Chicago Sun-Times
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Chicago fishing: Bowfin or snakehead

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Don Keller caught a bowfin a week ago and had a question.


Keller emailed:

"I was fishing the Chain on [last] Sunday morning and landed this fish on a curly-tail grub while bass fishing. I am 99 percent certain that this is a bowfin and not a snakehead, but was interested in your take on it. I didn't have a tape/scale on me, but if I had to guesstimate I would put him around 28 inches/6.5 pounds."


Lake County fisheries biologist Frank Jakubicek emailed a response worth sharing:

"There's a bunch of bowfin in the Chain. The most "secure" way to differentiate a snakehead from a bowfin is to look at the anal fin. A bowfin has a lobed anal fish and a snakehead has a ribbon like anal fin. The poster [at the top] shows the difference.

No anal fin is shown in the picture this person took but it's a bowfin!

Other than the snakehead in Burnham harbor several years ago, I can't think of another instance of one being caught in the Wilds of Illinois. The Lake Michigan staff helped remove a pair of snakeheads from an elderly women's apartment in Hyde Park a bunch of years ago. Those fish were from an aquarium so don't count as official wild release snakeheads."

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Either way it looks like it would be a blast to catch. Fish On!

Just to expand on what Dale said, the two fish have no relation even though they are incredibly similar in design. It's actually a really neat evolutionary process called convergent evolution. This basically means more than once species evolved similar features in completely different environments for the sake of survival.

The snakehead is part of the Channidae family and the bowfin is the last surviving species of the Amiidae family.

With that said...NICE CATCH!! That is a fantastic bowfin.

Every once and a while we hook one of these on the Chicago river . Can you tell me what effect they have on game fish and if they are indigenous to the Chicago river ? I did see a few kids bring one in to Henry's bait some time ago(out of the Chicago river) they did not know what it was . Would love to know more about these in depth , they seem mysterious to me as they are so rare on the river .

love these fish. give a great fight. last summer i was pulling out 8 a day within a few hours out of the calumet river. became my new favorite fish to catch because the fight they give.

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on April 8, 2012 3:06 PM.

WWW Chicago outdoors: Morels, perch & spring trout (updated) was the previous entry in this blog.

Radio waves: Marianne Hahn on many wild things is the next entry in this blog.

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