I included the bowfin in my species list because they are such a cool fish. Bowfins are fairly common in Sodus Bay. The Seneca River/Cross Lake system has a good number as well. They are found in Cayuga Lake but are pretty rare; I’ve seen a few over the past 5 years - all in the northern portions of the lake.
Recent studies conducted by Cornell Fisheries confirm what many of us bowfin aficionados already knew - that they are a very cool, interesting fish. In Oneida Lake they spawn in one basic area but then disperse throughout the lake - most of them being territorial and having their own areas that they return to year after year. Their primary food on Oneida Lake is crayfish - they aren't the big fish eaters people think.
Bowfins are a primitive fish and can live in oxygen depleted water due to a primitive air bladder (like a lung!) They are TOUGH with a capital “T”! For years, lakes across the Midwest were poisoned and “reclaimed” in an effort to remove “roughfish” – aka bowfins. Over recent years fish and game departments are finally realizing that this predator does a great job controlling panfish populations. I find it odd that a fish that’s thrived for well over 100 million years would be blamed for decimating gamefish, given that historical accounts would confirm that fishing for bass and others was much better before the modern era. Many of the country’s best bass fisheries have plenty of bowfins.
Bowfins are incredible fighters. I know someone who landed a 25lb. Chinook salmon in Sodus Bay. A year later he hooked another fish in the same area – he thought it was another big salmon because the fish was so strong that the butt of his fishing rod was digging into his chest as he fought the fish; it ended up being a bowfin around 10lbs. The bowfin bent his Johnson’s Silver Minnow spoon with its jaw! I spent a year or two targeting bowfin and had some decent success. Small panfish fished on or near the bottom work great as bait. Soft bottomed back bays near creek mouths can provide excellent fishing from late spring through the summer.
This bowfin was caught by my buddy Mike on a spinnerbait in Lake Champlain near Mississquoi Bay in Vermont. Champlain is full of bowfins and they are a blast to catch! I think these fish outfight muskies - this fish outfought the handful of Tigers we've caught that were 8" to 10" longer! Acrobatics, strong runs, bulldogging - you'll get them all with bowfins!