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Dark olive above with lighter sides and a cream colored belly; long dorsal fin with narrow horizontal band along top margin and another near base; lower fins vivid green.


Bowfin Distribution

Sloughs of Mississippi River, occasional in Iowa-Cedar Rivers drainage & the lower reaches of most major Mississippi tributaries.


Crayfish, fish, frogs, large insects & leeches.

State Record

11 lbs 9 oz; 31.5 in.- Pool 10, Mississippi River, Clayton County, January 1994 - Bill Greten, Blue Grass, Iowa

Expert Tip



The bowfin is a primitive type fish and the sole representative of an ancient fish family. Although the body feels smooth and leathery, it is actually covered with cycloid scales, which are smooth and have no ctenii or rough prickles like some of the other fishes. Body color of the bowfin is dark olive above with lighter sides and cream-colored belly. The long dorsal fin is dark green with a narrow longitudinal olive-colored band near the top margin and another near the base. The males have a dark spot on the caudal fin, bordered with yellow or orange. Lower fins are green, vivid as fresh paint, during the breeding season. There are 66 to 68 scales in the lateral line. The dorsal fin contains 47 to 51 soft rays and the anal fin 9 or 10 rays. The head is more or less flattened on top and the mouth is large. The teeth are sharp and strongly set in the jaws. Weights of 6 to 8 pounds or more are commonly attained.

The present day form is a voracious, hardy individual with a determination to live under any circumstances it may encounter. It prefers large quiet waters and is abundant in the boundary rivers and overflow backwaters. As in the gars, the swim bladder serves as a lung, giving the bowfin air breathing capability. The ability to breathe air is attained early in life and is used most frequently at night and when water temperature is high, coinciding with periods of greatest activity. The bowfin is able to survive prolonged air breathing periods. Young bowfin have been observed surviving for 21 days in a pond with no standing water.

The bowfin spawns in the spring, usually in May, in shallow quiet bays or backwaters of a river. It is a nest-builder and deposits the eggs in a saucer-like depression on the bottom or over sticks and vegetation. The eggs are guarded and tended by the male until they hatch, and the young are herded about in schools until they are able to shift for themselves. Bowfin attain a length of 6 to 8 inches at the end of the first growing season and often reach 2 feet or more at maturity.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 19, Mississippi River Lee Amenities listed are at City of Ft. Madison boat ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 19 33500.00
Pool 18, Mississippi River Des Moines Amenities listed are for City of Burlington boat ramp. Amenities vary by location in pool 18 13300.00
Pool 16, Mississippi River Muscatine The amenities list are for Buffalo Shores campground in Buffalo Iowa. Amenities at other locations in Pool 16 vary by location 13000.00
Pool 17, Mississippi River Louisa Amenities list are for the Toolesburo ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 17. 7580.00