Maps to Our Catch

So you're wondering "Where can I go to catch one of 'America's Toughest Sportfish For 100,000,000 Years!©'" or better yet "BAGman - you really ought to know about my favorite fin hotspot!" Veteran BAGgers may be asking "Where'd you hide all the bowfin pictures?"

You are in the right place! Pictures, hotspots, stories, and site specific tips are all grouped by State. These are the catches and places that the BAG members have chosen to share. Some fishermen try to hide their favorite spots or discourage other anglers from visiting these places. We don't mind sharing our spots with other Bowfin Anglers since it will help to spread the word.

Now the first reaction of uninformed fishermen to your Bowfin Angling presence may be one of delight, dismay, or even derision, but we encourage you to handle the situation with aplomb. Let them know you aren't alone and where they can find us. An awakening may result - the uninformed become informed.

Pick a state you're interested in to find State Records, photos of our catch, stories, tips, and local hotspots. If your State is under-represented, then get busy! The "code" by the State name as you mouseover is:

WR = World Record
SR = State Record
P = Pictures
S = Stories/Tips
G = Guides/Services.
and the date of the last update to that state (no date = no change since I first posted this - slackers!).

Thanks to Dave D (Osama Bin Bowfin) for this idea.

For the geographically challenged:

2009 Stats

2009 may have been an economic nightmare, but BAG showed growth. We had contributions from 99 finners in 24 states, including 70 new Hotspots! Our 2009 Finner Of The Year contest was won by Ned Bergen (MikeS) of NC. Congrats Mike!
I look at some of those Slacker States and think "What is this world coming to?" You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!

FOTY Top Five - MikeS, NC, 151; HenryV, NC, 128; Joe A , NC, 96; JohnH, TX, 31; WestonH, TX 9

New Hotspots - 70

State with most new Hotspots - MI, 12

State with most Finners reporting in - MI, 15

States with first time submissions - DE, *MO, *OK

Slacker States (States with a record of fins but no submissions) - IA  IL  KY  MS  NE  NH  OH  SC  WV 

*2009 was the first catch reported in MO; the OK fin was electroshock, not rod and reel.

2008 Stats

2008 was even better than 2007. We had contributions from 95 finners in 24 states, including 68 new Hotspots! Our 2008 Finner Of The Year contest was won by DrumHunter WayneH of NC. Congrats Wayne!

FOTY Top Five - WayneH, NC, 228; JakeD, MN, 162; TimT , NC, 91; OsamaBinBowfin, NY, 90; HenryV, NC, 81

New Hotspots - 68

State with most new Hotspots - WI 8

State with most Finners reporting in - NC, 13

Slacker States (States with a record of fins but no submissions) - CT  GA  IA  MA  MO*  MS  NE  NH  OK 

* NickE of MO sent a recipe, but no catches were reported.

2007 Stats

2007 was a mighty fine year. You Finners contributed more this year than in any previous year. How'd we do? We had contributions from 85 finners in 23 states, including 47 new Hotspots! Check out the table below.

First - JoeM, IN, 01/01/07

Most Submissions - TimT, NC, 185; HenryV, NC, 52

New Hotspots - 46

State with most new Hotspots - Tie; NC, MI = 7 each

States with first time submissions - CT, TN

State with most submissions - NC, 249

Slacker States (States with a record of fins but no submissions) - IA  KY  MA  MO  NE  NH  OH  OK  WV 

2006 Summary

We've done well this year, with BAG members keeping the site fresh by sending in submissions every month.

First - DuaneR, FL, 01/06/06

Most Submissions - TimG, IL, 10; NickV, FL, 9

New Hotspots - 56(Fifty six!)

State with most new Hotspots - NC, 7 (Honorable mention, FL, WI, 5 each)

2 new Recipes, 2 new Tips

States with first time submissions - KY, WV

State with most submissions - FL, 18

States (Provinces) with submissions - AL  AR  FL  GA  IA  IL  IN  KY  LA  MA  MI  MN  MS  NJ  NY  NC  OH  ON  PA  SC  TX  VT  VA  WV  WI 

Slacker States (States with a record of fins but no submissions) - MO  NE  NH  OK  TN

New State Records - WV

Mystery Locations

August 2005

I have caught many dogfish in my day and I wanted a challenge. On 4/14/05, I put a steel leader on my ultra-light spooled with four pound line and stuck a live bluegill on a large circle hook. After a fifteen minute battle, I finally pulled in this 10lb 33 inch monster. It's my biggest yet, but hopefully not for long.
Zach A. 08/23/05

September 2004

My bucktail was hammered in Hazy Bay by what I thought was one pissed off muskie! But lo-and-behold it wasn't a muskie but a much more dangerous fish to have thrashing in your boat. Ladies and gentlemen...I give you my personal best Bowfin ever. 28" of prehistoric mayhem!!
Jamie R 09/08/04

Jamie sent this from his own fishing page, Custom Fish

The following is reprinted from ESPNOutdoors by permission of the author.
Thank you Mr. Sutton!

Out There: The extraordinary bowfin

This living relic is a fish of legends that fins through Southern lowlands
By Keith "Catfish" Sutton
Special to

"Cast to those bushes," I said to Larry Stark one hot afternoon on an Arkansas oxbow lake. He did as I suggested and crawled his lure over the muddy bottom. It traveled maybe three feet before it happened: Something picked up the plastic worm and started off with it. No telltale thump-thump, as when a bass hits; something just picked up Larry's worm matter-of-factly and swam away with it. The worm obviously belonged to that something the minute it picked it up. "Reel up the slack, Larry fast!" I instructed. The "something" out there was now traveling at a steady clip straight toward the johnboat, creating a wake as it picked up speed. Larry spun the reel handle as quickly as he could, but to no avail. The fish was moving too fast. Then suddenly, astoundingly, the creature smashed head-on into the boat, ker-whang, and made an about-face. "Now you're in for it," I said.

The bowfin is the only
remaining member of a
family of fishes that
swam with the dinosaurs.

Larry's slack-jawed face suddenly looked pale. He spun the reel handle furiously, and, when the line tightened, he set the hook with a powerful backstroke. Something thrashed violently in the tannin-stained water, creating a huge boil that parted the carpet of green duckweed floating on the surface. "Jumping Jehosaphat!" Larry shouted, or something to that effect. His rod doubled over, and his opponent stripped off line, making the drag on his reel screech like a banshee. The battle continued for perhaps two minutes, then the leviathan sounded, made a loop-de-loop around a branch and erupted from the water. It thrashed its scaly reptilian head side to side like a terrier shaking a rat, then broke Larry's line like it was nothing more than rotten thread. The battle finished, Larry slumped back in the boat seat and sighed.

"That, my friend, was a grinnel," I said, smiling.

Stark, a resident of Minnesota, called me in 1992 to arrange a bowfin-fishing excursion. He was working on a book at the time, "Fishing America," which would describe fishing trips for different species in each of the 50 states. The target for Arkansas was bowfins, and I agreed to be Larry's guide.

We fished for bowfins three days in a variety of lakes, but we never put a bowfin in the boat. Not because we couldn't find them. We did. And we hooked our share. One nice bowfin, a 5- or 6-pounder, jumped over the corner of the boat before it busted my line. Several more monsters waged battles that lasted several minutes. But the bowfins always came out on top. They usually do.

As his trip ended, Larry commented on this extraordinary fighting fish. "I always heard bowfins were nothing fish," he said. "Boy, was that wrong. I never imagined they'd put up such a battle."

The bowfin is a living fossil, the last surviving member of a family that swam the earth with the dinosaurs. It has several nicknames, including mudfish, dogfish, cypress trout and blackfish. Southern anglers know it best as "grinnel," though more vulgar monikers often are used by frazzled fishermen with broken lines, mauled lures and shattered poles.

In Louisiana, folks say a
cooked bowfin will uncook
itself if left untouched
overnight. Some believe
that, given a ritual burial
during the proper moon
phase, a bowfin will
metamorphose into a live

These relics range throughout Southern lowlands and north through the Mississippi River watershed to the Great Lakes. The long, cylindrical body is crowned with an unbroken dorsal fin extending two-thirds its length. The wide mouth thickly studded with razor-sharp teeth fits the fish for the predatory role the bowfin thoroughly fulfills. The olive body color looks like it was issued for World War II combat, and the nose sports two short, tubelike whiskers.

Bowfins are the stuff of legends. In Louisiana, for instance, folks say a cooked "choupique" will uncook itself if left untouched overnight. Some believe that, given a ritual burial during the proper moon phase, a bowfin will metamorphose into a live snake. These tales have no basis in reality, but the truth about bowfins is no less astounding.

For example, the bowfin's lung-like air bladder allows it to survive under remarkable conditions. James Gowanloch, in his book "Fishes and Fishing in Louisiana," wrote, "They have actually been plowed up alive in lowland fields of Louisiana, weeks after flood waters have fallen and the land has become dry enough for cultivation to begin." A Canadian report describes a bowfin that was dug from the earth where it lived in a chamber four inches below the surface, one-quarter mile from the nearest river.

Jim Spencer of Little Rock, Ark., is one of few ardent bowfin anglers I've encountered. He's fished for the species throughout the South, and, in 1973, he claims he caught a bowfin on an Arkansas bayou that tipped the scales at an even 22 pounds eight ounces heavier than the current world record, from South Carolina.

"I wasn't particularly record-conscious in those days," Spencer says, "and after weighing the fish and showing it off, I gave it to a friend, who fed it to his hogs."

A huge bowfin, nearly
15 pounds, caught by a
bluegill angler on Reelfoot
Lake in Tennessee.

Spencer went on to relate just how exciting fishing for bowfins can be.

"I once pitched a spinnerbait to the far end of a log and hustled it back to the boat. The lure was within two feet of my lowered rod tip, and I was about to lift it from the water when everything blew up in my face. It was possibly the most violent strike I'll ever see in my life, regardless of the species. No white marlin ever slashed a trolled skipjack any harder than when that grinnel hit my fast-moving spinner. The water around the lure erupted like a miniature volcano, and it seemed that most of the displaced water landed on me. I set the hook purely out of fright," he continued, "and when the fish felt the bite of the steel hook, it swapped ends and pulled off 15 feet of line against the heavy drag before I could even get the rod tip up. It was all I could do to hang on to my fishing rod. I backed off a quarter-turn on the drag in case the fish decided to make another run," Spencer said. "It was a good thing I did, because the fish shook its head a time or two and plowed off in a new direction. The fish ran off 20 feet of line this time, and I barely managed to stop it before the fish reached a log pile. But that run took the starch out of the fish, and, a couple minutes later, I had the 10-pound bowfin beside the boat. It was still making short, powerful lunges in every direction, but I was finally in control."

Spencer leaned over the boat and used pliers to twist the lure free.

"The grinnel lazed in the water two feet from my face, eyeing me sardonically," he recalled. "Then it gave a flip of its tail and was gone, leaving me with a well-chewed spinnerbait and another good soaking."

When fishing specifically for bowfins, use the same tactics employed when fishing for largemouth bass. Work lures around dead timber, weed beds, cypress trees, willows and other cover and get ready for action.

Your fishing tackle should be sturdy. I use a 7-foot, medium-heavy rod and a heavy-duty baitcasting reel spooled with heavy braided line. Black plastic worms have been my best producer, but I've also caught grinnel on spinnerbaits, spoons, crankbaits, jigs, topwater plugs, live minnows and crawfish.

Sight-fishing for bowfins is one of the most exciting forms of the sport.

The author displays a
nice oxbow "grinnel."
Most bowfins are
incidental catches,
taken while fishing
for more popular

In summer, bowfins rest at the water's surface, gulping air to compensate for decreased oxygen levels caused by hot weather. The angler sights a bowfin on the surface, then casts a baitfish-imitation plug a few feet in front of it, allowing the lure to remain motionless except for an occasional twitch. If actively feeding, the bowfin will soon make a headlong dash for the plug. When it does, hang tight to your rod. The strike of a surface-feeding bowfin is like that of a lightning bolt, and the angler who's not prepared for it may find his favorite rod and reel headed for Davy Jones' locker.

Bowfins are ignored by most anglers. As it is, most bowfins are incidental catches, taken while fishing for more popular targets. But these prehistoric fish have much to offer the angler in search of fish-fighting fun. Five- to 10-pounders are common in many waters, and a hooked bowfin puts up a fight unrivaled by the sportiest game fish. Give these misfits a try. There's always a chance you'll catch the next world record. Jim Spencer proved it's possible. Just be sure you don't feed it to the hogs.

To contact Keith Sutton, email him at

May 2003

Paul with the first of many fins to be presented here Details when I get them. Caught 5/13/03

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