At least Illinois is a great bowfin state, especially in waters that feed into the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Send those pics!

The Yellow dots indicate the State Record (lb-oz or 00.00 lb), the Red dots are other fin locations that have been revealed to us. They link to Topozone maps that get you in the neighborhood, if not to the exact spot. The Photos name the location the fins were caught (if known). Thanks to Dave D (Osama Bin Bowfin) for this idea.

September 2011, Mississippi River, Rock Island

I've been fishing the Mississippi River in Rock Island IL for the past week and every night caught a bowfin. The biggest of these was caught last Thursday on a Storm Wildeye Crappie. The smaller was caught tonight on a Sexy Shad Rattler bait and a third not pictured was on a live minnow.
Brandon C, 09/23/11

September 2011, Rock River, Rockton

I caught this last night in the Rock River in Rockton IL. I was fishing with a small nightcrawler set up with a slip sinker rig for catfish. I noticed on your map that someone else caught one in Rockton on the Rock River a few months ago! We released it after identifying it. It's the first I have ever caught! Thanks for your website to help us learn more about them.
Erik C, 09/10/11

August 2011, Wabash River

We love catching these fish on an oxbow of the Wabash. This is my little girl's first bowfin. She caught it on a Barbie 202 Zebco and 4 pound test! She had great time.
Kevin, 08/17/11

August 2011, Mississippi River, E Dubuque

My son, Lupe, caught this guy this weekend in East Dubuque, Illinois. It was one of two that we caught, 17 and 18 inches. We got one other one about a month back, and 1 last year as well... all about the same size.
Amie, 08/17/11

August 2011, Fox River, McHenry

I caught this bowfin on 8-15-11 at the McHenry Dam (Fox River)with night crawlers. This was my first time catching this fish that I never even heard of. It was 21 inches.
Jose C, 08/16/11

August 2011, Rock River, Rockton

I caught this Bowfin on the Rock River about a mile south of the Rockton Dam in Rockton, IL. It measured 23" and weighed 3-1/2 LBS. Caught on 8-13-2011 on a spinner. Gave a good fight. I released him to give someone else a chance to caught one. I saw that another guy caught a few near the dam that he posted on Lake Link. Nice web-site.
Mark P, 08/16/11

November 2010, Vermillion River

Attached is a 'fin pic. Not the hugest of all 'fins but the fact that it hit a lure in mid-November is a treat. Also landed 7 shortnose gar, 3 white b@$$, 2 cats, a northern, a sauger, and a lm b@$$ from the Verm. Probably my last outing for '10.
Garman 11/11/10

May 2010, Rock River

Hi! We found your cool website while trying to figure out what the fish was that Jim caught on Saturday, May 1, 2010, on the Rock River, near Byron, Illinois, in a pit area. We were floored to find out it was a bowfin. We took pictures, and released the fish, so the pictures are attached. It was 22" long. We were fishing with nightcrawlers for catfish, and this is what he bit on.
When we arrived to pull the boat at the launch, there were many people there that have fished this fast moving river, for 50+ years and no one knew, after looking at the pictures, what it was.
Also of note, there was a HUGE fish kill, last summer, due to an Ethanol spill and hundreds of thousands of fish were killed. We saw fishing fall to almost nothing after the spill. So far this year, all we've had are a few large catfish, ranging from 23-26 inches.
Great site! Hope we catch another one, quite the fighter! I know now not to put my fingers in it's mouth, who knew it had teeth!
Jim and Heidi F, 05/04/10

August 2008, Big Muddy R

My name's Phil and I live in Illinois. I'm an avid hunter and fisherman and those are the two seasons my life revolves around. About a half an hour ago, I read an article on bowfin in the August 22nd edition of Illinois Outdoor News and found your website and decided to check it out. About three years ago, I moved to southern Illinois to attend college and really fell in love with dogfish. I was always skipping classes to go fish my duck ponds, the Big Muddy River, and the Cache River for dogfish. I fish for anything and everything, but I do a lot of tournament b@$$, muskie, and walleye fishing. When I'm not fishing tournaments though, I'm somewhere in Illinois fishing for something. Anyway, that's a little bit of my background.

I also have a picture you may be interested in for your website. 2 years ago this September, I landed what I believe would have been a new State Record bowfin in Illinois. The fish exploded on a 1/2 oz white and red buzzbait while I was b@$$ fishing one of my duck ponds and let me tell you...I really thought I had the new State Record largemouth. The fish weighed 18 lbs 3 oz on my digital Rapala scale, although I have no idea how accurate that thing really is. I took 3 pics of the fish and released it. No sense in killing an ancient fish just for some publicity. I would also like to join the fin club. Let me know what you think of the fish.
IllinoisBowhunter (Phil W), 08/23/08

What do I think? At time of posting, this fin is #2 on our Top Ten and would break the World Record Catch and Release! Fantastic fin! Congrats, PhilW!

June 2008, Horseshoe Lake (Alexander Co.)

After seeing some of the fish at this site, I would have to say it holds many state records. The spillway is the hot spot; the last one I saw come out of there I could only guess at, but it had a mouth opening big enough to take my knife sideways and it measures 8 inches tip to tip so you do the math. These things are huge!
Best regards,
Michael, 06/30/08

June 2008, DesPlaines River (North)

Attached are pictures of the bowfin I caught. I caught the bowfin on cutbait, some on treble hook and a few on catfish rigs. I also landed three northern pike when going for the bowfin. Due to high water in the Des Plaines River, I have to hold off on the bowfin fishing for now but I'm very anxious to return.

My 30in 8lb bowfin, a great one for this area. Hope you are doing good Bagman. Tight lines!
CPR (Catch, Photo, Release).
Tim G. IL, 06/16/08

June 2008, Big Muddy R

Zach and I return from Benton bruised and bloody after two days of catching and releasing over 400 fish of eleven species. A great majority of those were chunky shortnose gar, but we also landed spots and fins and cats and buffalo. Three of the 'fins were around 30" and about 10 pounds. We started with lures and bait, but then ditched the shad when we found spinners and cranks were more effective. Zach took some fighting 'fin video; I'll send it along when he sends it to me. Attached are some photos.
Garman, IL, 06/13/08

July 2007, DesPlaines River (North)

Haven't had the time to get out as much as I was hoping, finally got my camera developed. Lost 2 the other day (forgot the net) but oh well it happens. Can't say much I'm starting to sound like a broken record; but all gave me a good fight even the smaller ones!!!
CPR (Catch, Photo, Release).
Tim G. IL, 07/23/07

June 2007, DesPlaines River (North)

Caught on cut bait... soon as I tossed out my line it went under!!! What a fight!! It charged right onto shore which was a big help. Wasn't weighed or measured, caught in Des Plaines River, IL.
CPR (Catch, Photo, Release).
Tim G. IL, 06/11/07

April 2007, Big Muddy R

Darn those cold fronts! We went to the Big Muddy on Wednesday of last week. Snow and sleet and freezing rain up here; not much better down south. Overcast and very gusty, high of about 50F. Fished with shiners from 2pm to 7pm and landed only one cat. Foul hooked three bighead to 11#, though. Next morning out at 5:30am. Dark, still cold, still blowing fierce. Windchill had to be in the 20's. We laid out shiners right at the culvert. No action except from about 7am to 8am. We each landed a ~5lb bowfin on bait. One shortnose and one bighead were foul hooked. Tough conditions! You didn't miss much fishing; West Side cheeseburgers are still great though (yes, THE West Side Cafe, Benton, IL).
Garman, IL, 04/19/07

March 2007, Mermet Lake

We just got back from a quick spring break in southern IL. On Monday (March 26th, 2007), we went to Mermet Lake Conservation Area just northwest of Metropolis, IL. On my son's second cast using a hook and nightcrawler, he caught what I had called a dogfish. It was about 2 lbs and missing an eye. With a little more investigation, I see now it was a Bowfin. He had a bigger one on the line a bit later, but it bit through the line before we landed it. We only fished for about an hour and had 2 encounters with Bowfins. I am attaching a picture of Mitchell and the fish.
EricM, IL, 03/29/07

September 2006, DesPlaines River (North)

Went to Ed Shirley's and saw catfish rigs for only .99 cents decided to pick some up a long with some weights thought I'll give it a shot. Just around noon (12:30) my rod was twitching and as I picked it up and started reeling I felt a strong pull and the fight was on! I NEVER SAW THIS BEFORE THE BOWFIN leaped out of the water making a spectacular backwards FLIP when it landed back into the water the weight was unbelieveble made some nice runs as well. The coloring on it is beautiful, light green mouth/fins, black spot with a yellow halo around it. I lost two other Bowfins (on my other rod) I was using just a treble/float/weight with cutbait (not a catfish rig). Wish I caught those other two but thats fishing. Caught the other three bowfin on 8/20 using a treble and cutbait. I also caught a small Northern Pike, on cut bait! All three were not weighed or measured and released unharmed.
-Tim G. IL, 09/11/06

August 2006, DesPlaines River (North)

Long time no see! I got my film developed and here are some new bowfin pics. I caught the Bowfin on cutbait with a treble hook. I caught the catfish (going for Bowfin) on cut bait as well thought they were bowfin but turned out to be a nice catfish. Before I left for North Carolina I lost a real nice Bowfin. As soon as the bait hit the bottom, it dragged the float towards shore and gave me a real good fight. He wouldn't give up, and took long runs out deeper everytime I brought him closer to shore. He made some spectacular jumps and then the hook flew out his mouth. I was ticked, but that's what makes Bowfin fishing fun; they are very unpredictable and determined fighters. That's just part of finnin'.
-Tim G. IL, 08/17/06

July 2006, DesPlaines River (North)

I caught these using cut bait on a stinger. I added the stinger hook because I had a lot of good ones get away from me. Man, they are very strong fish! Earlier in the year, most of the bowfin kept the line low but now they are going airborne! I've had some fish take some nice jumps, charge onto shore, and take heavy runs into cover. It's a blast! Oh yea, before I end this - Shawn W, bring it on! Catch me if you can!
-Tim G. IL, 07/15/06

June 2006, DesPlaines River (North)

It's been awhile since I caught a Bowfin, I gave up for the year until next fall/spring. My father & I were fishing in the Des River Overflow pond, we've been fishing in there for about two years now and never caught a Bowfin, we caught lots of big Bass. I always wondered if Bowfin swim in this pond. I've asked fisherman who usually fish it if they ever caught Bowfin or "Dogfish" and they always shake their hands and tell me they never caught one in here. Right by the pond is a creek that flows into the river and the creek has a pipe that goes into the pond. I was using jig n minnows on one pole & using a spinner with my other rod, And I noticed my float was bouncing around and thought it was a turtle and than my float went right under and I could not believe the pull! I managed to raise the fish up to see what it was and I saw it was a goldish color and thought it was a carp and than it took another run I saw it's body it was long & thin and knew it was a pike.

Took a hard run right into the brush the fight was atleast 3 mins. long. When it came closer I was amazed to have a Bowfin at the end of my line! My 2 years spent fishing in this area of the river and the overflow pond I never caught a Bowfin (mostly pike, catfish, and bass) catching a Bowfin in this area was a real treat . The bowfin was not weighed or measured and released to fight again.
The other Bowfin I caught a few weeks ago using jig n minnows. It took awhile before it hit. Took it right under a canoe and than took long runs (took a run into heavy brush), started jumping, and even charged up on land.
-Tim G. IL, 06/13/06

May 2006, Thomson Causeway

Just wanted to let you know I caught two of those bowfin's yesterday, Memorial Day, in the Mississippi River at the Thomson Causeway just outside Thomson, Illinois. I had no idea what kind of fish they were until a family fishing next to us pulled out the Illinois fishing regulations magazine and showed us the picture of the bowfin in the magazine. Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me so no pictures were taken. Both fish were approximately 30 inches long. I was fishing on the bottom using dead shrimp to catch both of them. Actually I was fishing for catfish at the time but was happy to catch these for the fight they gave. Several good runs and even a couple jumps out of the water. In my opinion they fight just like a Northern Pike. A lot of excitement.
Thanks for the great website to educate me on this kind of fish. From reading some of the recipes I am now a little upset I didn't keep the fish. Yep, I threw both of them back in the river. At least they will have a chance to grow even bigger and put up a good fight for another angler one of these days. I will continue to visit this website and next time I catch another one of these bowfins I will take some photos and email them to you.
Again, thanks for the great website.
DaveS, 05/31/06

May 2006, DesPlaines River (North)

I was using a bright green colored jig with a large roach (Stinger). It was 5/21 and 48 degrees and around 4:00 after being out all day I became very bored and started day dreaming. I looked down and my pole was shaking as I looked up my float was under! I grabbed my reel and and pulled back to set the hook and the fish took off at full speed it was very heavy I thought I had a large catfish or northern pike. It took long & strong runs, it took off up river and down river in all directions. When I managed to get the fish closer he kept going out deeper I knew I had a large fish or some type. Finally, when the fish came closer it took off into the brush, I thought I lost it the bobber was just sitting there and nothing was happening I kept my rod tip up just in case, and the unexpected happen the bobber started bouncing and took off back again into open water. The total fight time was 5 minutes. When I finally got the Bowfin in my father netted it and sat it on top of the hill we could not believe how long and fat it was. It measured in at 31 inches and my digital weight scale gave me different measurements; 2oz, 3oz, 4lbs 2oz, 6lbs 9oz, and 7lbs. After the first picture was taken, I forgot I was wearing my B.A.G. T-shirt so I took off my sweatshirt and asked my father to take another one. It was a great fight and I will never forget this day!
-Tim G. IL, 05/28/06

An easy ten pounder - time for new batteries.

Caught this Bowfin in Northern Des Plaines River, IL (Close to Winsconsin) It hit very lightly, I lost it in the weeds and left it there and hit again very quickly. It was a good fighter that took a few runs and even jumped, as I got him closer he was bouncing all over the place refusing to get on shore. I was using a Jig n' Minnow (Stinger) as always.
-Tim G. IL, 05/28/06

I caught this male bowfin when the river was flooded from all this rain. You can see the picnic table underwater. I fished to the right side of that, with the bobber right next to the sticks and long grass. I was actually fishing the Des Plaines River further north than I usually go (due to flooding) and I caught him using a Jig N' Large Roach. It put up one heck of a fight! I was surprised when I caught him, since this new place was 10 miles north from my usual spot. Nothing was biting all day (Under the bridge, by the canoe dock, slough), there was high water, and the weather was sunny but cool. The Bowfin was happily released to fight again and wasn't weighed or measured.

When I released him, he just sat there. I took a stick to push it deeper, but everytime I put the stick in the water the Bowfin opened its mouth really big and it's gills flared. When I removed the stick, it closed its mouth and gills. I kept doing it and the bowfin kept opening its mouth and gills. Why did this happen? Is it some type of self-defense? Anyways have a great one!
Tim G, 05/16/06

That sounds like male defensive posture to me. It is the right time of year for it.

May 2006, Horseshoe Lake

Good Afternoon,
Your site cleared up a great mystery for me. I fish irregularly at a lake right across the river in Illinois, and have caught two fish that I was unable to identify until I read your site. Now I know what these mysterious fighters are! Darn near lost a thumb to one before I realized they had teeth! I have cruised your site and find it fascinating. I frequently go after Gar out of the slips off the river and am pretty successful in landing big fish, but the Bowfin is a new target. The lake I mentioned is Horseshoe Lake, right outside of Granite City IL. It is an old oxbow lake that is shallow (3-8 feet deep), and has an abundant Carp population. I haven't ever seen anybody haul in much of anything at Horseshoe, but I have caught two really nice-sized Bowfin from there. When I say nice-sized, I am pitting them against the pictures on your site. Anybody interested should look into ole' Horseshoe Lake. I'll continue to look into your site as well. Thanks!
Chris J, 05/01/06

April 2006, DesPlaines River (North)

I hit the Des Plaines again this week. The female I caught on Wednesday, the 18th, and the male (tail spot) on Saturday. Jig 'n Minnows with stinger like before. Great pattern on that male, isn't it? I'm sure the shirt really helped.
TimG., Northern IL, 04/23/06

Bagman, I hit the Des Plaines River (Gurnee, IL) and caught this Bowfin on a Jig 'n Minnows (with stinger. It took a while before this one hit. It was late afternoon and I was about to give up. She put up a great fight as always, but it wasn't weighed or measured. This bowfin made my whole weekend!
TimG., Northern IL, 04/16/06

March 2006, Johnson Co.

I caught this old girl, Friday, March 03, 2006. I have been fishing for them all winter. I caught only two in Jan. and four in Feb. The one in this pic. was 34 inches long and weighed in at over ten lbs. I am still catching them on Texas rigged Power worms, fishing on bottom with a weighted hook and moving it slow. I had great luck using a Rat-L-Trap last fall. They tore up several. They hit them harder than any bass could!
TeresaH., Southern IL, 03/05/06

November 2005, Johnson Co.

We got this catch in November of 2005. We this stringer down in the deep freezer. This is a typical catch when we go. We catch and release all others. We caught these in Southern Illinois in a swampland in Johnson County. The one I am holding is my biggest catch at 31 1/4" and weighing 8lbs., 13 ozs. I will beat the state record ... 16lbs., 6ozs!!!
TeresaH 11/21/05

September 2005 (Big Muddy R)

Garman and BAGman with two of many small fins from the Big Muddy. Where'd all the big ones go?

July 2005

Castle Rock SP, Rock River

My 8 year old son Dylan caught this 3-4 lb. Bowfin on July 2nd. We were on an overnight father-son canoe/camping trip on the Rock River in Castle Rock State Park, Illinois. We were fishing for catfish with nightcrawlers when I hooked into a channel cat. I told Dylan to pull his line out of the water to prevent the lines from crossing. While he was pulling it in he got slammed by his first Bowfin. It gave a great fight and after a few pictures we slid the fish down the bank back into the river. He splashed mud all over both of us as he shot back into the water. I landed the catfish and we had him for lunch.
Paul H 07/11/05

DesPlaines River (North)

Fishing in Des Plaines River, IL and just fishing for whatever hits, I kept losing these long fish. I didn't know what they were. Some had to be at least 30 inches long. I just kept losing them when my line broke. I put on some 17lb test, bought new jigs, and new steel leaders. This one just played with it before he actually took it. I can not believe how strong they are! I usually fish for Walleyes & Northern Pike but this guy was a true fighter. He just wouldn't get tired and ran up the river a few times. What a rush! Bowfins are a riot, ruthless brawlers that don't give up easy.
TimG from Barrington, IL 7/19/05

July 2004, Big Muddy R

Experienced finners know this Big Muddy IL fin is only acting quiet - the calm before the storm - hence Garman's careful approach. Chalk one up to the Garman. 07/20/04

June 2004, Big Muddy R

The Illinois DNR finally hung the State Record fin at the Rend Lake Visitor's Center. Here Zach poses with the 16lb -6oz fin.

Zach's double-header

Zach and I were at the Big Muddy on 6/7 and 6/8. Hot days, high T 90F, sunny, high water. Hot fishing too: Ended with 24 bowfin including a 9# (Z) and a pair of 8#s (mine), 17 spots to 5.5#, 50 shortnose, 4 cats, one white, and (dare I say it) one LMB. Most came on cut shad but quite a few hit a spinner.

April 2004, Big Muddy R

Tom "Lambo" with his personal best 8.8lb, 30" and Garman with a 9.2lb, 28". 4/15/04

October 2003, Big Muddy R

3rd cast and the largest fin of the trip - 9.2 lbs. Note the matching bellies.

Up close and

Low water, but full
of fish

Measuring a fin
- she went 28"

Using two rods with bait, we were jumping. Garman landed this great double-header.

Time to go, last cast, and I manage a double. It would have been a triple but Garman's fin took him into the trees and got off.

September 2003 (Big Muddy R)

Garman scores with a nice pair of fins. The larger one, 9.5 lbs, sure has some nice color, doesn't it?

May 2003 (Big Muddy R)

BAGman and a 19" male, 5/27/03

April 2003 (Big Muddy R)

BAGman and Garman strike again! Not a bad outing - a 4-hour cruise in a cool old truck and 85 fish in 17 hours of fishing (20 fins, 49 gar, 2 paddlefish, and 14 others), including Garman's fat 30" 9.2 lb fin posing with the truck. Now don't panic, she was released alive to breed - you can see the river 50' away in the background. The fish on this trip were FAT! I caught 26 inch male that weighed in at 7lbs! We also caught our first ever paddlefish.

Garman with a 30" 9.2 lb fin

Garman with a 28" 8.4 lb fin

BAGman with a gold bowfin above, and more males in spawning colors. Looks like he's been eating blue Popsicles!

March 2003 (Big Muddy R)

with an outstanding
wardrobe, and this
26" fin
caught 3/22/03

A 30" left, a 28" right, caught two hours apart. Note the change in weather. The hat's askew cause that 28 was camera shy and durn near got away but for a great Full Nelson takedown. BAGman is standing in ankle deep 50 degree water.

The mouth of
the 28" shows
the bony plate
in the lower
jaw that is
of the bowfin.

A 25" fin and a great T to the left; a 26" fin right.

"We always waited until the cottonwoods were cottoning before we went on a Bowfin/Gar expedition, but never again. This year we got out 3/22 and 3/23 to the Rend Lake spillway (Big Muddy River). I got 6 fins in two days, and a bonus shortnose, while my compadre got some spotted gar and shortnose, but no fins. Scientific analysis of the problem determined that it was the GASSBAG T-Shirt that made the difference. It was hot and cold and wet - typical March weather, and you couldn't buy a hit on artificials. These fish were caught on cut shad, netted same day. My biggest fin, a fat 30" that would be an honest 10 pounds, was caught midday on shad on the bottom. The hits were all light - they'd just stop and snack without running the bait away. I can hardly wait until warm weather, when they really start hitting!"

2002 (Big Muddy R)

Tom and Nancy L striking it big on the Big Muddy

"On the cover of the Rolling Stone..." Or Illinois Outdoors. Maybe. Joe M preparing a story on GASSBAG. BAGman catching fins on demand.

September 2002 Vermillion River

I stumble across many things. On a high bluff overlooking a strip mine lake many years ago, my brother and I scoped the waters looking for our prey - the largemouth b@$$ [REPENT SINNERS! Save yourselves!]. A huge school of large fish easily caught our attention. "What are they?"
"I think they're ...GAR??!!"
Longnose gar they were. That afternoon we were hooked.

Fast forward a year or two and I stumble again. Fishing for shortnose gar in an Illinois river, my Lambo lure is hit by a freight train. FISH ON! It stays down and runs downstream, the drag doing little to slow the fish. At first I think it's a large catfish, but it then leaps clear of the water and in that instant I knew "That ain't no cat." Wasn't quite sure what it was as it turned and charged back upstream. Fighting this fish, I'm grinning from ear to ear. I finally land him and whadda ya know - the fish is grinning from ear to ear. A big round head, a large smiling mouth, it reminds me of Charlie Brown. With fangs.

As lil bro comes bounding down the rocky shore he hollers out,
"What is it?"
I notice the long dorsal and it dawns on me.
"It's a BOWFIN!"
I'd always thought of dark, dank, swamps when I heard the name bowfin, apparently the effect of reading I had done. But I had stumbled across my first one here, in a fresh, free-flowing stream, in a large pool below the rapids. He had been hugging the boulders that form the shoreline on the far side, an opportunist waiting for that easy meal. My Lambo fell just shy of the rock and with a quick crank or two, I stumbled into a whole new world. This bow wasn't a big one maybe 24" and 4lbs, but the way he fought was astounding. I was thinking 15lb cat when he hit, or maybe a foul hooked monster carp. Never had I fought a b@$$ like this. Those typical 32"-34" muskies I caught never fought like this. I've never fished tarpon or bonefish, but I have to imagine they provide a similar fight. I guess you don't survive 100,000,000 years without being tough. This little guy was pissed that his snack was fighting back and he rose to the challenge. He was cranked and so was I once I had landed him. This was great! My hands were shaking. What a fight! Naturally, I released the fighter to grow and fight again. I kept fishing but now with every cast I was anticipating...imagining...waiting for his Mama to hit.

She didn't hit that day, but others have since then. I can't understand why a fisherman would turn up his nose at a fighter like this. I want to learn more about these great fish. Tell us your bowfin stories and I'll put them here. Got any Bowfin angling tips or tricks? Please send them in. BAG is a joint effort, for if it is dependant on me alone it will not do justice to the fighter. Durn glad I stumbled.

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