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What is Mudfish and Can You Eat It?

Whether you can eat mudfish or not has been an ongoing debate for quite a while. As it is in these cases, some people say you can, while others are firmly against it. What’s the truth?

Some anglers catch it with their fishing rods and release it with , while others kill it for various reasons.

When it comes to mudfish, opinions are split. While it’s not the most popular to eat, they are still edible.

However, before you decide to eat it, take a moment to read about its characteristics. Once you see what mudfish is, it will be much easier to determine if you’d want to eat it or return it into the water.

Want to familiarize yourself with this fish? Continue reading to find out all the essential info about it.


bowfin fish

One of the most significant things about this fish is the fact that it’s the only living representative of the ancient fish family.

Its body is long and plump, with a round tail fin and long dorsal fin. They don’t have a pelvic fin, or it’s quite small. Its mouth is large with scissor teeth.

If you want to tell if it’s female or male, all you have to do is double check its appearance. Males have a dark spot on their tail fin. Females either don’t have this or it’s barely noticeable.

However, there are several kinds, and none looks the same. This mostly depends on where they show up. For example, the North American type also known as bowfin has a green spotted color. Looking much like an average fish, this kind has enormous and powerful jaws with sharp teeth.

Physical Features

Mudfish are capable of bimodal respiration. It can extract oxygen from the water through their gills. However, they can also break the surface and breathe through a pneumatic duct.

What’s interesting is that their blood adapts to warm, acid waters. The fish breathes almost no air when water temperature is below 10C. As the temperature goes up, their breathing increases, too. The temperature they like the most is from 12 to 26C.

Their gills exchange gases in the water. They also have a gas bladder that helps with buoyancy. Their pneumatic duct is connected to the gas bladder.

Gulping air as they do allows them to survive aquatic hypoxia that most fish would die from.

Environment & Habitat

grinnel fish

They live in wetlands, swamps, drains and lowland streams. That’s precisely why we call it mudfish. They live in slow-flowing or still water with dense vegetation. These areas have poor oxygenation and are warm.

Chatham Island is an exception since they live in peat lakes. The black one lives in Waikato, and it’s nowhere else to be found. They’ve disappeared from many areas though due to widespread loss of habitat.

These have a conservation status of At-Risk Declining under the New Zealand Threat Classification System.


This kind of fish survives in areas where others can’t. If their swamp dries out, they hide in vegetation. During this time, mudfish stays on the surface with air bubbles in their mouths. This helps them with air absorption.

Mudfish is the only kind of fish that’s able to live out of water for two months. When they’re outside the water, they take a mouthful of oxygen or respire through the skin.

If you’ve ever caught one, you probably noticed how it immediately laid on its back. They do this to improve perspiration through the skin. The upper surface skin is also rehydrated this way.

They are most active during nighttime, though young fish tends to wander during the day searching for food. Once you catch it, you’ll also notice how responsive and aware it is to the new surroundings. Mudfish will try to change position and look for areas that are wet to keep moist.


How To Catch Mudfish

Catching mudfish isn’t that hard, but there is still a thing or two that can help you out. Late summer is the best time to catch mudfish, though you can do it throughout the year. They are usually close to the surface because by summer the wetlands are already dry.

However, before you pull it out the water, mudfish puts up a good fight. It’s best if you have a taut hook because of its slight bite. She’s not the one to bite the bait and give up.

Unless it’s well-hooked, it will probably break free. That’s why most people easily confuse it with big bass.

There are many options you can choose from when it comes to baits. Mudfish likes different lures, and even worm sif they are more hungry than usual.

Vegetative baits are always the best choice because that’s what mudfish eats the most, along with small aquatic insects.

Final Thoughts On Eating Bowfin


Most anglers have split opinions about eating this fish, and most pursue them as a sport. However, if you do wish to eat your catch, you can. But because of its unusual taste and small bones, it’s essential you prepare it properly. With that said, it’s safe to eat mudfish.

You can eat it, but make sure to follow all the steps in preparing it. If you have any questions about the process, seek assistance from people who’ve done this before.

Filleting is the best way to prepare this fish because of its fine bone structure. Chop the fillets but make sure to stay away from the gut zone. It’s where the mud taste comes from.

Make some salt water and soak your fillets in it for some time. This salty bath will draw blood from it and take away the muddy taste. Rinse it with clean water and panfry them.

Poaching, roasting, stewing, and baking are all suitable. Grilling or smoking isn’t because the fish isn’t oily.

The flavor you’ll discover is somewhat mild, and its flesh is white or pink depending on how you cooked it. You can remove the skin if you like though it becomes quite soft when cooked.