Bow Hunt­ing

Want to take a swing at bowfins? Here’s how to hook up

Field and Stream - - FISHING HANDBOOK - By Joe Cer­mele

Bowfins—a.k.a. mud­fish and grin­nel—get a bad rap. They won’t win any beauty con­tests, and they’ll also wreak havoc on your fa­vorite bass lure. The truth, how­ever, is that bowfins are ex­cep­tional tar­gets in their own right. They are ag­gres­sive and will out­fight any bass or trout around. Best of all, these fish can be found from Texas to Florida, and Min­ne­sota to Que­bec, so there’s a good chance some hard­brawl­ing bowfins live close to home. If you want to tan­gle with these brutes, here’s where to find them, and how to gear up prop­erly for a bat­tle you won’t soon for­get.

Grass Roots

Bowfins thrive in ev­ery­thing from gor­geous clear lakes and rivers to the muck­i­est, nas­ti­est swamps you can find. Re­gard­less of the aes­thet­ics of their home, the wa­ter is likely to share com­mon traits. In par­tic­u­lar, veg­e­ta­tion is key. Bowfins need heavy salad for spawn­ing, and they also love to hunt and am­bush in grass and weeds. Find­ing them in open wa­ter is fairly rare, but ac­cess to deeper wa­ter is ap­peal­ing to these fish. If you find a quiet, veg­e­tated area—be it in a bog or a back­wa­ter on a pris­tine river— fo­cus your ef­forts on the sec­tion clos­est to the main river or a deeper chan­nel cut­ting through the swamp.

Beef Up

These fish have strong jaws and even stronger wills. Once you set the hook, bowfins will make ev­ery ef­fort to run you into any nearby snags or cover.

With that in mind, you’ll want to bulk up your out­fit, line, and ter­mi­nal tackle for a bowfin hunt. Bass rods de­signed for frog­ging or throw­ing large swim­baits have plenty of back­bone for the force­ful set you need to drive hooks into a bowfin’s hard mouth. They’ll also pro­vide the power re­quired to mus­cle these strong fish away from snaggy struc­ture. Fifty- to 65-pound braided line is a smart choice, as its lack of stretch aids in a pos­i­tive hook­set. Fi­nally, whether you’re soak­ing bait or throw­ing lures, make sure your hooks are su­per­strong and honed to a nee­dle point.

Dunk and Reel

One great thing about bowfins is that they’re just as happy to eat a piece of cut shad or bluegill hang­ing be­low a bob­ber as they are to chase down a spin­ner­bait. This makes them ex­cel­lent tar­gets for an­glers of all skill and en­ergy lev­els. When you’re float­ing bait chunks, try to set the dis­tance be­tween your bob­ber and the hook so the bait is sus­pended within a foot of the bot­tom or just above any veg­e­ta­tion. While opin­ions vary, I find that cir­cle hooks do a much bet­ter job of stick­ing these fish than J hooks. If you’d rather cast lures, it’s hard to go wrong with white. Soft fi­nesse baits and spin­ner­baits are ex­cel­lent choices. If you find bowfins in very shal­low wa­ter, they won’t hes­i­tate to de­stroy a hol­low-body frog slosh­ing over­head.

Big Ugly Bowfins aren’t ex­actly pretty, but they sure can fight.

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