Can You Eat Bowfin and How Does It Taste?

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

The good quality fishes, known as game fish, are often the kind eaten and targeted commercially since they have come to appeal better to consumers and anglers.

Meanwhile, trash fish, particularly bowfin, 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.

Close up of a bowfin. Can you eat bowfin?

Facts About Bowfins

Possessing the right knowledge about bowfin (also called amia calva) can be a great tool both to catch one and 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, bowfin 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, sharp teeth, an elongated dorsal fin 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.

These mudfish are very similar in appearance to snakehead fish and can get as big as three feet long and weigh up to 17 pounds, making them a truly scary native fish.


Bowfin 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 of air is often a result of the presence of dense vegetation in the water that competes against aquatic animals in terms of oxygen consumption.

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 or trash fish. Moreover, in some other places, bowfin can be native in warm, brackish water habitats like drains.


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

Their carnivorous nature leads them to go for live bait, such as insects and worms, as well. I once caught one using quail eggs as bait!

Where can you find amia calva in North America

Bowfin is a native fish that can be found in freshwater environments such as rivers or lakes in the eastern part of North America, from Canada to Florida and west into Texas.. This species of dogfish is especially common in the north american areas of Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio river basins, where you are most likely to catch them.

Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus Oculatus) in aquarium

Can You Eat Bowfin / Are Bowfins Edible?

There is an ongoing discussion about the edibility of bowfin. Some folks on one side do not see anything wrong or dangerous about eating this kind of fish and actually call them game 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 bowfin are edible.

There is evidence that shows there are many individuals who have already tried eating bowfin, although most of them were not satisfied. Regardless of their reaction or how the flesh tasted, the fact that they have eaten the fish remains solid.

Additionally, no serious health risk that is specific to bowfin has officially been reported to this day. The mercury level in bowfin is about one-fifth that of canned tuna, so this fish is considered to be low in mercury. The level is also lower than the FDA’s safe limit for pregnant women and children who weigh less than 150 pounds.

So, if I want to kill and eat bowfin, I can. And the same principle applies to you, too, if you’re curious enough to try this so-called trashy fish.

Are Bowfins good to eat?

Bowfins are edible. They are not considered a delicacy, so they do not have much of an impact on the palate either way. The fish meat is white and has no unappealing smell to it when cooked properly.

However, this does not mean that bowfin are tasty or savory enough to eat with pleasure. There’s nothing wrong in saying that the taste can be described as bland at best because there really isn’t any flavor involved. So if you’re looking for something more flavorful than what bowfin offer, we recommend trying some other type of native fish instead!

How do Bowfins Taste?

The major concern of those people who have eaten bowfin is that, contrary to say other game fish species like 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 to eat that fish?

Compared to northern pike, bowfin taste somewhat like catfish, but it has a more meaty texture. Compared to trout or bass, bowfin can be more filet-like in texture, but their flavor is less pronounced.

How do you cook Bowfin?

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. Watch out for those sharp teeth, though!

Exploring different ways of cooking bowfin is another measure that can give extra flavor and make the flesh pleasing to the taste. I recommend removing the head, fin and tail and filleting it, 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.

Fresh fried fillets are my personal favorite way when I am craving a bite of mudfish, but in case you want other options, roasting, poaching, baking, grilling and stewing are also desirable.

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. Have you ever managed to catch a mudfish like bowfin? Let us know in the comments! We also have related info on tarpon, flounder, ladyfish, perch, jack, blobfish, snakehead and koi for you.

Lastly, remember that you always have the means and sources to eat bowfin 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 body well and thoroughly for maximum flavor.
  • Maybe get some Swedish Fish as a dessert.