Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Bowfin - Amia calva

(This page was last updated - 11/26/2007)

Scientific name: Amia calva (calva = smooth)

Common names: bowfin, grinnel, dogfish, mudfish

A Reelfoot Lake Tennessee bowfin - photo by Jim Negus

Species Overview

Bowfin are related to an ancient group of fishes, the Amiiformes, and the only living species in the family Amiidae. They are native to West Tennessee and widespread in the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Bowfin are less common in the lower Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.

The Tennessee angling record taken from Reelfoot Lake in 1983 weighed over 15 pounds. The world angling record from South Carolina is 21.5 pounds.


Bowfin are so unique that they would not likely be confused with any other Tennessee fish. They have very large mouths containing many sharp teeth, a long dorsal fin, and rounded tail fin. All young bowfin have a spot on the upper base of the tail. This spot persists in adult males, but is typically absent in adult females.


bowfin head
Facial characteristics of a bowfin - photo by Jim Negus


Very young bowfin feed on insects and small invertebrates. They prey mostly on fish after reaching four inches, but crayfish can make up a significant portion of an adult bowfin's diet.

Although not generally eaten, it has been reported their flesh is excellent.

Life Cycle

Spawning occurs in late spring. Males construct nests in shallow water and guard the young until they leave the nesting areas.



Amia calva
Another Reelfoot Lake bowfin - photo by Jim Negus


Etnier, D. and W. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee Press.