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Bowfin - Fish or Monster

Bowfin are mean and ugly, and they will tear up your tackle

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Bowfin - Fish or Monster
Duane Raver U.S Fish and Wildlife Services/Wikimedia
Bowfin are so named because of the fin that looks like it runs from the back of their head all the way around their tail half way up the belly. Although I spent the first 21 years of my life around creeks and streams in McDuffee County in east Georgia, and many hours on Clark's Hill in that area, I never saw one until I moved to Griffin.

In 1972 I was exploring my new home county, checking out the fishing opportunities. I stopped by the bridge over the Flint River on Highway 16 and walked down the bank. An older man showed me a "grinner," the only fish he had on his stringer. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. I did not see another one for a couple of years.

I had just about forgotten about the strange Flint River fish in 1977 when it was brought back to me at Bartlett's Ferry. When something tapped my worm, I set the hook and it took off. I saw a flash of gray in the water and just knew I had a big bass. It fought hard but when Bob Pierce netted it, I wanted to throw it back - net and all! The critter I had hooked was gray with a wide mouth full of sharp peg-like teeth. The fin running from the back of its head looked like it ran all the way around to the middle of its belly and made it look bigger than it was. It probably weighed about six pounds.

I brought it home to show off. I asked someone how to cook my trophy and that was the first time I heard about "planking" a fish. That is the method where you nail a bowfin to a plank, roast it over an open fire, throw away the fish and eat the plank. Bowfin are not real tasty according to my sources!

Bowfin are also called mudfish, cypress trout, grinners, grindle, dogfish and other unprintable names. They will hit just about anything and can destroy a crankbait or spinnerbait. I'm sure they are good for something, I just don't know what. In a West Point tournament in the early 1980's I was catching bass on a white spinnerbait up the river. I limited out the first day and could not wait to get back up there on Sunday morning.

I had not fished for more than a few minutes when something big ate my spinnerbait. It was a 9 pound bowfin and it totally destroyed the only spinnerbait I had been able to catch bass on. I was not happy. My biggest bowfin hit a Little George jigged on an old roadbed, also at West Point, in a January tournament. I thought I had a winning bass until I saw the fish. Another bowfin at West Point broke my heart when it hit a top water plug the very first cast early one morning in a tournament. My heart was pounding from the splashing and fight of the fish until I saw it.

Although bowfin are thick in the Savannah River just below the Clark's Hill dam, I have never heard of one in the lake. I check with area biologists and they don't know why, but they have never found bowfin in Clark's Hill. West Point is full of these fish. My Guide to North American Wildlife says they are the only remaining member of an ancient group of fish. They look the part. The biggest one listed in the International Game Fish Association World Record book weighted 21 1/2 pounds. I hope they don't get much bigger!

Both my guide books say bowfin live through-out the southeast, from the Mississippi River to the Canadian border and south through Florida. If you want to catch one, they like live bait and artificials, seeming to be especially fond of blue worms. West Point is probably your best bet although I have not caught one in several years. Bowfin do pull hard. Maybe that is what they are good for. If you go after them in the Flint, especially if you are wading, remember the 21 pounder. If there are any bigger ones in the river, you might be the bait. Like I said, they will eat anything!

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