Angling qualities: Most bowfin are landed by anglers trying to catch something else! Bass anglers are often surprised to find a bowfin has taken their lure — but may be equally surprised to discover that the lowly “mudfish” can put up a good fight. But don’t lip this fish when landing it! Remember that its mouth is loaded with sharp teeth. Bowfin will strike topwater and minnow-imitating lures but are most often caught on live bait such as shiners. Food quality is considered poor; the flesh is quite soft, but can be prepared smoked, fried as patties or stewed. In Louisiana the fish has been harvested commercially for caviar.
Where to catch them: Bowfin are common in freshwater marshes or backwaters of lowland streams throughout Florida, as well as south Florida’s canal systems. They can survive well in warm, poorly oxygenated waters; the bowfin has an air-bladder that functions like a lung and can sometimes be seen gulping air.
Interesting facts: Males clear a nest among heavy vegetation. Eggs are laid at night and males guard them. Larvae use an adhesive organ to anchor themselves.
Fish illustrations by Duane Raver, Jr. and Diane Rome Peebles.