Bowfin Bowfins, an ancient fish, are found throughout eastern North America, generally in slow-moving backwaters, canals and ox-bow lakes throughout the Eastern US, the Mississippi river and its tributaries, and in the south as far west as Texas. They have the ability to gulp air into its blood lined swim bladder, which can serve as a lung. Tolerate of silt and mud, Bowfin survive in warm, stagnant water by breathing air.
One distinctive characteristic of the bowfin is its very long dorsal fin consisting running mid-back to the base of the tail. Another noticeable feature is the black "eye spot.” Bowfin have a bony plate on the exterior of the lower jaw referred to as a gular plate. Body color runs from mottled olive green or light brown topside, fading to a light green on the side and white underneath. Their large mouths possess sharp, canine teeth. Bowfins reach lengths of 24 inches.
Bowfins spawn in the spring in nests the male builds by biting off vegetation in two feet areas. After the female lays her eggs, the males vigorously defends the nest. When the eggs hatch, young bowfins cling to the bottom, and then as they age they follow the male for a few weeks.
Young bowfins dine on phytoplankton, zooplankton, and insects. Adults are voracious fish eaters, but they are known to eat crayfish, small rodents, snakes, turtles, and leeches. Bowfins are generally unappreciated by anglers and typically regarded as trash fish. While they will occasionally take lures, they are most often caught with live or cut fishes. These should be handled with care due to their sharp teeth and attempts at biting anyone handling them.
Bowfin in Texas
Amia is a Greek name for an unidentified fish, probably the bonito, and calva is Latin meaning "smooth," referring perhaps to the fish's scaleless head. The bowfin has a large mouth equipped with many sharp teeth. Its large head has no scales. The dorsal fin is long, extending more than half the length of the back, and contains more than 45 rays. None of the fins have spines. The tail is rounded, and the backbone extends part way into it. There is a barbel-like flap associated with each nostril. The back is mottled olive green shading to lighter green on the belly. There is a difference in color among the fins. The dorsal is dark green, while all others are light green (coinciding perhaps with overall body color changes). Young fish have a distinctive black spot near the base of the upper portions of the tail fin. The spot is usually margined with yellow or orange. Although it persists in adult fish, it is less prominent in females.
Bowfins spawn in the late spring. Nests are constructed by males in shallow, weedy areas. Vegetation and silt are removed from the nest by males and the adhesive eggs attach to any hard structure that is left, such as roots, gravel, wood, etc. Eggs hatch in 8-10 days. Males guard both incubating eggs and fry which may remain in the nest for about nine days after hatching. Initially, bowfin young feed on small invertebrates such as cladocerans (water fleas). By the time they reach about four inches in length they are primarily piscivorous, although crayfish can make up a substantial proportion of the diet, and frogs are also consumed. Young fish may grow as much as 12-14 inches during their first year. Bowfins tend to be found in deeper water during the day, and migrate into shallower areas used to feed at night. Their swim bladder is used as a lung and they may be seen surfacing to renew their air supply from time to time. In general, the average size in Texas is six to eight pounds.
In Texas the species is found in the Red River, San Jacinto River and Sabine River systems, as well as the downstream reaches of the Brazos and Colorado rivers.
Although bowfins are not usually sought after in Texas, it is generally acknowledged that once hooked they are excellent fighters. Indeed, some anglers relish the thought of hooking a bowfin. Relative to consumption, bowfins are typically considered a rough fish rather than one for the table.