Grinnel fish bowfin

WILD TALES of the Grinnel Fish

I have done my fair share of fishing and I had never heard of the Grinnel Fish until recently.

Also called Bowfin, Mudfish, Swamp Trout and annoying, Grinnel Fish are apparently considered prehistoric.

It is regarded as a relic, being the sole surviving species of the Halecomorphi, a group of fish that first appeared during the Early Triassic, around 250 million years ago.


I decided to do some digging into these mysterious creatures.

What Are Grinnel Fish?

Grinnel Fish (or Bowfin) are bony fish that are native to North America. They are considered “trash fish” and their closest living relatives are gar.

If you’ve ever caught a gar, then you know how unappealing a Grinnel Fish is.

Where Do Grinnel Fish Live?

Grinnel Fish are freshwater fish. I asked a professional fisherman friend of mine and he said he usually catches them in the backwater of rivers in Arkansas.

There have also been reports of them in Point Remove Creek in Arkansas.

Grinnel caught in Arkansas by a friend's son.
Grinnel caught in Arkansas by a friend’s son.

However, Grinnel Fish live all over the eastern United States.

Their preferred habitat includes vegetated sloughs, lowland rivers and lakes, swamps, and backwater areas; they are also occasionally found in brackish water.


Don’t miss this: [AMAZING] Best Fishing in Arkansas

Can You Eat Grinnel Fish (Bowfin)?

Yes, you can eat Grinnel Fish but you probably won’t want to. The meat of a Grinnel is said to be mealy at best and slimy at worst. It is also slightly grey and jelly like.

According to one fisherman:

No one around here eats them, they just bow fish them and then use them for gator bait, or coyote bait. They’re considered a trash fish.


What Do Grinnel Fish/ Bowfin Taste Like?

One of my favorite descriptions of the Grinnel Fish taste comes from some fellow Arkansans.

The bowfin’s most effective defense mechanism is the fact that they’re the worst-tasting fish in existence. The last time I beer-battered one, it tasted like a combination of what I can only imagine as soggy cardboard and fermented possum.


Grinnel fish/Bowfin are slimy and difficult to filet because of the texture. Most people don’t eat them but the few that do say that you must keep them alive until you are ready to eat them. They must be cooked fresh.

Grinnel Fish/ Bowfin
Grinnel Fish/ Bowfin. Photo Credit Bemep/ Creative Commons

What Kind of Bait Do Grinnel Fish Like?

Unfortunately, Grinnel Fish like all sorts of bait, especially anything that you’re fishing with to catch Bass. They will jump on your line when you’re trying to catch a Bass and they will drive you nuts.

Grinnel fight hard. They are pure muscle and even a small Grinnel will make you think that you’ve got the biggest Bass known to man on the other end of your line!

Unique Characteristics of Grinnel Fish

Believe it or not, Grinnel Fish are “bimodal breathers.”

They have the ability to breathe both in the water and air. Now, they can’t live out of the water completely but they can stay alive out of the water longer than a “regular fish.”

They sound more like a creature out of a science fiction movie than a fish you could catch today.

Big ole Grinnel caught by a friend.
Big ole Grinnel caught by a friend.

What’s Good About a Grinnel Fish?

Some brave folks eat Grinnel. Most people throw them back.

So, what are Grinnel good for? Campfire stories.

Most fisherman have a story or two about the time they caught a Grinnel and fought it for a good half hour.

One man told me a story about a time they were fishing for catfish but ended up catching more Grinnel than anything. They were just throwing them back until a woman up on the bank said she wanted them.

He told me that they loaded her down with fresh Grinnel and, to their amazement, she was excited about it!

Another fisherman told stories about how bad the Grinnel fish bite!

Happy fishing!

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