is there a best time of year to fish for them?
Is there a best time of day?
What type of fish is the fighting most similar?
I know that with catfish, you must use a very strong hookset, while
with bluegill and bass, that type of hookset would rip off the jaw. Are
there any kind of tricks to fighting these fish?
Are there any bowfin locations in NW Georgia?
Is there any special equipment needed, for instance, muskie and pike
fisherman carry steel mesh gloves, and catfishermen carry very long
pliers for removing deep hooks.
And Finally, are there any precautions I need to take, for instance, a
catfish's spines carry a poison.
Thank you very much,
Bowfin are predators with fish and crayfish as
their primary diet. I fish primarily with spinners, like the Lambo,
Mepps, Panther Martin, Blue Fox Minnow Spin, etc. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and plastics all work as well. Livebait and cutbait (cast net for
local forage for best results) will produce when they won't touch
artificials. While I've never had the pleasure of fishing the
Okeefenokee, your basic fishing strategies apply - location,
presentation, and structure. Ask the local baitshop, perhaps
surreptitiously, where bowfin are caught. On the water, identify
structure that bowfin can relate to - rocks, stumps, brush piles, cuts,
channels, etc. - and try to identify the primary forage. If shad are
scarce and the waters are loaded with crawdads, then match your colors
and presentation to the crawdads rather than shad. Until you find a
pattern that works, vary the speed and depth of your retrieve. You
should be able to tell right away that you've hooked a bowfin - or
snagged an alligator!
I use a light spinning reel (Shimano 1000) on a 5 foot
UglyStick Lite as my primary, and a Shimano 4000 medium on a 6' Ugly
Stick Med-Heavy as my backup. I usually fish from shore, so if any
appreciable hiking is involved, I carry only the light setup. I usually
spool up with Cabela's Ripcord SI Braid (15-25lb) or Fireline 14-20lb.
On my last bowfin trip, I had the pleasure/pain of having a
snap-swivel completely straightened out by a savage hit. I got hit, set
the hook hard and felt the weight, then it went limp. Reeled it in and for a moment
didn't recognize what that little piece of straight wire was on the end
of my line. I was bummed, but put on a fresh swivel and kept trying to
hook her again. I caught many more, but no 20lb fish that I was hoping
for. Use a good snap-swivel and replace it before it weakens from
repeated opening/closing. Bowfin like weeds, rocks, and wood so you will snag
and lose lures. If I head out for a day trip with at least six spinners I don't
run out. The line is strong and I usually can get the angle to pull
them free. Do bring extra trebles, especially in rocky water. I use
Eagle Claw Featherlites or Gamakatsu. If the new lures don't have split
rings, put them on before you head out so changing hooks is easy. If
bait fishing, I'll tie the hook directly to the line. I always use a
Palomar knot for terminal tackle since it is quick, easy, and strong.
It won't pull out even with the coated braid.
The same tackle/rig works for shortnose, spotted, and Florida
gar as well, and may even get a Longnose.
I can't say there is a best time of day (or night) for
catching bowfin. I've caught them pre-sunrise, mid-day, and at night. I
do notice spurts and lulls, but can't say it is time-of-day related. If
things get quiet, I move to a fresh spot. Summer has been my most
productive time, but that is when I do most of my fishing. I've caught
them on 40 degree days in the fall and in 90+ in the summer.
Bowfin fight like cats or carp on speed. They make long,
powerful, fast runs, often reversing direction and occasionally going
airborne. Let the drag do its job, and don't try to horse them in. They
have tough mouths and take a good hookset, and it sure excites them.
Carry a stout leather glove and you can lip them (or easily grab a
gar). The teeth are sharp and will shred your fingers. Many smaller bowfin I don't even
use the glove. I'll pull them up onto the bank and just grab them
behind the gill plate while de-hooking. The mouth is shallow and wide
making it easy to remove the hook. Needle-nose pliers work, but I use a
long hemostat. I carry it clamped to my belt so it is always handy.
They are easy to work with no spines, no poison. The only precaution
I'd recommend is to go with a buddy and let someone know where you are
going. If you hit the Okeefenokee, it's an easy place to get lost I'm
told. I saw a relatively cheap GPS ($150) the other day that I'd
seriously consider if I was heading to a place like that for the first
If this sounds a lot like b@$$ fishing, it is. Bowfin
are not as finicky as b@$$; the passage of a front doesn't send them
sulking. BAG members land bowfin through the ice, so I would assume bowfin are easily year-round sport in the Okeefenokee. When is the best time to fish bowfin? Now. Anytime. All times. Beats working. Bowfin receive little pressure and little
attention. Perhaps you need to become the local expert. When you do go, take notes on time,
weather, location, conditions, and your catch (numbers and max length).
I don't know hotspots in NW GA, but I'll forward your e-mail
to a BAG member in Atlanta. He may be able to assist.
I have officially made the first USEFUL bowfin advice video on youtube. Soon after making this, I realized it might do well in the tips section of the bowfin website. I thought you might like it. Tight lines,
Tyler G, 07/14/11
I've tried different handling methods over the years and here's what I learned. It's not scientific, but it's based on plenty of experience (and cursing at escaped fish):
The basics of landing a fin:
1. I've used nets, grips and my hands. Here are pros and cons of each:
a) Bare/gloved hands is the safest for the fish but most dangerous for the angler. And it only works well with a tired fish. I've lost many fins at the bank when I couldn't get a good grip. The trick is to avoid grabbing the gills and get one or two fingers past the gill and under the gular plate as quickly as possible. This immobilizes the fish. Pinch down hard, grab the tail and lift.
b) Landing net: the next best option, and safest for the angler. Always net the fish tail first and keep the rod high as you lift so as to keep the fish's head away from the mesh. The problem, however, is that Bowfin will often thrash in a net. This tangles hooks and ruins nets, and can also hurt the fish. Hooks can tear out and get in their eyes, for example.
c) Landing sleeves. Musky anglers use landing sleeves to immobilize a fish next to a boat, but these are hard to use when bank fishing. Nonetheless, a great option because it keeps the fish wet and makes for a quick hook release. It also keeps the fish horizontal.
d) Grips/grabbers. I used to use them, but I've come to hate these, as I have seen them tear a Bowfin's jaw when they thrash in the grips. A good method, however, if you plan to keep the fish. If you plan on mounting it for a trophy, however, the jaw damage might prevent a skin mount.
Basics of handling a landed fin:
1. Don't let the fish touch the ground, because this removes slime from their scales and makes infection possible. Use wet hands/gloves, for same reason.
2. Don't hold the fish vertically when removing a hook. Hold it horizontally with two hands, and ask someone to get the hook out. Holding a fish horizontally keeps its internal organs in their natural place.
3. Opening a fin's mouth. As some of us know, Bowfin bite down like bear traps, and opening their mouth can be a real pain in the b@ss. I carry the "jaws of life:" a small jaw spreader that props open the mouth so as to facilitate hook release. This has worked very well over the years.
4. If a fish is gut hooked, cut the line and leave the hook. It will rust away. Bowfin have very complex and delicate throat muscles, so pulling the hook out can do major damage to the fish and even disrupt its ability to feed.
I've seen Bowfin kept out of the water for 5, even 10 minutes, and swim away without so much as a burp. Most other species die after that sort of exposure but we all know how Bowfin are equipped to breathe oxygen. Limiting air exposure is a big priority for other catch and release anglers, but not for us. This article got me thinking about the main issues, which are landing and handling the fish, because that's where the risks are. Anyhow, I hope this helps someone new to the sport, or even a grizzled veteran. Of course, you can never expect zero mortality but if we set the bar high then maybe others will follow. It worked for trout anglers, and then B@$$ anglers learned it from them. We don't fish for those easy, delicate fish however, so things are different in many ways. The bottom line is the same: respect the Bowfin.
One suggestion I might make to our bowfin angler concerns snap
swivels. I never use them for fins as they have a way of opening. I would
tie the superbraid directly to the lure with a Uni knot, or Palomar if
the lure size permits. With live bait applications, I've purchased
Berkely steel leader kits, usually in the 30 or 45lb test range and
made my own leaders 8-12" long and fastened either directly to the hook
or lure. One kit will last forever.
Most of my fins have been on live bait, but I've caught a few
on Berkely plastic worms (black or tequila sunrise). Fins LOVE, I
repeat love, spinnerbaits but will often demolish the bait. I've also
had them follow and hit red & white Eppinger daredevils.
Cap'n Kirk the Gar Hunter
Here in Michigan, most people will tell you the only fish worth going for are pike and walleye. What most don't know is that Southern Michigan is a true hotspot for bowfin and there isn't much that puts up a better fight! I'm here to offer my suggestions for catching these great fish... NOTHING works better than a whole bluegill, humanely killed and cut up a little bit. Hook it up with two #2 circle hooks ( one up through the skull plate and the other behind the dorsal fin)... Then throw on a couple splitshots above a steel leader, cast it out, set your rod down (with the BAIL OPEN!) crack open a beer, and wait for that line to start moving. When it does, take up the slack, give the rod a nice strong set and BAM! best fight in freshwater.
Ryan, Oakland County MI, 06/04/07
Great Bait Rig
When I first started bowfinning, I used a #2 Eagle Claw circle hook with a half ounce sinker set up in a Carolina rig.
That seemed to work pretty good, but we were losing a lot of fish. It was upsetting that the big ones were getting away.
After some trial and error, I started using a different style hook called an Alaska by Eagle Claw in 3/0 size. I chose this hook because of its wider arch and stronger sharper points. I tie 2 on a 20 pound fluorocarbon leader of 8 to 10 inches with the hooks about 3 to 4 inches apart. At the top, I have a small 90 pound barrel swivel that I attach to my Power Pro braid with the Palomar knot. I put the half-ounce weight on the braid, letting it slide. Our hook ups have tripled and our catch ratio is almost at 90% with this rig!
For bait I use whole finger mullets, 3 to 6 inches in length. The first hook below the swivel hooks into the head up thru the lips and the second hook goes behind the dorsal fin, hooking it towards the head, bringing the barb out towards the tail, and then pushing the eye back into the mullets back. This way the hook stands up with the barb pointing right back at the head. When the bowfin hits, the the hookset pulls the barb straight up towards the fish's top plate or side of the mouth.
We also use cutbait sunfish, but I love the mullet the best. I cut the tail off and slash the side and remove some scales to get more scent in the water. Mullet has a strong smell and if the fins can't see it, it won't take long for them to smell it.
We use this technique all year round. In the winter months we just set it out and wait; it normally doesn't take too long. Summer months, if it's not hit right off the bat before it hits bottom jerk it across the bottom and they'll tear it up.
You can buy frozen mullet fillets in the stores to use for bait and it works just as good. Thanks for listening - tight lines and screamin' drags to all you finners.
TimT, NCPierman, NC, 03/14/07
Here in Florida, we have many lakes that are covered with vegetation. One of my favorite lakes (I won't mention its name for fear of being everyone's favorite) has a top water weedline with a five foot deep drop off. I slow troll around the weed lines and throw shiners like lures around. I use a weighted cigar float about three feet from the hook. The shiners can be dead or alive. I stay about 10 feet away from the weeds and cast in to the edge. Every 10 feet of weedline I get anywhere from 1 to 10 fish! By the time I get around the lake (a slow day) or I get tired (a fast day) I've caught 50 to 70 fish. I know this sounds like a story, but it's true. I'm not saying it will work for everybody but on this particular lake it works. One thing to keep in mind, if your not going to eat them or give them to someone who will, then throw them back. Then you can come back and catch them again and again.
JasonB, 02/08/07, Starke, FL
Better than a glove
Hey, I wanted to put this out to every one catching bowfin. I see many of you using gloves and wanted to let you all know about a gripper for $20. I got one (Model EC15), love it, and has made landing my bowfin a lot easier. I'm not affiliated with the company - I just found an economy tool that also weighs up to 15 lbs! Check out the review done by Tackle Tour. It beats a glove!
ShawnW (NC 06/15/06)
I must say that I am impressed with your website. I have been catching
these fish for several years now and I must say that they put up a
better fight than most those other "sport" fish. Too bad they have such
a bad reputation.
I have been an avid Topwater fisherman for a long time now and quite
often was puzzled when I had large fish strike several times and fail
to get a hook set. Eventually I hooked one and it
was a wonderful Fin! While not easy (Fins aren't really built to be
efficient topwater lure strikers), it can be some of the most exciting
Fin fishing you've ever tried. Better than some traditional "sport"
fish, Fins can really blow up the water when hitting topwater.
I have had the most luck with either topwater popper type lures or
medium / small torpedo lures and the magic color? - White. I have only
caught a fin once on any other color and that was a frog print torpedo
bait. For some reason White around dusk in an area that you know holds
Fins will definately produce. Be patient though - Fins really are not
built to strike topwater very efficently and often miss the lure but
the wonderful thing is that they are so darn determined they will often
strike again immediately or even on the next cast or two casts !
Another great thing about Fins is that they really commit to a lure -
It's quite possible to actually wait for several seconds before setting
the hook on them. I have also fished for Fins with white
spinnerbaits. Once again white has always seemed to be the magic color
for them. Popper lures work because they draw lots of attention and
are noisy but don't move around much and are easy targets. I usually
fish the torpedo lures extra slowly for fins.
Keep up the wonderful work here. I'll be back to visit. Hope
you'll try some topwater.
- Larry, 06/13/06
When you start seeing crayfish, dead stick with a Storm Rattle Hot Craw tube. Give it a short jerk a few times and let it sit. Use super line or they will tear your mono to shreds.
Joseph L, 05/17/06
Fins On A Choupic Pole
I catch fish on a choupic pole or what some call a cane pole.
If you aren't familiar, it's about a 7
to 10 foot bamboo pole, the thickest part being about an inch and a
half and tapering to about half an inch. It has nylon or cotton line on
it and a big hook and a stopper(cork, float - whatever you prefer). You
just set it on the bank and when something takes it you just pull up as
hard as you can and send the fish flying over your head. It is great
fun. I have caught some huge choupic with this rig. Sometimes they were
so big that you would jerk and they
wouldn't come out of the water, but
instead would just plop back in and I'd have to get them out with a net
or by hand.
Joey B 08/16/04
Chumming For Fins
I highly recommend chumming for bowfin. Last night I cut up a
few dozen shad and tossed them around the boat. About 30 minutes later
one of my poles almost flew out of the boat. I caught another one 5
minutes later. It was a great night! I think that if there are fins in
the area chumming will get them to your bait much faster.
Bait and lures
After reading the tips page I figured that I'd throw in some
of my experience with what works. My family has a weekend house on the
Northeast Cape Fear River in Burgaw, NC. I have been fishing there for
about 7 years. When I fish for Bowfin I usually fish with artificial
lures and plastics but the largest fins I have caught have been on live
or cut bait.
I'll start with the live bait. My favorite to use is a small
bream or redbreast, the best size around 4-6 inches. It is almost as
much fun catching these little sunfish as it is the big Bowfin. I
usually go out in the morning and fish with a very small beetle spin.
With that you can catch about as much bait as you will need. Alright,
now for the good part. Fish the sunfish on a leader of heavy line
attached to a swivel and some sort of weight (I use a 2 oz. egg
sinker). Hook the bream at the back of the dorsal fin and take a bait
knife and scuff him up a bit. Remove some scales, cut off some fins,
etc. (this can be harsh, I know). Now you have the perfect bait, a
natural, wounded sunfish just right for the stomach of a big ol'Fin. I
usually fish this from the bank in about 9 ft of water with an Abu
Garcia reel with a bait clicker. Sit up on the bank, relax and wait for
the clicking to begin. Set the hook and hang on.
When it comes to cut bait, sunfish is the best. I just cut
into little fillets and fish on a 1oz. sinker. It's pretty much
Now, artificial bait is fun. I bought a lure at Wal-Mart a
while back that is a large in-line spinner with a white skirt. I think
it is a Hildebrandt or something. Anyway, that lure is the absolute
best in the late summer and fall. Any spinner bait will work basically.
I always fish a white skirted lure. Spinnerbaits with a big Colorado
blade are the best. Throw them up near the bank especially around
fallen trees or lily pads. I reel them in so that they stay just under
the surface and leave a wake. When the fin attacks, it will blow you
away. Fishing this way gave me my largest Fin, about 16 lbs (NC record
is 17 lbs). However, in the spring and summer I have found that the
Fins like the plastic worm more than anything. I have had recent days
with more than 30 fish, mostly males around 2 lbs or so. In my river
the main food they prey on are crawdad so I use a crawdad colored
Culprit worm with a 1/4 oz bullet weight. Basically fish back in the
swamps and tributary creeks around the cypress trees. Fish exactly like
you would for b@$$ and you will be pleased. As far as winter time is
concerned, I have had the best luck with the cut bait and surprisingly
when the river is high and muddy. Anyway, this is my two cents on the
subject of the Bowfin; hope it is useful to some.
Jeff C 04/23/04
Spin 'em meat
Many years ago I used a great little spinner which was
designed for panfish that used a small strip of fish meat as a tipping.
It was named "meatgetter" and was perfectly balanced to carry the !/4"
thick, one inch fillet(taken from another panfish).As the name
suggested it brought in a ton of meat !This little lure came to mind
when reading results that our ole bowfin are taken more regularly on
cut bait than just about anything.But to find a spinner balanced just
right to properly carry a hefty chunk of meat,and of sufficient length
to appeal to a bowfin was tough.Until just recently.
A superb fly fisherman from West Virginia named Lorrin Pickens
used his tying expertise to create a really nice ,full bodied fly in
several patterns (mostly his own unique creations),perfectly balanced
by a brass bead head ,and fitted with a "just right" homemade spinner
up front.It can be cast easily and carried into any depths with a few
split shots attached about 8" up the line.Best of all,the doggone thing
spins at virtually a breath with the robust fly offering great
shimmering action,yet without rolling over to create line twist.In
shallow water,or weedy areas often frequented by bowfin the spinner
functions perfectly without extra splitshot,thanks to the slight weight
and stability of the special bead head design.
So impressed by its realistic look and balance , I started
tipping the 2" bait with an extra inch or two of panfish
flesh,and-voila!- a bowfin sized "meatgetter"!!The sized 6 super sharp
hook and tiny trailing treble holds the meat strip perfectly and lays
it straight out behind.The "bead head spinner" acts as if it meant to
be tipped and gets the strip dancin' and swimmin' in a most convincing
fashion!To a bowfin the whole effect has to be one of an unsuspecting
easy strutting minnow (especially with Pickens' thick,artful fly
patterns),with the ultimate enticement of firm fish texture,smell,and
taste!!Although many of the present designs are designated as trout
patterns,perhaps we could talk Mr.Pickens into a tying a special bowfin
model! Contact him at www.clearwaterlures.com
Bowfin Feeding Behavior
I've been doing this for sometime and I thought it might be
helpful for those fishing clearer lakes.
Many years ago I would go bowfin fishing in Little Long Lake
and always caught more of the other species than bowfins. Then 3 yrs
ago I started targeting sunnies because this lake had trophy potential.
While doing so, I ran across numerous times that a bowfin would sit
next to some sunfish honeycomb [a cluster of sunfish nests] and wait
for an easy meal. So I decided to sit on one of the honeycombs and
wait. 3 hrs later I spotted a bowfin moving in towards the honeycomb -
he's about 25-26". He stopped at the edge of the honeycomb and layed
motionless for about 5 minutes waiting for a meal. The sunnies wouldn't
come within 10" of him so he moved off cruising along in the shallows.
I followed him until he stopped at the next honeycomb. He continued
doing this for a couple more honeycomb stops until I decided to catch
him. Others that I observed either caught a sunny or gave up and went
back into thick cover or deeper water. I went back numerous times to
the this lake and almost always found bowfins around honeycombs or
nearby. To make sure this wasn't just unique to this lake I tried this
on Skimmer Pond and found the same thing. On Skimmer, I waited on the
side that has a faster drop in depth because it was easier for the
bowfins to come up to the shallows with less disturbance to the
sunnies. It also had more sunfishes on this shoreline than the slow
taper depth of the other end. Not an hour later a bowfin fades into
view. He did the same thing those at Little Long did, he came up and
layed there motionless. The sunnies circled about inspecting the
unknown creature. The bowfin took a stike at one that was too close but
didn't get it. His cover blown he slowly eased back into deeper water.
I waited 1.5hrs and another one came into view 5 ft to the right of the
last one. I decide to catch this one and so I did. I continue to see
bowfins around honeycombs and sunnies in Little Long Lake and Skimmer
pond. I don't know of any other clear lakes with a sufficient
population to observe this behavior, but as I find one I will be
watching it too.
By this observation, I've been able to go out and target and
catch only bowfins and not other species simply because I can see what
I'm going to catch. Knowing where the food is will greatly improve your
By Bee K
Willow Wobblin' For Bowfins
Many of our members are aware from reading material on this
site that I'm a rather enthusiastic jig fisherman,and do most of my
'finnin' with my own "Bowbuns" jig. Yet it can't escape me from tackle
reports that 2 other very effective lures are the straight shaft
spinner, as in the terrific Lambo lure, and a plastic worm. Minnow
shape and flash seem to be a common denominator for hungry,aggressive
bowfins. Recently I came across and experimented with a fantastic
little attachment which has terrific potential for creating extra
attention to our lures. It is called a Willow Leaf Wobbler and is
produced through a little web site out of
Washington. Essentially it's a very simple concept (always the best!) -
a small willow leaf spin blade with a swivel on one end and a snap on
the other. Attached to my jigs, it provides a tight little wobble that
really activates the tail and lots of extra flash. I've got a hunch
that, clipped on to a small plastic worm via a light jig head you'd
have a really terrific bowfin lure capable of slithering thru all sorts
of obstruction filled waters. And added to a spinner you'd double the
length and flash! Give this website a look and let's do some
experimenting with this inexpensive little tackle idea!
I've got mine on order with another bonus in mind: As a
shoreangler, the added casting distance provided by the Wobbler added
to a Bowbuns will help me get my lure into the "honey holes."
By John McKean
I've taken a couple on flies, and EVERY time, it
was taken on a smaller, slowly moving fly placed fairly near the fish's
head. One of about 8 pounds (a real mess on a 5 weight) ate a 4 inch
rabbit strip leech, another of around 6 ate a #10 black and blue
marabou Clouser Iwas throwing at spawning bluegills, and the last took
a #2 black/blue/green hair bug that I had let sit over a shallow weed
patch while I removed my line out from under my feet. Sometimes they
are aggressive enough to chase larger streamers, as I've had a few nail
bass streamers, but still, it was when the fly was moving somewhat
slowly near the weeds, particularly lily pads. 2 to 4 inches, dark, and
"wiggly" seems to fit the bill for doggie flies. And don't use anything
lighter than a 7 weight, it's silly. I found this out the hard way once.
Bait, Plastics, and Rigging
I've been fishing for bowfin for about 10 years in
Southern New York State. I fish for bowfin more than any other fish. I
am lucky in that I live a half hour from the bowfin mecca of NYS, the
Bashakill wetlands outside of Wurtsboro. I find that the best time to fish for them in from late dusk to the first few hours of darkness and a few hours of darkness before sunrise on the humid days of the year (July/August). The Bashakill is as swampy as it
gets. It's approximately 5 miles long and a mile wide, with the
predominant plant being arrowhead. There are narrow channels (about the
size of a single lane road) between the arrowhead that you can travel
with canoe. There are a few spots to fish on shore, the bridge being
the most used. I would make a guess at the depth being between 6 to 8
feet throughout most of the channel with a few 12 foot spots. By mid
summer, most of the channels are nearly filled with milfoil. You are
left to fish only small holes only a foot or two in depth before
hitting milfoil, expect for a large opening near the bridge. There is
only one bait to use in the Bashakill and that is minnows. Now, in Gold
Creek I caught all of my bowfin on worms (and they were usually a
quarter of an earthworm). My brother caught one in Gold Creek off a
Ike-con purple rubber worm with pink tail. (They also make lots of glow
in the dark worms that I have had great luck with.)
I've tried many times to use lures and worms in Bashakill, but
I've only once caught a bowfin on a lure in the Basakill using a giant
Acme Phoebe 1/2 oz.
There are so many shiners in those waters that live bait is
the only thing that I regularly catch anything. I usually use 4 inch
shiners. I don't attempt to fish until it's just getting dark. There
are so many pickerel in the Bashakill that it's hard to get a bowfin in
the daytime. You can come out of there with about 20 pickerel in a few
hours in the daytime. I usually start catching bowfin near the end of
dusk into night. Since the Kill is filled with milfoil, you must use a flotation device. I use the Night Bobby (light up
bobber) with the that you can buy in most sporting good stores.
I usually put the hook about 2 foot under the bobber. When the
weather starts getting colder in September and the milfoil starts dying
then I keep a larger depth because the bowfin hug the bottom more. I
usually attach a small glowstick above the swivel to attract the fish.
OmniGlow sells Lunker Lights that you can buy at most sporting good
With this setup, I'm about 90% certain that when a fish takes
the bait that it's a bowfin. Once in a while I'll get a bullhead when
it's starting getting colder in September. It's important to get a good
hook set with a bowfin because they have plates in their mouth that are
hard to penetrate.
Once you get a good hook set then the fun begins. Usually,
they will rip a bunch of line out and you won't have much control. I
use a 4'11" rod with an med/small reel with 10 pound black Fireline
with a snap swivel and a medium size hook (depending what is in my
tackle box). I lose a lot of the larger bowfin with this set up, but I
enjoy the challenge. I usually catch one or two bowfin a night and lose
about 2 a night. The two biggest reasons for losing them is milfoil, or
they break the line/swivel/hook.
The best way not to break the line/swivel/hook is to keep the
drag really loose and play the fish as long as possible. I use to make
the mistake of just trying the reel in the bowfin as soon as I hooked
them. It usually worked up until the point that I got them a few feet
from shore or the canoe and they then go bananas and start thrashing
which usually bends the swivel straight or breaks the hook. You want
them nice and tired before you get them near shore so they don't thrash
as much. Unfortunately, with all the milfoil you can't let the fish run
too far. Bowfin have a tendancy to run immediately for the thickest
cover they can find when hooked. Sometimes you are fishing in a hole
that is only 5 feet in diameter; so you don't have a lot of room to
tire the fish. You pull back too hard with ultra-light tackle and you
risk breaking line.
Once you tired your bowfin out and get him near shore (or near
the canoe) then the fun of getting him begins. When I'm shore fishing I
usually get him in the shallows and just nudge him up onto the shore by
swiping my foot across the side of the fish. I then dive down onto the
fish and wrap my arms over top of him to calm him down before I attempt
to pick him up. I've lost many fish in the past just trying to grab
them out of the water or taking the hook out of their mouth. I looked
like a stooge grabbing at a bouncing bowfin as it finally ended up back
in the water and splashing me in the face before swimming away. Anyone
who has caught one can confirm just how slimy they can get and how they
slide right of your hands when they thrash, and when they thrash they
can really thrash. You can't lip the fish without thick gloves because
of their strong jaws and peg like teeth.
I don't like holding fish by their gills flaps, unless you
know you are eating that fish because you can do damage to them that
way. When catching them from a canoe I usually use a net, but I usually
end up having to untangle the net from his teeth. Anyone that lives
near the Port Jervis/Wurstboro, NY area should give the Bashakill a try.
Dave D "Osama Bin Bowfin"
I'm originally from the Upstate NY - Lake Ontario area ...That
is where I heard bowfins referred to as "Runners" about 20 years ago. I
now live in Central Florida and spend many an exciting afternoon
targeting bowfin and gar. I practice CPR ( Catch - Photograph - Release
) I fish a small lake (1000+ acres) surrounded by cypress swamps where
almost all fish grow to be exceptionally large ... the bream are on
steroids, a 3lb bass is a small one and the gators will steal a fish if
you take too long gettin' it into the boat. My favorite technique for
bowfin (mudfish) is to cast a 10" black worm parallel to a shallow weed
bed before reeling it slowly back to the boat. There is never a
question if you have a 'fin on the line - the strike is unmistakable as
is the battle that follows. Regrettably many of the local fisherman
will kill a 'fin or a gar when they catch them. I use Spider Wire XXX
Super Mono on all my reels. I lose a few to line breakage on the 8#
test but have yet to have 10# let me down.
When I fish for bowfin, I fish from shore. I use varying rods
and reels, with line at least 10lb line. Sometimes lighter line would
make it more fun to fight bowfin, but I fish where there are fallen
trees lining the banks and lose a lot of fish in the heavy cover. At
the end of my line I usually have a strong wire leader with a 2/0 plain
hook. Weight is supplied by the large chunk of cutbait from a large
sucker minnow. I usually fish with the maximum number of lines allowed
by law, which is two per person in MN/WI border waters. It doesn't seem
to matter whether you cast four feet or twenty feet out, since bowfin
are all over (Mississippi River oxbows and backwaters). I like to keep
my line very slack. When a fish bites it will give it a chance to swim
and get the bait into its mouth. Sometimes I even leave my reel's bail
open. I have a hard time setting the hook on bowfin. They let go often.
I've tried reeling in steady without a hook set, but the fish usually
gets off. Good luck finnin'.