Fishermen elsewhere founded the Minnesota Walleye Alliance, Muskies Inc., Trout Unlimited, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society and the North American Crappie Association. But lest you think Brainerd-area anglers lack for inspiration consider that it was here that the Minnesota Bowfin Club was founded.
Yes, the bowfin, more commonly known as dogfish, has a club of its own. Two dollars buys a lifetime membership, but the 24-member club doesn't want to grow. In fact, founder Chuck Fields, a Crosslake resident, wanted to keep membership at 20. "I have to keep track of this stuff," he said, "and I don't want to put a whole lot of time into it."
But the clamoring among area anglers to get into this elite organization was so great that Fields relented and let in four more guys. The rest of us will have to wait until a current member drops out.
A guy caught a bowfin and threw it on the beach near his cabin. The next day he had second thoughts about having a decaying fish so near and he tossed it back into the water. It swam away.
The MBC's purpose is to honor the club member who annually catches and releases the largest bowfin between ice-out and June 15. When a club member catches a bowfin he measures it and calls in the length. The grand champion doesn't get a cash prize, only bragging rights for the season. The longest bowfin caught so far this season is 26 inches.
The MBC's mission is to encourage the catch-and-release of bowfin. Long-classified as a roughfish, the bowfin inspires almost universal scorn among fishermen. Admit it: you've caught a bowfin and tossed it in the weeds somewhere on shore, haven't you? Some say bowfin are called dogfish because of the barking sound they make when they've been out of water too long.
They're not just a roughfish but a tough fish. I heard a story recently from a guy who caught a bowfin and threw it on the beach near his cabin. The next day he had second thoughts about having a decaying fish so near and he tossed it back into the water. It swam away.
Bowfin not only are hardy, they're tough fighters that have fooled more than one fishermen into thinking he hooked the biggest walleye in the lake.
"When you get a bowfin on your line," Fields says, "your heart is pumping, the excitement is incredible, then you get it up to the boat and say "Oh, it's a dogfish.' A lot of people kill them. But why? They fight as good as any fish in the lake. As far as I know they don't cause any harm."
Indeed, while predators such as muskies, northerns, bass and walleyes prefer cigar-shaped prey, bowfin readily eat small panfish. In lakes where panfish are stunted the bowfin may be the Most Valuable Predator.
The MBC is a step in the right direction, but I doubt the Deerwood Dogfish Catchers will form any time soon. Most of us don't even report our bowfin catches when we talk fishing with our friends. The bowfin will never inspire state-funded studies, how-to magazine articles, movies, art or poetry.
Around here can't do much to save the swordfish, restore salmon runs to the Columbia River, Atlantic cod to the Grand Banks or striped bass to the Chesapeake Bay. But we can release the bowfin. When the national campaign gets underway we can say it started here.
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