Fishing for Bowfin

Photo by Michelle Tabor, 2016

Are you looking for a sport fish that puts up a fight, one that gives you an adrenaline rush as you reel it in, and has the ability to rip the flesh from your fingers? Look no further than the Bowfin.

Bowfin Amia calva

The bowfin is also known as dogfish, mud pike, mud fish, grindle, and swamp bass. Ideal water temperature: 68° to 82°F.
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

World record: 21 pounds, 8 ounces

Normally found in waters around Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, the bowfin prefers water temperatures of the warmer climates. It has an exceptionally long dorsal fin which extends back to the tail, made of about 50 spines or rays. Near the upper tail is an eye spot. They have very sharp teeth and a nasty disposition when hooked. Handle with caution. They are most often caught on cut bait and crayfish. They put up quite a fight and are not considered good eating. (source: All About Fishing)

Now we know what a Bowfin is, but why are we fishing for a southern fish in West Virgina, 600 miles from their normal habitat? Because they're there. That's why.

Now, there's not a lot of spots in West Virginia if you want to try your hand at catching this helluva pissed off fish. According to the Bowfin Anglers Group, there are four known locations in West Virginia where Bowfin have been reported to have been caught. Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area is two of the those four spots. In fact, the New WV State Record for Bowfin was caught at Green Bottom WMA. Other locations reported are the Elk River and a private pond in Berkeley County.

On our trip to GBWMA, our goal wasn't Bowfin. We didn't even know they existed. And that we would be encountering one. Brian and I love bass fishing and catfishing. We passed by GBWMA on our way to the Mothmal Festival in September of 2015, and filed it away as a future fishing spot.

After a little looking around, the marsh and small lake seemed to be a great habitat for bass and catfish. There's plenty of fallen trees, shallow water, and lots of vegetation. Our goal for our trip was to catch a few bass and few catfish

Well, we caught a few bass, using a drop rig with fake minnows as a lure. (Hey, what ever works!) I was quite happy with the fish I caught. So much so I have it posted here. After a full morning of bass fishing, we changed it up and threw out our lines to see if we could catch some cats. Brian was using some cut bait, but I wanted to be lazy, so I decided to use a dough ball that had been soaked in some chicken blood.

Not 15 minutes later, I'm fully engrossed in reading my book, sitting on the cooler, fishing pole propped up between my crossed legs, and the lines goes taught and the pole tries to go swimming.

After hooking the fish, I am then thrust into the best fight of my fishing life. I'm telling you, white-girl-bar-wooing happiness is occurring. This fish is fighting me. It's trying to zig zag. I'm letting it have some way. It's trying to take off, I'm pulling it in. I'm pissing the thing off instead of tiring it out. It's a slow give and take. It's a long battle. I'm down on the bank, boots in the mud, yelling at this fish "Here fishy fishy!". I'm pray to any deity that my line doesn't break. Hell, I'm fishing with a $10 Walmart pole and 6lb line. A bluegill could snap my pole.

Finally, the moment comes. The fish is in sight of the shore. Brian has pulled in his lines and is waiting on the bank to grab the fish as I bring it in. It's out of the water. It's on the bank.

That ain't no dang catfish.

And then it finally bites through the line and flops towards the water. Brian makes a grab for it, but pissed off fishy is already back in the water and swimming away as fast as he can.

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Not knowing what we just saw, we are stuck there, staring at each other with that look of dumbfounded rednecks seeing the Loch Ness Monster.

I am one to accept things as they are. It was a weird fish. I caught it. it escaped. Brian is not. Brian must know what got away, especially after seeing teeth in it's head.

As we were leaving for the day, this mystery has confounded Brian enough, that he stops another angler close to the parking lot. We've been watching this guy catch small fry and had been using them as cut bait. Brian tells him about what we caught and if he knew what it was.

Some age old advice for you - the locals are the best source of information.

This fellow angler was a local and he was there specifically for bowfin. He shared with us that he uses cut bait, doesn't throw too far out, and he has good luck with that. He also shared that, you know, a bowfin has teeth and can rip the flesh from your fingers if you stick your fingers in it's mouth to remove a hook. So, lead leaders, gloves, and pliers are a must if you go after this fish.

Do you have your own fishing tale? Ever caught a bowfin? What's the most enjoyable fish you ever caught? Do any white-girl-bar-wooing while fishing?

Update 12 Sept, 2016 - We returned to Green Bottom toward the end of summer and found the entire lake covered in lily pads. Bank fishing proved to be impossible. I recommend fishing this location in late fall, and early spring, when the lily pads are not in the way.

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