Can You Eat Bowfin?

Bowfin fishes have been put into bad light for as long as we could remember. Although prehistoric and quite abundant, they are categorized as “rough” or “trash” fish. The reason for this is that they are not prized game fishes nor valuable to catch for food. 

Can you eat Bowfin Fish

Bowfin Fish.

Given this misaligned reputation of this fish, it is but valid to ask if you can eat bowfin. Well, the fast answer is yes. However, we need more than just a simple answer when it comes to can you eat bowfin. Thus, in this post, answering the how and the why nots to can you eat bowfin are discussed, so, read on. 

What is a bowfin fish?

Bowfins come with many names. The more familiar names of the bowfin include mudfish, dogfish, swamp trout, and mud pike. Scientifically, these specie are the last and only remaining species of a prehistoric fish family called the Halecomorphi. They have coexisted and outlived some notable dinosaur species. 


In terms of appearance, bowfins are identified through their long bodies, molted green and silvery scales, and their sharp teeth. The black streaks in their scales are also striking. A unique eyespot which protects from predators is also noticeable. 

The most distinct thing about bowfin fishes, however, is their ability to thrive in environments where most fishes cannot. This is also the primary reason as to why it is categorized as a trash fish. 

Can you see more: Can You Eat Northern Pike?

Interesting facts about bowfin fish

Bowfins are popular not for being prehistoric nor for game fishing. Having been put into a more derogated light, it is important that we get to know the bowfin fish through facts. So, before asking if you can eat a bowfin, here are some interesting facts about this fish. 

  • Bowfins can breathe through the gills and via the pneumatic duct. They have the capacity to thrive in low oxygen environments because of the latter. 
  • They can survive in vegetation or off the water for a considerable period of time. 
  • They lay on their backs immediately after they are caught. 
  • Bowfins are foragers. They look for prey all day and night. 
  • At daytime, this specie retreat to deep parts to avoid predators. At night, they return to the shallow parts to feed on their prey. 
  • They are considered as pests by anglers because bowfins tend to prey on prized game fishes. 
  • They are highly carnivorous and as such, are very easy to catch using live bait. 
  • The average litter size of bowfins is at 2000-5000 eggs. 
  • Its scientific name is Amia calva. 
  • They live for 10-12 years in the wild and more than 30 years in captivity. 

Where are bowfins found?

In terms of habitat, bowfins are named as mudfish or trash fish because they are found in wetlands, swamps, lakes, among others. As such, it is said that they are found practically everywhere. In terms of endemicity, they are found in the fresh waters of all of North America, down to the Gulf of Mexico. 

In the US, a large concentration of bowfins is common in the river basins of Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Florida and Texas.

While it is not that settled as to can you eat bowfin, their abundance is unquestionable. They thrive in harsh environments so you can easily catch one if you ever want to see one. 

Can you see more: Can You Eat Catfish?

How big are bowfins?

How big are bowfins?

As to weight, they can grow to up to 10kls. The largest bowfin caught weighed 12kls.

Compared to other prehistoric fish, bowfins are not that very large. The average size of bowfins is 2ft for males and 4ft for females. As to weight, they can grow to up to 10kls. The largest bowfin caught weighed 12kls and a with a length of 6ft. It was caught in the South Carolina wild. 

What can you catch bowfin on?

There is no shortage of baits when it comes to catching bowfins. But on top of their favorite baits would be minnows, frogs, salamanders, nightcrawlers and stinkbaits. They also fall easily to crustaceans and crayfish. These baits are especially effective when catching bowfins in brackish waters.

Can  you see more: Can You Eat Sturgeon?

Why do anglers hate bowfins? 

The primary reason behind this is that anglers tend to mistaken bowfins for snakeheads. The latter is the one that is invasive and destructive, killing off young game fishes. At first glance, one could not differentiate the two because the resemblance is uncanny. As such, bowfins are categorized into a bad light. So much so that they are killed immediately by anglers once seen. 

The main difference between bowfins and snakeheads would be their color. The latter are brownish in color while bowfins are greenish and molten. Snakeheads also have narrower bodies and less elongated dorsal fins while bowfins are larger with prominent long dorsal fins. Bowfins are native to North America while the more invasive snakeheads come from Asia. 

Do bowfins bite? 

Well, before deciding if you can eat bowfin, you must first ask if bowfins bite. This is especially true to ask if you intend to catch one yourself. They are predators, and although they may look docile at first, they can fight. Landed bowfins tend to stay still for at least a few minutes but once they get momentum, they suddenly spring to life and shall violently trash their bodies. 

Of course, along with the violent thrashing would be potential biting. While bowfin bites are very rare occurrences, you still need to be extra careful when you catch one. 

What are bowfin predators? 

The current conservation status of bowfins is stable. This is good news for the ecosystem because it helps in balancing it but somewhat bad news for anglers who cannot distinguish bowfins from snakeheads. While they are considerably resilient and fighters, bowfins still fall to their natural predators. 

Some of the common predators of bowfin would be bigger bowfins themselves and alligators. Young bowfins are the primary target of these predators. Well, one could say that humans who capitalize on their roe are also sort of predators for them. 

Can bowfins breathe outside water? 

Interestingly, yes. One report about bowfins in 1996 tallied that a couple of bowfins were able to live for almost a month buried in mud in a dried pond. This only shows that it is more than a question of can you eat bowfin, right? 

Can you eat bowfin fish?

Truth be told, the question on can you eat bowfin remains to be debatable up to today. On the side of anglers, it is neither a game fish nor it should be caught for meat. Some folks on the other hand say that it is indeed, edible. 

Its edibility also received a lot of comments in so far as the people who have tried eating one is concerned. Most of those who have tried say that while it is edible, it is not that tasty and satisfying. Although in some parts of the South, like in Louisiana, bowfins are poached and served as delicacy. Basing from these, it is safe to say that yes, you can eat this fish. 

Can you eat bowfin raw? 

No. Aside from freezing it after catching for better taste and consistency, there are no indications that bowfin can be eaten raw. The most popular methods of preparing bowfin fish are poaching and deep frying. Other than these, there are no other listed ways of how to prepare and eat bowfins. 

What does bowfin fish taste like?

We have already established that yes, you can eat bowfin, but unfortunately, only a few really eats one. Bowfin meat is very bland. It does not also appeal to many people because it has a mushy texture and consistency. This is the reason, where it is cooked sometimes, much spices are thrown in it. 

Some more others say that bowfins have a very intense earthy taste, resembling mud, hence, the name mudfish. An unpopular commentary is that its meat is like cotton, thus, its other nickname cotton fish.

How is it prepared?

The good news about bowfins is they are not as hard to prepare compared to other bony fishes like tarpon. While they have a hard bone structure, the meat can easily be filleted out. If you are planning to try bowfins, here are the following steps that you must do to prepare it: 

  1. After catching, it must be kept alive or kept in very cold ice before cleaning. Let it sit on the ice for at least one hour. 
  2. After which, thoroughly clean the fish with water but never soak it in a basin. Wash off the blood and pull off gills and innards. 
  3. Do not freeze it because the meat gets mushy when it is defrosted. 
  4. The best time to cook it is right after cleaning. You can poach or deep fry it. 
  5. If you intend to save it for frying later, you must coat it in batter already and freeze it in pieces. 

Can you cook bowfin fish?

Yes. In the parts of the US where it is eaten, poaching or deep-frying bowfin are common. From patties, bowfin in Cajun sauce, simply poached and seasoned bowfin, and croquets, you can have it. 

Since we have already mentioned some of the ways to cook bowfin meat, here is an easy Louisiana bowfin patty recipe for you. 

Serving: 12

Prep time: 2hrs

Cook time: 8 minutes


  • 3 cups of bowfin meat
  • ¼ cup onion
  • ½ cup chopped scallions
  • ¼ cup parsley
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1 slightly scrambled egg
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3tbsps salt
  • 2tbsps cayenne pepper
  • Oil for frying


  1. In a bowl, mix the bowfin meat and the rest of the ingredients except for the flour and oil. 
  2. Douse your palm with flour and make balls out of the mixture. 
  3. Flatten the balls with your palm. 
  4. Refrigerate the patties for at least an hour. 
  5. Prepare to fry by heating the pan with oil. 
  6. Arrange the patties in the pan and flip each side for four minutes. 
  7. Drain the patties and then serve with your sauce of choice. 

When is the best time to catch bowfin? 

If you want to try some bowfin fillets one time, note that the best time to catch one would be during summer. Warm temperatures make bowfin flesh more tender and with a more buttery taste. Also, as we have already mentioned, you can eat bowfin but for it to be more palatable, never freeze it, meat has to be cooked immediately. 

Can bowfins be kept? 

It depends on where you are. In Florida, in particular, there is a specific number of bags and length limits for all freshwater fish, game fish or not. This includes bowfins. 

Are bowfins good for anything?

Just because bowfins are dubbed by most anglers as trash fish, it still has contributions to note. First, they help in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. They feed on almost any prey available so even parasitic preys are eliminated thanks to bowfins. 

Moreso, they also regulate the population of forager fishes like bass and sunfish. Through this, there is no stunting in the population of more popular game fishes. 

Aside from this, there is a whole market for bowfin caviar, hence, giving livelihood to states where bowfins thrive. Bowfin roe is well-loved not only for its less expensive cost compared to sturgeon caviar. People also buy bowfin roe because of its distinct earthy taste and mild tang. 

Bowfin caviar is used in garnishing or as appetizer. It is also used for some savory baked goods and acts as natural food coloring since the roe turns red when cooked. 


To conclude, bowfin fishes are not ‘trash’ fishes after all. Indeed, its character was misaligned due to the environment it thrives in and its overall appearance. As to the question on can you eat bowfin, the answer is yes. While there is no question on its edibility, not everyone loves its taste. 

Nonetheless, the distinct behavior of bowfins is considered helpful in maintaining the balance in freshwater ecosystems. Furthermore, they are a good source of quality roe from which local caviar industries benefit from. With all things considered, bowfins should be seen in a better light. 

Maybe you also like:

Can You Eat Sheepshead Fish? How To Cook It?

Can You Eat Triggerfish? How To Cook It?

Can You Eat Cobia? Our Favorite Cobia Recieps

5/5 - (1 vote)



Related Posts