A Bowfin for the Books


On more than one occasion, I have taken the liberty of bragging to my friends about my world record catch. Claiming to hold a world record draws curious looks and demands question. I proudly proclaim to hold a catch and release fly rod record for bowfin. The laughing then begins, and someone inevitably calls me out for entering a dogfish in the record books.

Kevin Morlock, a good friend and fulltime fishing guide in Michigan, and I were sitting in a shallow cove taking a break from some hardcore fly fishing. I was sitting in the front of the boat starring at a log lying on the bottom mere feet away. I took a double-take when its fin began to flicker.

“Look at that fish,” I said. Pointing to the prehistoric, aquatic monster.

“Oh, man.” Kevin said. “That’s a huge dogfish.”

I removed my chartreuse and white Clouser minnow from the hook keeper just above the handle of my fly rod. With only 8 feet or so of line out, I swam the streamer past the fish. No response. I then lifted the Clouser over the top of the fish, and proceeded to bounce the weighted fly in front of the fish’s face. It stirred.

“He’s ready,” Kevin said.

I moved the fly in front of the fish’s mouth, and it disappeared. I gave a strong hook set. Then the water erupted. Bowfin can fight, and a fish of this size can fight well. I struggled with the monster for a few minutes. It took a few runs, before eventually it glided into the net.

I hoisted the fish out and quickly recognized it to be the largest dogfish I had ever seen. It had been years since I had caught one, and none I had ever landed looked like this monster. This fish was old and tattered looking. A hue of red mixed with yellowish-green created a unique fin color. Its teeth resembled the mouth of a miniature shark, and its body a python. I was in awe of the magnificent specimen’s repulsive beauty.

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Kevin asked me what I wanted to do with the fish. I never considered any option other than returning it to the water. We took a measurement—a hair over 30 inches. Kevin said that he had no idea what size bowfin would qualify for Michigan Fish of the Year Program, but this one would have to be close. We took some pictures and slid the dinosaur back into the abyss.

The Michigan Fish of the Year size qualifications for bowfin is 27 inches or 7 pounds. Mine easily made it, which promoted me to explore the world record bowfin. The all tackle world record bowfin, registered in the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame is 21 pounds 8 ounces, caught by Robert L. Harmon Forest Lake, South Carolina on January 29, 1980. The thing about world records though, is that there are numerous classes. I researched the fly fishing, catch and release class, and realized I possibly had the world record.

My bowfin is now the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, catch and release, fly fishing, 20-pound tippet class world record. It sounds funny to me, too. I know it’s not the true “world record,” but it was a heck of a fish, and no one else has ever registered a larger one caught in the same method as mine. So I’m pleased to have the accomplishment recorded, and I’m pleased to be associated with the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.

When I was a kid, I stood in the mouth of the Musky. For those who don’t know what I’m speaking of, part of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame is a large museum built like a musky. At the top of the seven stories tall structure is an observation deck in the musky’s mouth. I was taken to the museum 20 years ago by one of the greatest men I’ve ever known, my grandfather. Logging my fish with the Hall plays upon that memory.

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During my youth, I often accompanied my grandparents on fishing trips. We regularly visited Lake Shore Resort in Osakis, Minnesota. Grandma and grandpa, and their old-timer friends would sit on the resort pier late at night filling baskets with crappie. Every once in awhile, one of them would catch a dogfish. They would tell me to take the fish to the shore, cut it open and throw it in the fish cleaning house. I never had the heart for it, though. I always took the fish to the other side of the resort and returned them to the water. I understand the damage bowfin supposedly cause to game fish populations, but even at a young age, I knew they were just trying to survive. I like to think I’ve been rewarded.

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>