Like in many of the states across the US, you can find dogfish throughout Wisconsin. Few prize it as a fish worth catching, but no one can deny the incredible fight that you get when you put one at the end of your hook. Many call this an ugly fish, however, and some won’t even let it into their boat. The hatred for dogfish runs extraordinarily deep and few understand why. Dogfish are technically known as the bowfin, but you will find few people in the Midwest who call it by that name. I’ve never heard it called that in all my time there even if it is the more correct term. Let’s explore a bit about the fish in the state.
History of the Dogfish in Wisconsin
The scientific term for the dogfish is the amia calva. I’ve never heard of anyone who called it that in Wisconsin either, however, and it was always called dogfish. This ancient fish actually dates back to 200 million years ago during the Mesozoic era. It has thrived for millennia in the Great Lakes Region and across North America.
Go to the Mukwonago River, and you will see this fish throughout. It’s good to have them here because it cuts down on the invasive carp that threaten our state waters. They eat the fry to lower their numbers. They often clean up our waters, and despite their terrible reputation, removing them from our ecosystem would do more harm than good.
Unlike other freshwater fish in the Midwest, dogfish aren’t firm in body. They’re squishy, which may freak some Wisconsin locals out. They have a fierce mouth full of teeth that you don’t want to put your hand near without protection and some complain that they stink worse than the other fish.
Why Some Still Hate Dogfish
Some believe that the dogfish eats bluegill and bass, which are prized gamefish. For that misguided reason, they hate the dogfish. Many don’t realize how bluegill and bass are notorious for stunting their own growth if they don’t have a nearby predator like dogfish or northern pike to cull their populations. Without bowfin in the area to feed off them, they can quickly overrun a lake and make themselves much smaller as a result. You won’t pull trophy fish out of the water anymore.
The other reason that many don’t like the dogfish comes from the simple fact that many believe them to taste terrible. In truth, the meat is simply more finicky than say bluegill or catfish. You have to prepare it a specific way for it to taste good. I discovered an interesting way to prepare dogfish that you may like, and you can learn more about the topic of whether are not dogfish taste good in my article, “Can You Eat Bowfin Fish? [Recipe and 9 Preparation Tips].”
Are Bowfin Native in Wisconsin?
The dogfish is a native fish of Wisconsin, and some may confuse it with the Asian snakehead, which isn’t a native. Once you know what to look for, the two won’t confuse you. However, the snakehead has one long anal fin, unlike the dogfish which has a much shorter anal fin. Their scales are also a different color, and you can distinguish them easily that way.
What is the Wisconsin State Record Dogfish?
The state record dogfish in Wisconsin is 13 pounds, 1 ounce. However, I have heard of many who claim to have caught much larger than that size of a bowfin. We believe that many have caught a larger one, but few people think of it as a prize to be thought of as the state record holder. The bad reputation of the dogfish may explain why the record is quite small.
Anyone who catches one may want to check to see if they break the record. We have found this to be the case across the states since many people don’t want to catch a dogfish, let alone hold the state record for one. Other people are so shocked at catching one that they don’t think about it and release a state record. It’s still a unique enough fish that some people don’t what a dogfish is even.
Dogfish — Great Fighting Fish
The dogfish, if you have ever put one at the end of your line, makes a fantastic fight for anyone reeling it in. There are clubs in other states dedicated to the dogfish because they love the fight of this fish. It’s the only fish that does the death roll, which is something an alligator does when it has its prey. If you’ve ever had a dogfish on your hook, you will remember it as much for its fight as its poor reputation.
Even after you have cranked the dogfish into the boat, you still have to watch out for it since it can almost seem to play dead and come to life at a moment’s notice. The dogfish fights to the bitter end, and I have known fishermen who said that it tore their rubber net up with its teeth when they put it into the boat.
You can learn more about how this fish fights in the video here. It was taken in northern Wisconsin:
Where to Catch Bowfin in Wisconsin
You have a couple of locations where you will find them. We already mentioned Mukwonago River. Let’s have a look at the other places where you might catch them. Keep in mind that you can catch them almost anywhere in Wisconsin, but this gives you a place to start:
- Tichigan Lake
- Wisconsin River
- Buffalo Lake
- Chetac Lake
Keep in mind that this only shows you a place to start, but you can honestly find bowfin throughout the state of Wisconsin. Some places may be better than others, however, and we will show you the places where people have had the most luck.
A 279-acre lake, Tichigan Lake has a maximum depth of 63 feet, and you can catch dogfish from time to time on this lake. One person reported catching them on wax worms. Other fish that you can catch here include northern pike, catfish, bass, largemouth bass, bullhead and drum. You will find this reservoir 3 miles from Waterford, Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin River is known for holding lots of dogfish, which may make an attractive prospect for those who specifically want dogfish. You hear of a lot of people in this area who catch dogfish. A lot of them throw them back because they have heard of their infamous reputation. I would invite you to try it at least once, however. What do you have to lose from trying it one time?
A lake that reaches 1552 acres in size, Buffalo Lake has been known to hold some dogfish. This is good because they feed on the carp in the lake, which can threaten to overtake other fish populations since they have few predators and reproduce like crazy. Other fish found here include perch, smallmouth bass, bigmouth buffalo, bullhead and redhorse.
Holding up to 2400 acres, Chetac Lake only has a maximum depth of 26 feet, but a number of fishermen have reported catching dogfish here. If you wanted to specifically target the dogfish, we would recommend looking for the shallow and weedy bays. Especially in the summer months, you will see them in areas like this sunning themselves.
Related Article: Dogfish in Minnesota: The Essential Guide
Snakehead vs Dogfish: What Wisconsin Residents Should Know
Unlike the dogfish, the snakehead is an invasive fish that kills other fish for fun. People often confuse the dogfish with this mean creature, and while the dogfish isn’t exactly a pleasant fish in temperament, it’s our fish. The snakehead comes from parts of Asia and Africa. The one plus side is that many like the flavor of the snakehead.
The snakehead can grow up to 47 inches in some cases. Meanwhile, the dogfish has a maximum length of 39 inches. They found the snakehead in Wisconsin as far back as 2003, so you can run across this one from time to time. However, with Wisconsin’s cold temperatures, it may not survive the winter. It’s important to know the difference between the dogfish and the snakehead. With the snakehead, you should never put it back in the water, but the dogfish is fine. We would encourage you to release it back into the water.
The dogfish is not a snakehead, and when you learn to recognize the differences, you won’t be fooled too easily since they have some big differences even if the head looks slightly similar.
DNR Intentionally Stocked Lakes and Rivers with Dogfish?
Throughout the country, we have seen local governments stock the waters with bowfin. This was especially more popular 30 to 40 years ago. In the 1930s in Wisconsin, they stocked the Mississippi River with dogfish as part of a rescue operation since the fish wasn’t doing well in the region at the time. We believe that it may have even accessed Lake Michigan through the Wisconsin-Fox Canal.
This information should show you how the government even believes in keeping Wisconsin’s state waters stocked with them since they do serve an important role in our environment as native fish species.
What Do Bowfin Eat?
A lot of people report catching bowfin while fishing for muskies, and they say to use bluegill, crayfish, frogs, aquatic insects or mollusks to catch them. Dogfish love to prey on the forage fish. They also eat carp fry, which has made them popular since carp have become a dangerous problem for our waters. Most often, they target the most abundant prey available. For example, if a lake has an abundance of bluegill, it will target that species.
It depends on what is available since this is an opportunistic predator. They go after almost anything. You can catch them by either blind casting or sight fishing. Keep in mind that their teeth have a fierce reputation for breaking tackle, but heavy bass tackle works great for attracting their attention. Spinnerbaits, noisy topwaters and surface frogs will also do the trick.
The baby bowfin will eat chopped-up earthworms and shrimp and gradually go after larger and larger prey as it grows in size. The northern bowfin can live for up to 20 years or longer.
Can You Shoot Dogfish with a Bow in Wisconsin?
Dogfish belong to the list of rough fish available for shooting in the state of Wisconsin. However, you get mixed reactions about this since dogfish are a native fish species and shooting them with a bow and arrow will kill them. Like if you put them on the end of your hook, dogfish will put up one heck of a fight with a bow and arrow.
I would give it a shot at least once or twice to see how they fight, but I wouldn’t target this species as hard as carp and other invasive species. Technically, however, since they belong to the rough fish category, you can shoot as many as you would like.
Dogfish also don’t typically take over the water like carp or other invasive fish populations that require culling to keep our aquatic waters healthy.
Check out this video where they shoot over 260 dogfish in one session. While we think there are better fish to target, we did find the number impressive, and there’s no denying the fight that they put up when you have them on your line:
Hard to Handle: What Happens When You Catch a Dogfish
Dogfish are unlike many of the other fish species, and they can prove difficult to handle. They fight even once you put them in the boat, and most experienced dogfish fishermen recommend that you grab them by the gill plate with gloves. Hold them tightly because they can appear docile and suddenly react violently. With a vicious mouth full of teeth, you don’t want to mess up with this fish.
You also want to have a pair of gloves on because dogfish have been known to trigger skin allergies in some. Anyone prone to this will either want to let a friend handle them or put on gloves.
Poor Treatment of the Dogfish
Visit northern Wisconsin and you will see some especially poor treatment of the dogfish. This fish sees some incredible unjustified hatred. Occasionally, you will even see them hung from a bulletin board. You will see them thrown up on the boat landing without cause or left along the shore to rot. Please, if you are going to dispose of them, at least do it away from where other people would fish.
We don’t want to see them disposed of at all and it’s better to release them back into the water if you won’t eat them, but throwing them in the garbage is better than leaving them along the shoreline where other people fish and have to smell the stench of rotting fish. Respect the other fishermen.
Release them back into our waters to keep our waterways clean and control invasive fish populations. To be meaninglessly cruel to this fascinating fish is not right. We target and kill the Asian carp because it is not native to North American waters and it ruins the lake for other fish. It’s completely different from the dogfish, which has been here for longer than many of the other fish species.
Related Article: Dogfish in Michigan: The Essential Guide
Dogfish have existed in Wisconsin for longer than most of the other fish populations that many people favor like the bass, northern pike or bluegill. Unfortunately, because they have no value in eating, many people dislike them. Still, they have a fighting spirit that will beat 99.9 percent of the other freshwater fish out there, including the muskie, and if you prepare them correctly, they don’t taste as bad as people think. You just have to prepare them correctly. This is mostly a misunderstood fish.