Myths and Regulations

Bowfin carry as many myths as they do names. If you've come here from some other fishing site, the odds are you've read some of them and perhaps even gotten a good laugh because they are so far-fetched. I'm collecting and rebutting some of those myths here, so if you find any claims out there that sound questionable or even outrageous, send them in and I'll research them and post it here. If you have proof I'm wrong (not I heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy who was a Boy Scout leader, or a link to a post on Buford's B@$$ Forum), send it and I'll post the correction.
In the lower section, I've excerpted state fishing regulations that have some bearing on fishing for bowfin.

Myth 1: I picked up a rock and bashed its head in because anything that ugly deserves to die.

Ignorant and proud of it? Hardly sportsmanlike, this one is more an irritant than a myth. Keep women and children away from this psychotic.

Bowfin possess the rugged good looks of a 100,000,000 year old survivor. The motion of the dorsal fin is hypnotizing as the fins cruise the shallows. The powerful, muscular body belies the strength of this fighter. The legendary bowfin smile rivals that of any Hollywood starlet's caps. Bowfin colors range from silvery green to chocolate brown (and we have black and white too!) Spawning bowfin sport some of the prettiest colors found in freshwater fish.

Myth 2: The [insert state here] DNR asks that you not return bowfin to water.

False. I've read the regulations for all the states with bowfin populations and none require/request that bowfin be killed. They can be legally returned alive to the waters from which they were caught. Returning dead or dying fish to the water is prohibited in many states. One reason for this is that it is wanton waste, a second reason is to prevent the depletion of benthic (dissolved) oxygen caused by decaying flesh. States that do not have bowfin populations, such as Washington, prohibit the importation and stocking of bowfin, as well as many other non-native species. See Regulations below.

Myth 3: My gramps and I cut one open back in the day and it smelled like a sewer and the meat looked like Cream of Wheat. I hope no one eats those, they can't be too good.

If it smelled like a sewer then I would suggest you do NOT cut open fish that have been dead on the bank for two days. An ancient fish, bowfin muscle is denser than that of "modern" fishes, hardly the consistency of Cream of Wheat. Indeed, that density may have led to the development of the gas bladder (see FAQ's). It is soft, especially when caught from warm waters, and on a hot day keeping a dead fin for several hours before cleaning doesn't help. Again, stay away from fish that are already crawling with maggots.

Now, assuming exaggeration, we have all tasted fish that taste "bad" or "off" when by all rights they should be perfectly fine, and this is not restricted to bowfin. Catfish, bass, crappie, any freshwater fish can acquire this bad taste. I discovered the source in this paper by the USDA:

Geosmin, which is Greek for 'smells like dirt', is one of several compounds produced by algal organisms that grow in groundwater and soil and is a major cause of off-flavor. It has an aroma that people typically associate with soil. Geosmin is produced by blue-green algae blooms--pond scum--in ponds and other water bodies, including sometimes in catfish ponds. absorb these compounds, resulting in bad or dirty-tasting fish.

The summer months, prime for finning, are the most likely times for these situations to occur according to a paper published by the University of Arkansas.

In reality, bowfin are great table fare so be sure to visit our Recipes page.

Myth 4: Bowfin can survive in the mud at the bottom of a dried up lake for months/years.

The claim that bowfin can estivate has been around for years and has been repeated in scientific papers, but it is based on anecdotal evidence. Research by David J. McKenzie and David J. Randall from the Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, published in "Fish Physiology and Biochemistry", Volume 8, Number 2, March 1990 shows that bowfin cannot aestivate like the tropical lungfishes because they cannot detoxify ammonia waste or reduce metabolism and they die after 3-5 days of air exposure. 02/28/08

Myth 4-1/2: You can keep a bowfin out of water for hours with no ill effect.

This narrow view focuses solely on a bowfin's ability to breathe air, and ignores the damage to the slime. Fish slime exists not to make a mess on your new Abercrombies, but to protect the fish from disease and infection. Rough handling while landing a fish or leaving it exposed to air for too long during those hot summer days can remove slime leading to the death of the fish, even if it is returned to the water. This is true for any species, not just bowfin. If you are fishing C&R, get your hands and gloves wet before touching the fish, get quick pictures and measurements if you like, then promptly return the fish to the water.

Myth 5: Bowfin can to speak, it's not uncommon to find them right on the shore walking with their fins.

No, this is most likely a case of mistaken identity, with the Walking Catfish found in Florida. A bowfin's fins lack the structure needed to move their bodies on land. Bowfin will charge up onto the bank during a fight, but it's only momentum that gets them there. Once there, flopping and gravity are the only tricks they have to get back in the water.

Myth 6: They eat all the [your species here] and can wipe out complete populations.

Bowfin, like the other top level predator fish, primarily eat fish and crustaceans. If crayfish are available, they will make up the bulk of a bowfin diet. Forage fish (shiners, shad, etc) and young of any species are also found in the usual diet of all these predators. B@$$ eat fins, fins eat bass, and bluegills eat eggs and fry of both. Despite the mutual predation, b@$$ and all those other newcomers managed to survive and thrive in waters already populated with bowfin. Bowfin have tolerated b@$$ since b@$$ first appeared 12,000,000 years ago. If conditions favor one species over another, that species will dominate that local niche, but bowfin have not and will not "wipe out" those other fish.

Wiping out local populations usually requires an assist from people. A new dam, a golf course, or a shopping mall parking lot can cause more harm to fish populations than bowfin. Do you fish spawning beds? You are helping too - those opportunistic sunnies can decimate an egg clutch while you are playing the fish that was defending them.

Myth 7: "America's Toughest Sportfish For 100,000,000 Years!©"

Picky, picky, picky! OK you want to pick this apart? Granted, the fossil record for gar dates them back 250,000,000 years, Amiidae (bowfin) 150,000,000 years . Sportfish implies someone around to pursue them. If we were really being generous we'd call it 200,000 years, but a more realistic timeline of sportfishing would date to Issac Walton (The Compleat Angler) in the 16th - 17th century. Then again, it may be the cosmos is only 6000 years old, God creating the apparent fossil record to test our faith (a piece of cake for One omnipotent.) America has been in usage only 500 years.

We claim artistic license. It has a good beat; I can dance to it.

Myth 8: I had one on that was nearly 5 feet long.

Yep. Those big ones live down near the dam where divers find the 10 foot catfish. Or was it where the divers were eaten by the 10 foot catfish? You don't really believe all the fish stories you hear?

Myth 9: This [your water body here] is the only place bowfin are the world!

From BobS in OH, "Iíve been reading your website, very interesting. I might add another myth that I didnít see mentioned. I live in NE Ohio and we have a lagoon area here right next to a large nature preserve called Mentor Headlands State Park and Marsh. Itís right on Lake Erie. The story around here is that this lagoon area is the only place bowfin are foundÖ the world! I have always doubted this..."

Bob, you are right to doubt this - this whole site debunks that myth. We have photos, stories, State Records, press accounts, state regulations - all to the contrary. Even the wildest conspiracy theorist (the Great Bowfin Conspiracy?) would hard pressed to attribute all this data to a "damguvmint plot". Thanks for submitting yet another far-fetched bowfin tale.

Myth 10: The best time to catch fins...

From TomP of FL: This came up by way of conversation with another bio-geek here at work. When I was a kid fishing with my uncle in MS, I caught an unusual fish that he called a grunnel. We gave it to some local folks who were catfishing because he said he wouldn't eat it. The folks we gave it to said the best time to catch grunnel fish was "at the full moon because they come ashore to mate with goats" and my Uncle confirmed this! He may have been playing along to fool a kid but I believe I also have read this myth before. Didn't know if you'd heard this so I sent it along.


You may have heard or read misinformation about bowfin that indicates they are to be killed and not to be returned to the water. This is a fallacy - none of the regs I searched said anything close to this. In fact most states have clauses to the contrary. Don't confuse a bowfin with a snakehead! Below are pertinent excerpts from the current DNR regulations, by state. It is quite a chore to find this info - some state regs are more than 200 pages long and they rarely use the same terminology. Click the state link to see the Regulations as written. If your state isn't listed it is because bowfin/rough fish/nongame regulations make no mention of returning fish. If you have additional information for me please e-mail me,


Arkansas finners, the regs don't require the killing of bowfin, but they do allow wanton waste of bowfin and gar. This wonderfully sportsman-like exception was just implemented in December 2005. Perhaps a note or two thousand to the DNR will change this exception.

19.01 WASTING EDIBLE PORTION OF WILDLIFE PROHIBITED. It shall be unlawful to allow the edible portion of any game, fish, bird or frog normally consumed as food to go to waste. In addition, it shall be unlawful to kill wildlife and discard any portion which has a legal marketable or commercial value. EXCEPTION: ...(4) All rough fish (gars, bowfin, common carp, grass carp, bighead carp, silver carp, suckers and drum) excluding buffalo.


Fish may be released into the waters from which they were taken.


Wanton Waste of Fish - The intentional waste and destruction of fish is prohibited unless the fish is required by law to be killed [Bowfin are not required to be killed]. Fish must not be mutilated and returned to the water unless the fish is lawfully used as bait. Fish parts, including entrails, must not be discarded into any state waters, but should be disposed of in a sanitary manner that does not pollute the water or become detrimental to public health or comfort.


Louisiana is far more advanced than their neighbor to the north, Arkansas. There are size limits on fins as they encourage "the conservation and sustained yield management of bowfin"
Bowfin (Choupique, Grinnel): 16 inch minimum total length limit.


Any fish that is caught and will not be utilized must be immediately returned alive back into the water. A person cannot wantonly waste a fish that is caught by leaving it or any usable portion on the ice, thrown up on the bank, or intentionally killing it and returning it back into the water...
... dead rough fish may not be returned to the water or left on the ice or banks of any lake or stream.


Missouri has only a roe harvest reg.
Bowfin must remain whole and intact while on waters of the state or adjacent banks.


Bowfin and longnose gar are "candidate species", which could achieve endangered or threatened status in the future. A person who catches these species is encouraged to release them immediately and unharmed to the waters or other area from which they were taken.


It is unlawful to leave edible fish or bait fish taken from the public waters of the state to die without the intent to retain the fish for consumption or bait.


It is illegal to deposit fish carcasses or parts, including entrails or other waste, into Wisconsin waters.

You may return rough fish taken by hand or hook and line to the water.

Yellowstone Lake (including the Yellowstone River from the lake upstream to Co. Hwy F): Catch and release only on northern pike, muskellunge, and their hybrids, and gar and bowfin.

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