Bowfin Fishing Tips

Bowfin Anglers, young and old, often ask "How do I catch Bowfin?" This page is a techniques page to answer that question. Too much to read when you want to go finnin' NOW? Try our 'Executive Summary', the Quick Start page. Visit the various state pages at Maps for location information as well as addtional tips. Got more to add? Contact me at bagman@bowfinanglers.com Be sure to include the name of our favorite fish in the subject!

BAGMAN,
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 thankful:

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,
Raptor

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 time.


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.
Good finnin'
BAGman




Tips video, July 2011

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




Catch and Release, May 2011

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.
HenryV, 05/04/11




Bowfin Tackle

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.
Good finnin'
Cap'n Kirk the Gar Hunter




Bluegills!

Bagman,
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

Chuck, 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




Weedline Fins

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)

The EC15 doesn't have the "cock and lock" housing or the pushbutton release of the more expensive models. If you want those features you'll have to pony up more dough.



Topwater Finnin'

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


Got Crawdads?

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.
Slimecoat 05/21/04




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 fool-proof.

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
John McK




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 success.
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




Flyfishing

From www.roughfish.com, Nate offers this tidbit on flyfishing for bowfin. Sounds like a riot!

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.
Nate




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 stores.

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"




Plastic Worms

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.
John B




Cutbait

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'.
Josh L

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