Many anglers lump bowfins, Buffalo, carp, drum and gar under the label “rough fish,” dubbing the species coarse, offensive and vulgar.
I’ve never liked that.
My thesaurus says rough is a synonym for violent, fierce, savage and brutal. So in this context, I suppose, the moniker is appropriate, as so-called rough fish possess all of these fighting qualities. And I don’t know about you, but I like the thought of a violent, fierce, savage, brutal fish at the end of my line.
Not only do all of these ruffians fight tenaciously, they also frequently exceed the weight of world-class largemouths. They’re widespread and abundant, and when other fish have lockjaw, these boys can save the day.
If you’ve never fished for bowfins, buffalo, carp, drum or gar, conquer your prejudice and give them a try. When these roughhousing roughnecks are roughing up your tackle, you’re in for some serious fun.
Examine a bowfin, and you get the impression that, given a chance, it would chew your arm off, and if it were as big as an alligator, people wouldn’t be safe in the water. Nicknames include mudfish, dogfish and grinnel, but frazzled fisherman with broken line and mauled lures often use more vulgar names.
They are ambush predators with a distinct fondness for shady hideouts such as weedbeds, cypress hollows and submerged trees.
Target them with minnows and crayfish, or virtually any largemouth bass lure, especially those that resist snagging and weeds, as they can be easily worked through the bowfin’s gnarly lairs.
My top presentation is a black, Texas-rigged plastic worm. Other colors work, but in the tannin-stained waters where bowfins typically live, black is best. A sturdy, needle-sharp hook and heavy braided line increase hookups with these toothy, hard-mouthed brutes.
Cast the lure to cover, then slowly retrieve with pulls and twitches. If a hungry bowfin is near, you’ll soon know. The fish’s strike is as electrifying as a lightning bolt. Set the hook hard several times, then prepare for battle.
Bowfins commonly weigh 10 pounds or more. Pound for pound, they’re among the toughest freshwater fish.
· Bowfin (Amia calva) 21 pounds, 8 ounces; Forest Lake, South Carolina; Robert Harmon
Buffalo are important food fish, with millions of pounds harvested annually by commercial fishermen. Large specimens have a distinctive hump-back, which leaves no doubt as to how these sucker-family members got their name.
The three primary species—smallmouth, bigmouth and black—often reach double-digit weights, making them tempting targets.