Can You Eat Bowfin and How Does It Taste?

Like many things, fishes are categorized as either quality or trashy. Unfortunately for bowfins, they belong in the latter. But should that really be the case?

The good quality fishes, known as game fishes, are often the kind eaten and targeted commercially since they have come to appeal better to consumers and anglers. Meanwhile, trash fishes, particularly bowfins, are frowned upon because of their bad reputation and habitat. This has led to unsettled debates that typically revolve around questions like can you eat bowfin and how does it taste.

That is why I have provided some basic yet significant pieces of information about bowfins in this article to formulate answers to these queries. So I hope that this will assist you to arrive at your own opinion.

Close up of a bowfin. Can you eat bowfin?

Possessing the right knowledge about bowfins can be a great tool in drawing conclusions and views about their edibility. Hence, I am sharing these bowfin facts so that you can have a better background and understanding of the topic and if they are worth fishing for.


Dubbed as a living fossil, bowfins can be traced back tens of millions of years ago as the only remaining species of an ancient fish family. They have relatively long bodies, elongated dorsal fins on their backs, and dark streaks across their scales. They also feature a black spot called eyespot near their tails that serves as a form of protection against predators.

Bowfins can breathe both through their gills and their pneumatic duct. The latter allows them to gulp air when they break the surface, making them capable of surviving in environments where oxygen is lacking.


This scarcity in oxygen is often a result of the presence of dense vegetation in the water that competes against aquatic animals in terms of oxygen consumption. But bowfin can live in these poorly oxygenated areas. Several examples of this environment include swamps, lakes, wetlands, and other still or slow-flowing bodies of water, which explains why they are termed as mudfish. Moreover, in some other places, bowfins can exist in warm, brackish water habitats like drains.


One interesting fact that can be said about bowfins is that they are extremely unique from other kinds of fishes. The primary explanation for this is that they can survive in places where others cannot.

While it is already the end for other species when their habitats dry out, bowfins can seek refuge in vegetation and continue breathing by staying on the surface. They are also reported to be capable of living out of the water for a short period as long as they can take in oxygen through their mouth and skin. This clarifies why they immediately lay on their backs once caught.

On the other hand, when it comes to food foraging, bowfins are wise marine creatures as they can search for food from day to night. During daylight, they wander into deeper waters to avoid their predators. During the nighttime, they return to shallow regions to attack their prey.


As a carnivore, bowfins eat just about anything that fits their mouth. This comprises smaller fishes that are mostly considered as game fishes by many. That said, they have gotten some sort of a bad reputation among anglers who consider them as pests. However, science disagrees with this and stresses that bowfins actually maintain balance in the marine ecosystem. So please, even though it might be allowed in several states, think twice about snagging bowfin.

Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus Oculatus) in aquarium

Bowfins as Food

With all these facts in mind, I can now jump straight into formulating answers to these million-dollar questions. After this, with any luck, you may also be able to decide for yourself whether bowfins deserve to be on your table or not.

Can You Eat Bowfin / Are Bowfins Edible?

There is an ongoing discussion about the edibility of bowfins. Some folks on one side do not see anything wrong or dangerous about eating this kind of fish, while the other side refuses to consider this as more than mere sports but not meat. Taking into account the facts above and previous experiences, I find myself siding with the folks who believe that bowfins are edible.

This is because there is evidence that shows many individuals who have already tried eating bowfins, although most of them were not satisfied. Regardless of their reaction or how the food tasted, the fact that they have eaten the fish remains solid. Additionally, no serious health risk that is specific to bowfins has officially been reported to this day. So, if I want to eat bowfins, I can. And the same principle applies to you, too, if you’re curious enough to try this so-called trashy fish.

How do Bowfins Taste?

The major concern of those people who have eaten bowfins is that, contrary to say salmon or trout, the dish is not overly appetizing. Some think they can be bland, whereas others complain that they taste like mud. Furthermore, they can be soft, mushy, and cotton-like in the mouth, which resulted in the fish being nicknamed “cotton fish.” That being said, there are a select few who absolutely love it. So it might be worth a try?

Nevertheless, in any case several ways can be taken to improve the taste. Of course, the first lies in the proper care and cleaning that should be applied before cooking, just like with any other fish meat.

Exploring different ways of cooking bowfins is another measure that can give extra flavor and make the food pleasing to the taste. I recommend filleting because it fits the fine bone structure of the fish. There are plenty of fillet recipes with simple steps, affordable ingredients, and basic cooking materials like a deep fryer that’s available on the internet that you can check out. In case you want other options, roasting, poaching, baking, grilling and stewing are also suitable.

Happy Bowfin Fishing!

Now that you have reached this far in the article, may you be able to find your own answers to the questions: can you eat bowfin and how does it taste. If you need further assistance, though, don’t hesitate to leave a message in the comment section below. Rest assured that I will get back to you as soon as I can! We also have info on tarpon and koi for you.

Lastly, remember that you always have the means and sources to eat bowfins if you wanted to try something new and daring.

  • Buy yourself the cooking equipment and ingredients for an appetizing bowfin meal.
  • Look for recipes to try that will suit your taste.
  • Ensure that you clean the fish well and thoroughly for maximum flavor.