A medium-sized, greenish fish, the bowfin can be found in clear lakes and slow streams through much of Minnesota. Bowfin survive in murky, oxygen-depleted water by rising to the surface and gulping air into their air bladders. They can also survive out of water for a considerable time. This primitive fish was around when dinosaurs roamed the earth. It is also known as a dogfish.
General description: The bowfin is a tubular, olive-green fish with a scaleless head and two barbels on its face. Its dorsal fin stretches most of the length of its back. Males have a black spot circled in green at base of their tail.
Size: In some states the bowfin can grow to more than 20 pounds and nearly 3 feet long. The Minnesota record is 10 pounds, 15 ounces.
Color: Bowfin are greenish with a pale underside. Males have a dark eye spot near their tail. The males' fins turn bright blue-green in spring.
Male bowfin build nests made of vegetation bits in May and June in shallow water. When a female appears the two swim wildly around each other, releasing eggs and milt. The male guards the eggs and keeps water flowing over them. When they first hatch, baby bowfin cling to the bottom with their noses. Later they follow their father for a few weeks.
Bowfin eat fish, crayfish, insects, amphibians, and crustaceans.
Predatory fish, including bowfin, eat young bowfin.
Habitat and range
Bowfin are found throughout much of Minnesota in lakes and streams (the exception are the Hudson Bay and Lake Superior watersheds). They like slow-moving, clear water, but can live in swampy, weedy conditions.
Population and management
Bowfin are abundant in much of Minnesota and are in no danger of overharvest. Some anglers don't like bowfin because they eat game fish. However, bowfin mainly eat minnows and other small fish.
A farmer once found a live bowfin in moist soil when he ploughed a field that had been flooded a few weeks before. In recent years, fish farmers have shown interest in making bowfin eggs into caviar.