Midwest Sporting Journal
World record bowfin, sort of.
Reaching a point of satisfaction when in pursuit of spawning steelhead is an anomaly. You don’t really want to leave the stream, but every part of your body says it’s time. Cold feet, a sore forearm and the knot on the back of your head from a chuck without the duck, are just a few of the many possible physical strains of a day spent battling silver explosives. One day last spring, I was experiencing my share of discomfort, but had no intention to pull off the river before sunset.
Standing mid-stream with a look of delirium in my eyes, my guide, Kevin Morlock, broke my trance, when he asked if I’d had enough. Snapped back to the world of reality, I politely but assuredly said “no.” Like a greedy Wall Street banker unsatisfied with only 15 million, I wanted more. I’d lost track of the number of steelies hooked and landed that day, but who was counting anyways.
As a fulltime guide, Kevin has had to learn to deal with obsession. Guides with any number of days under their belt are familiar with the psychological effects fishing can have on an client. So like a doctor promising a sucker at the end of the visit if you don’t cry while getting your shot, Kevin coaxed me from the frigid river with the promise of rounding out the day on Pere Marquette Lake stripping streamers for northern pike.
With a few hours of sunlight remaining, we launched from Sutton’s Landing. Michigan is home to so many species of fish, it’s hard to say what you might stumble upon any given day. Our intentions for this trip were to try and boat northerns and possibly smallmouth on fly rods in open water. If we happened across a stray steelhead, salmon or brown trout, all the better. What we never expected though, was to catch a new world record bowfin, or dogfish.
Kevin, my wife Melissa, and I were taking turns casting along the rocky shore just east of the gigantic carferry, the S.S. Badger. Bank fishermen were scattered about, sitting bundled in layers of clothing. Their motionless bobbers and stagnant tight-lines sat idle. The obvious contentment of these sportsmen to stare at the water as opposed to a television is a great testimony to the resolve of northern outdoorsmen. Southern bass fishermen should be forced at some point of their life to spend a few days of patience apprenticeship by northern ice fishers. Clarity can be found in long stretches of monotonous angling.
In the shadow of the enormous S.S. Badger, we were completely striking out. Across the lake, reeds extend out into shallow water forming numerous little coves. Kevin motored us over there, in part to get out of the wind, and in part to search for fish along a break dropping off a reed covered flat. First, he asked if we wanted to rest and have a snack with some hot coffee. Melissa and I said yes, so we pulled deep into one of the coves, and anchored in only a couple of feet of water. With coffee brewing in a peculator and sweet rolls on the grill, the three of us kicked back to relax.
As I stared at a log lying on the bottom mere feet from the bow of the boat, I took a double-take when its fin began to flicker.
“Look at that fish,” I said. Pointing to the prehistoric, aquatic monster.
“Oh, man.” Kevin said. “That’s a huge dogfish.”
I removed my chartreuse and white Clouser minnow from the hook keeper, just above the handle of my fly rod. With only 8 feet or so of line, I jigged the streamer in front of the fish. No response. I then lifted the Clouser over the top of the fish, and proceeded to bounce the weighted fly on the fish’s head. It stirred.
“He’s ready,” Kevin said.
I moved the fly in front of the fish’s mouth, and it disappeared. I gave a strong hook set. Then the water erupted. Bowfin can fight, and a fish of this size can fight well. I struggled with the monster for a few minutes. It took a few runs, before eventually it glided into the net.
I hoisted the fish out and quickly recognized it to be the largest dogfish I had ever seen. It had been years since I had caught one, and none I had ever landed looked like this monster. Its fish was old and tattered looking. A hue of red mixed with yellowish-green created a unique fin color. The fish’s teeth resembled the mouth of a miniature shark, and its body a python. I was in awe of the magnificent specimen’s repulsive beauty.
Kevin asked me what I wanted to do with the fish. I never considered any option other than returning it to the water. We took a measurement—a hair over 30 inches. Kevin said that he had no idea what size bowfin would qualify for Michigan fish of the year program, but this one would have to be close. We took some pictures and slid the dinosaur back into the abyss.
The Michigan fish of the year size qualifications for bowfin are 27 inches or 7 pounds. Mine easily made it, which promoted me to explore the world record bowfin. The all tackle world record bowfin, registered in the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame is 21 pounds 8 ounces, caught by Robert L. Harmon Forest Lake, South Carolina on January 29, 1980. The thing about world records though, is that there are numerous classes. I researched the fly fishing, catch and release class, and realized I possibly had world record.
My bowfin is now the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, catch and release, fly fishing, 20 pound tippet class world record. It sounds funny to me, too. I know it’s not the true “world record,” but it was a hell of a fish, and no one else has ever registered a larger one caught in the same method of mine. So I’m pleased to have the accomplishment recorded, and I’m pleased to be associated with the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.
When I was a kid, I stood in the mouth of the musky. For those who don’t know what I’m speaking of, part of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame is a large museum built like a musky. At the top of the seven story tall structure is an observation deck in the musky’s mouth. I was taken to the museum 20 years ago by one of the greatest men I’ve ever known, my grandfather. Logging my fish with the Hall, plays upon that memory.
During my youth, I often accompanied my grandparents on fishing trips. We regularly visited Lake Shore Resort in Osakis, Minnesota. Grandma and grandpa, and their old-timer friends would sit on the resort pier late at night filling baskets with crappie. Every once in awhile, one of them would catch a dogfish. They would tell me to take the fish to the shore, cut it open and throw it in the fish cleaning house. I never had the heart for it, though. I always took the fish to the other side of the resort and returned them to the water. I understand the damage bowfin supposedly cause to game fish populations, but even at a young age, I knew they were just trying to survive. I like to think I’ve been rewarded.Midwest Sporting