Description and Size: The Bowfin has a long dorsal fin that has distinct separation from the tail, with the tail being large and well rounded. The fish also has a large, toothed mouth. Due to the fishes rarity in Kansas there have been few species caught for size comparison but they are believed to get no larger than 43 inches, or about 8 pounds.
Habitat in Kansas: Bowfins were rumored to inhabit the Missouri, Neosho, and Marais des Cygnes rivers in the late 1800’s. In Kansas we have no captured specimens to prove those reports. This species inhabits clear, calm water in river backwaters and oxbows. In it’s northern habitat it prefers deep, weedy lakes with dense aquatic vegetation. It’s existence in Kansas is based on the capture of two specimens, one in Atchison county and the other in a private, stocked fishing lake in Douglas.
Food: Primarily other fishes and aquatic insects.
Reproduction: The breeding habits of Bowfins in Kansas is unknown, however, the northern Bowfin spawns in the spring in a bottom of tender roots imbedded in sand or gravel. After spawning is over, the male stays to protect the eggs. After they hatch, the larvae form a tight school which the male protects until they grow to about about 4 inches in length.
General: Bowfins are hearty fish that can survive in the most adverse conditions. They can even use their swim bladders as lungs as well as breathe through their gills. Fossil remains of the ancestors of this fish are found in the rocks of Europe, as well as the United States, and this appears to be the sole remaining representative of an ancient fish family.