Dogfish have gotten a bad reputation across the United States, including in Michigan, but you may wonder if it was a well-deserved reputation. Many sportsmen refer to them as trash fish because most people don’t think of them as tasting good. In fact, that’s where the term originated. They’d call them trash fish if they tasted poor and were destined for the trash can over the frying pan.
Technically, they’re called bowfin, but more often than not in Midwestern states like Michigan, I hear them called by their less technical term dogfish. However, you may be surprised to learn about this interesting 200-million-year-old fish, and we will cover it more in-depth soon.
Are Dogfish Invasive in Michigan?
Despite what many people might think about the dogfish, this fish species is, in fact, a native fish species that has been around for longer than most of the other fish populations. You do have another fish called the snakehead that people often confuse it with, and this is where we get the confusion. However, the snakehead hasn’t reached Michigan waters as of 2022, so we don’t have to worry about it yet.
It would be a good idea for everyone to understand what they look like so that the dogfish doesn’t get lumped in with it. Also, if you spot snakehead in the area, you may want to notify the DNR since early detection of them is crucial to keeping them from taking over our water.
The snakehead, a fish native to parts of Asia and Africa, was first discovered in a pond in Maryland in 2002. Everyone rightfully panicked because they feared how this fish would hurt our local fish populations. Luckily, there is enough of a different between this fish and the doghead once you know the difference to tell. For example, the scaling color is entirely different.
Are Dogfish or Bowfin Rare in Michigan?
You can find bowfin throughout the state of Michigan. If you wanted to know where you could find a bunch of them, check the Shiawassee River since it is loaded with them. Fishermen and bowfishermen interested will find the river in Saginaw, Genessee, Livingston, Oakland and Midland counties.
Stay tuned because we will also talk about some of the other places where you can find bowfin in the state. Most people don’t catch bowfin intentionally, and they usually catch them on accident while going after other fish like bass or northern pike.
Dogfish have existed even longer than most of the other fish species found in Michigan, and this includes the fish found in the Great Lakes. They’re an older fish than bass, northern pike and walleye.
Where Should You Look for the Dogfish at Lakes in Michigan?
You can find dogfish throughout the state, but we would like to highlight some of the most popular places where you can go after them. Some of the lakes where you might find dogfish include:
- Lake Michigan
- Lake Huron
- Little Crooked Lake
- Moore Lake
- Dogfish Lake
- Tipsico Lake
- Gravel Lake
Many times, you will see dogfish near the shores of Lake Michigan since they can thrive in low oxygen areas. They like to prowl near the shores because panfish and bass like to spawn in these locations, and it gives them a food source. You can find them throughout the Great Lakes, and this fish can gulp in large amounts of air that lets it survive out of water for two to three days. They have 134 fish species on Lake Michigan including the dogfish.
If you wanted to know where to catch them on Lake Huron, you may want to head for Cedarville. The northern end of Lake Huron is also said to have some bowfin on it along with carp, gar and bullhead. In total, they have over a hundred fish species in Lake Huron with bowfin being one among many. However, the bowfin has been here the longest out of most of those fish species.
Little Crooked Lake
A 103-acre lake, we especially highlight Little Crooked Lake because it was where they took the state record dogfish. It weighed 14.5 pounds. While the most popular fish species caught here is the largemouth bass, Redear sunfish and Bluegill, you can catch the dogfish here too. Most people who target the dogfish don’t do it intentionally, but most fishermen respect this species because it puts up one heck of a fight once you put it on your line. One you crank it into the boat, that’s another story. However, dogfish are the only fish species that does the death roll like how an alligator will do this after catching its prey.
Located in Milford, Michigan, this is one of the best lakes to go after dogfish because it has a boatload of them.
How can we forget a lake that has dogfish right in its name? You can find this lake in Mecosta County, and it isn’t a deep lake. It’s close to the Tubbs State Forest Lake Campground. The greatest depth of this lake is 9 feet at its greatest. That makes it a great choice for dogfish since you often find them lurking in shallow water.
We highlight this lake because it has come highly recommended as a spot to go after the dogfish. Along with bowfin, some people have caught yellow perch.
You will see loads of big pike and bass on Gravel Lake, but you can also catch some monster dogfish here from time to time.
Check out this video of someone cranking in a monster dogfish on Gravel Lake:
What is the Best Bait for Dogfish
People who wanted to go after the dogfish specifically would use a bait like bluegill, but they’re honestly known for going after anything. You could compare their aggression to northern pike or bass where they will eat nearly anything. They like to prey on the small fry fish, and one of their favorites is the invasive carp species known for taking over our lakes and rivers.
This shows you why many people don’t recommend that you kill dogfish since they help to control the invasive carp in Michigan. Seeing dogfish in the water is considered a good sign according to marine biologists.
The problem has become so big with invasive species that some researchers predict that bighead and silver carp will disrupt the food chains in the Great Lakes if left unchallenged. We need dogfish to help us fight this scourge.
Where Should You Look for Dogfish?
The most popular places where fishermen will find dogfish include lowland rivers, lakes, backwater areas and swamps. This fish species knows how to camouflage itself well, and you may not see it immediately in an area with a lot of vegetation. The hidden dogfish especially becomes more common in areas with slower moving water.
Why Do People Hate Dogfish in Michigan?
Honestly, people hate dogfish everywhere including in Michigan. The fish has a little more popularity in the South, however, where some people do understand how to eat them properly so that they taste good.
Dogfish are often confused with another invasive fish species that looks similar called the snakehead. This fish species isn’t good for our lakes, and we would recommend not putting them back in the water if you catch them. They kill other fish for fun. You may have heard this about the dogfish, but they don’t target the fish in this way—it’s the snakehead that kills fish for fun and gives the dogfish a bad reputation.
The dogfish may even support some of your favorite gamefish species since they feed off of many invasive fish species and keep their populations lower.
The difference between the snakehead and the dogfish is that the snakehead has one long anal fin underneath it. The dogfish doesn’t have that, and that’s one of the ways that you can differentiate the two fish species.
If you’d like a visual demonstration, check a short video of the differences here:
Another one of the reasons that people don’t like the dogfish is because of how some people think that they taste bad. I would, however, argue that dogfish can be made to taste good, and in fact, I wrote an article about “Can You Eat Bowfin Fish?” It includes nine little-known preparation tips that will allow you to eat the bowfin and even like it. How good dogfish tastes is all dependent on how you prepare it and the recipe that you use.
The reason that many people don’t like the dogfish and its flavor comes from how they don’t prepare it correctly. Along with that, many people fail to realize how even if you don’t like the dogfish and its meat, you can still eat what they call bowfin caviar. This black caviar has been picking up in popularity, and while it’s not as commonly known in Michigan, many people in southern states like Louisiana like to eat bowfin caviar.
You can try American bowfin caviar for yourself here. While not as well known as sturgeon caviar, it tastes great, and it may pick up in popularity in the coming years!
Can You Spear Dogfish in Michigan?
Dogfish are among a couple of fish species that they let you spear in Michigan. Outside of spearing dogfish, you can only go after carp, suckers, burbot, bullheads, catfish, goldfish, drum, gizzard shad, smelt, suckers, whitefish and gar with a spear. All of them are the non-gamefish species like the dogfish.
Be aware of how they prohibit spearfishing 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise in Michigan. You can learn more about the state laws and regulations here.
You want to know the laws and regulations of the lakes and rivers that you spearfish for dogfish because of how this state has specific state laws that you need to be aware of or face a fine.
Michigan State Record Dogfish
When you fish for dogfish, not only are they hard-fighting fish, but they have the potential to reach impressive sizes. The state record was caught by Michael Miller at Little Crooked Lake in Livingston County in 1981. It weighed 14.5 pounds and had a length of 35 inches or 2.9 feet. No one has broken that record in over 40 years! He caught it on a spinbait.
The world record for the largest bowfin ever caught, in contrast, was 21 pounds and 34.3 inches in length. That means that the Michigan state record dogfish actually beat the world record dogfish at least in its length.
To put this into further perspective for the state record, the average dogfish will reach around 20 inches and 5 pounds. The snakehead, in contrast, can reach up to 33 inches and 17 pounds.
Keep in mind that they are entirely different fish, and while dogfish are good for the environment, we can’t say the same thing about the snakehead. The snakehead is a mean fish that you don’t want to put back into the water. If you think that you have a snakehead, don’t release it back into the water alive.
Many responsible fishermen will release dogfish back into the water. We wouldn’t recommend over-targeting this species too much for bowfishing since arrows kill the dogfish. There’s no such thing as catch and release in bowfishing, and they are such an asset to our lakes and rivers. There’s plenty of carp that you can hit instead.
Nothing wrong with simply releasing a dogfish back into the local waters with regular fishing to control invasive fish populations.
What to Beware Of with Dogfish
Dogfish have some big and nasty teeth that can leave puncture wounds in your fingers if they get a hold of them. Warning to the wise, it can appear docile one second and the next second it becomes extremely aggressive. One of the best ways to unhook a dogfish is to firmly hold its tail along with its head. This will prevent the dogfish from thrashing around and spoiling your day with its teeth.
They have a strong jaw to go with their fierce teeth. The bowfin’s teeth will directly attach to its skull. Dogfish have conical, razor-sharp teeth that can swallow prey even larger than their mouths. If you have ever looked into the mouth of a dogfish, you know how unsettling it feels. Many people who swim have reported getting up face to face with them, and the dogfish isn’t afraid despite their size disadvantage.
When handling the dogfish, most people recommend that you wear gloves since this fish can leave a nasty scar. Some fishermen swear that they can even take off fingers with their teeth, but we don’t think that they can, in fact, bite through the bone. Still, we’d recommend caution they can leave a nasty mark, and their teeth could leave you with dangerous bacteria that causes an infection.
Dogfish have teeth that can flat out rip apart a spinner or crankbait.
Are There Dogfish in Michigan?
Dogfish are nothing new to Michigan, and they have inhabited state waters before many of the other fish species ever existed. They go back to almost the same era as the alligators, which have existed in our world for over 150 million years.
If you want to know where to find dogfish in your local area, we would recommend visiting one of the bait shops since they often hear stories about where the fish are biting and the types of fish there. Ask them. They encounter all types of fishermen including those who target the dogfish for its fighting abilities. Admittedly, there’s only an elite few who target the dogfish intentionally.
We can make recommendations for lakes around the state, but you can get closer lakes by asking at the nearby bait shops. In all honesty, dogfish can be found throughout Michigan’s 10,031 lakes.
Should You Remove Dogfish from Michigan Waters?
We would not recommend that you take dogfish out of Michigan lakes and rivers because they do provide many benefits for the local habitat. Unless you plan to eat them, it will do more harm than good to remove the dogfish from its native habitat. This isn’t like the carp, which were introduced to the United States in 1831.
Just be aware of the differences between the bowfin and the snakehead and remove the snakehead from the waters since this isn’t a good fish.
As a bowfisherman, I don’t even shoot them when I encounter them unless I plan on eating them. The advantage of practicing catch and release with the dogfish is that you can catch it again later. This fish puts up one heck of a battle.
Unfortunately, many people also say that dogfish aren’t that common in the waters in comparison to other fish. We could use more of them. No one has ever said that a lake has been overrun with dogfish. It just doesn’t happen like with some of the other fish species.
Dogfish have no natural predators making them the apex predators. Some people don’t like them because they also go after bluegills and perch, but we think this is minor in comparison to the help they do for lowering exploding carp populations. Also, pike and musky go after bluegill as well, and by that logic, you should kill those fish as well. It demonstrates the double standard set in place simply because the dogfish is thought to not taste good by most people.
This is easily the hardest fighting fish on the water, and it surpasses even the northern pike, which is known to swallow up fish half its size.
What Do Dogfish Eat?
Dogfish are an aggressive fish species, and they will honestly eat anything that they can get their hands on. When you have them in an ecosystem, it’s a sign that you have a healthy ecosystem even if not everyone appreciates them. Their existence doesn’t need to be justified by anyone’s approval, however. Along with bluegill, dogfish eat frogs, minnows, crayfish, carp fry, baby ducks and anything that fits into their mouth. Some people have reported luck in catching them on plastic salamanders.
If you’d like to see a dogfish eat a crayfish and the sheer power of this creature, check out the short video below:
Dogfish are a native fish population in the state of Michigan, and they need to be respected as such. Many people dislike them because they don’t taste good without the right cooking method, and you can easily confuse them with the snakehead, unfortunately. Overall, I see enough other fish species to go after that I usually leave the dogfish alone when bowfishing. With regular fishing, I love to put these fish on my hook because of how hard they fight.
Anyone who has ever caught one will remember it—the same could be said about anyone who has ever eaten one if they prepared it wrong. The meat when cooked incorrectly is mushy and difficult to eat. Still, this fish has a place in our world.
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