Thursday, December 04, 2008

BP on Dogfish (Bowfin) Fishing

First a Little History: When I was young, even into being a teenager, dogfish freaked me out; I actually had nightmares about them and carp. One time I caught a 3 pounder in the "Back Bay" at our lake cabin on Sylvia/Twin. The Back Bay is a muck bottomed boat channel that was on the back side of our property. The Back Bay always seemed to have a dogfish or two roaming around. Growing up we considered dogfish a trash fish and would kill every one of them we caught. I netted this 3lb dogfish so as not to touch it and removed the hook with pliers. I then took the dogfish about 20feet up the shore onto the edge of the road and left it there to die. About 15 minutes later I heard something in the grass by the water. Sure enough it was this dogfish slithering like a snake back to the water. I did nothing to try and stop it, I was totally freaked out.

Another time when I was a little older I was fishing out of a boat on one of my favorite spots on Twin Lake that I call "My Island." It is a shallow weedy and sandy spot that holds bass and the occasional dogfish. I don't know what the deal was but this five pound dogfish surfaced about 8 feet out from where I was standing in the boat. I swear this dogfish was staring me down. After about 45 seconds the dogfish accelerated straight ahead and rammed itself smack dab into the side of the boat right at my feet. I was both shocked, freaked, and slightly amused, what a crazy fish!

As I got a little older and became more mature as a fisherman I lost my fear of the things but I didn't like catching them much. They can be tackle destroyers and can be unruly to get off the hook if you don't play them out before you land them. (TIP: Always play dogfish out for a few minutes before you try and land them) Sometimes I would throw them back and sometimes I would kill them.

Epiphany: In June of 2003 I fished a Minnesota Pro/am bass tournament on Leech Lake as an amateur. I drew Joel Stokka, former Tournament Director for Excel Bass, as my partner and we prefished together. While we were prefishing we spotted a big dogfish. Joel immediately tried to hook into this monster, but was unable to do it before the fish swam away. I inquired to why he wanted to catch that thing and he told me all about the Minnesota Bowfin Club and their annual Bowfin Tournament. Joel said Spring dogfish angling was a great way to legally use your bass gear before the bass season opened. I had never thought of that before and after a little reflection my viewpoint on the value of dogfish was transformed.

My First Minnesota Bowfin Club Grand Championship: I decided that in the spring of 2004 that I would try and win the MBC Grand Championship and for the first time in my life started fishing for dogfish on purpose. One day in mid-may of 2004, after the MN fishing opener but before the bass opener, I went fishing for pike and dogfish with a trusty white spinnerbait with white colorado blades and a white pork trailer. I was fishing in "Loon Sex Bay" when a big dogfish struck and rocked my world. This 30 inch fish put on an excellent fight, but I was able to net it. This was by far the biggest dogfish I had ever caught in my life and it was full of eggs to make it that much fatter. On my Rapala spring scale it weighed in at 9.5lbs. I registered it with MNBC and sure enough it was the 2004 Tournament Winner.

Second MN Bowfin Club Grand Championship: In 2006 I regained the title of Minnesota Bowfin Grand Champion and became the Clubs first two time Champion. On April 26th I headed to Mille Lacs lake to do a little crappie and dogfish fishing. I knew a little spot in Isle Bay that had held dogfish in the Spring. I had seen them in there while fishing for Crappie on a couple of different occasions. I call this spot "Dogfish Nirvana." I headed into the little cut and sure enough I spotted a big dogfish just sitting there. I threw a white jig with white pork trailer right next to it and hopped it a couple of times. Sure enough it struck and I hooked it. In the cold water this Dogfish did not put up a fight and I quickly landed it. This fish measured 30 inches just like my first MN Bowfin Club Grand Championship winner. The fish was not as fat and probably weighed less than 9lbs. I didn't have a camera with me, so I did not get a picture of the fish. It was a dark one with a white scar at the tip of it's snout. I registered the fish and it won the 2006 tournament.

Fishing for Dogfish: Being a two time Bowfin Grand Champion I suppose that makes me some sort of expert at the pursuit of dogfish. However, There is a lot I don't know about them and I get skunked more times than I catch them. Here are my tips:

In the winter I know dogfish hold on fairly shallow weed flats where the water has just a little more depth to it than the surrounding area. In the spring dogfish can be found in the same dark bottom bays that hold panfish, bass, and pike. I think the dogfish are in those area's feeding up and soaking in the warmer water just like all the other fish. . Old weed growth and emerging weed growth are things to look for. I don't think dogfish are very active until the water temp is over 50°F and the warmer the water the more active they get. I think the peak time to get into dogfish is when the water temps get into the 60's. I think that once you find a spot that holds dogfish you can count on it to draw them in year after year.

In water that is sub 50°F the best way to fish for dogfish is to sight fish them with a white colored bass jig or big black worm or tube. The dogfish will sun themselves in fairly shallow water around old weed growth at this time. They are not apt to chase, so looking for them on sunny calm days is best. At all times during the spring, summer, and fall sightfishing is a great technique because dogfish get big and their dark bodies can stick out in clear water.

Once water warms up into the 50's you are as likely to catch them blind fishing as sight fishing. I recommend using white or pink colors. Spinnerbaits, swim jigs, jerkbaits, buzzbaits, and Spooks are all good choices. One thing I like to do is to cover water with topwaters or by "bulging" a spinnerbait or swim jig looking for a dogfish to make a wake while in pursuit of the lure. Once you find one you know where it lives and can work it over with fast and slow presentations.

After the 2009 Season it seems another excellent dogfish lure is a black and red bass jig with a black and red jig trailer. In 2009 I caught 2 dogfish on this combination while blind casting including one that would have won the 2009 Minnesota Bowfin Club Grand Championship, but I caught it on June 16th a day after the tournament deadline. One nice thing about a bass jig is they tend to be able to hold up under the pressure of a big dogfish.

That is pretty much the the extent of what I know about how to catch them.

The Critics: Fishing for dogfish in the Spring with artificial lures is not without it's controversy. Minnesota has closed seasons for Bass and Pike well into May and there is a regulation that states: "You may not intentionally fish for any species during its closed season." There are a number of people who consider dogfish fishing to be total BS and a automatic violation of the prohibition against intentionally fishing for bass and pike (mainly bass) in their closed seasons. I have argued with these critics in online fishing message boards. Not only do I fish for dogfish, but I question the very validity of a fishing regulation that I believe to be seriously flawed. This absolutely drives some people nuts and I have been called quite a few names.

Here is the thought process of one of the more thoughtful critics:

Are there any lakes that have a fishable population of dogfish?

I'm all about giving people the benefit of the doubt. But I cant stand it when people fish for "dogfish" and happen to catch 20 bass and no dogfish. It bugs the tar out of me...

I respond that any body of water that contains dogfish has a "fishable population" just as any body of water that contains muskie has a "fishable population" of muskies. Some bodies of water have more dogfish than others or bigger sized dogfish on average than others just as some lakes have more bass than others or bigger bass on average than others. Dogfish are not some special kind of fish that is radically different from the rest. However, dogfish are more like a muskie than they are like a pike or a bass or panfish. Pike and bass tend to be a more prolific species than a dogfish or muskie thus it is easier to catch bass and pike than it is to catch muskies and dogfish. There are plain and simply many more bass and pike swimming around than there are dogfish and muskies. I have at times caught both bass and pike nearly cast after cast but I have never had anything close to that happening with muskie or dogfish.

I would maintain that angling for dogfish is a lot like angling for muskie. If you catch 1 in a day you have done great. If you catch two or more in a day than you have done phenomenal. Obviously things are much different for the prolific bass; One bass in a day of fishing is considered to be quite slow and extremely poor fishing.

There is at least one big difference between muskie fishing and dogfish fishing and that is in the baits best used to pursue the quarry. "Legal" muskies are big fish that often require big baits that will select against most smaller fish striking them. Meanwhile dogfish are more modest sized fish and are most efficiently pursued with baits that are symmetrically equal to lures that select for largemouth bass. This is the fact that fixates the critics. Dogfish techniques are the exact same as bass techniques and dogfish lures are bass lures. I'm sure to make matter worse in the eyes of critic dogfish location overlaps pretty much perfectly with bass location. If you are going to catch a dogfish, you are most certainly going to catch many more bass than dogfish in the process due to the simple biological realities. The critics pretty much believe these facts prove dogfish fishing is nothing more than a thinly veiled cover for fishing for bass out of season and thus dogfish fishing is de facto breaking the law.

The big problem with that theory is that dogfish fishing is 100% legal according to MN state fishing regulations. If you are a licenced angler the pursuit of dogfish, which have no closed season, is 100% with in your legal rights. If your intent is to catch a dogfish than any bass you catch in the process is an incidental catch and temporarily permitted under the law. How many bass you catch or don't catch incidentally or how many dogfish you catch or don't catch doesn't change that fishing for dogfish is absolutely allowed under the fishing regulations. The thoughtful critic referenced above goes on to succinctly state: "Rules are Rules, if you don't like them.. tough!" The rules about fishing for dogfish are clear, they have no closed season and so fishing for them is perfectly legal.

It's no secret that I don't like the fatally flawed regulation about angler intent and closed season fish. The refrain that I have heard from my critics on that matter is that if I don't like the law, than I should get it changed. Well I think the critics on the matter of dogfish fishing are in that same boat. If you don't like dogfish fishing than get the law changed so that dogfish have the same season as bass. But hey, why can't they just let the rules be the rules. I have a better suggestion, instead of trying to get a dogfish season that aligns with bass it makes more sense to just open bass up to catch and release fishing when they are not in season. CATCH AND RELEASE FISHING DOES NOT HARM THE RESOURCE IN ANY MEANINGFUL WAY!!! Get this kind of regulation passed and we can both be happy.

Update: Cyberfish is trying to take some credit for my conversion on dogfish. Funny but I don't remember any of that. What I do remember is Cyberfish trying to convince me about the merits of catching big ole carp. I have never really bought into his enthusiasm on that subject. Carp just don't annihilate a lure like a dogfish can.

1 comment:

Jeff Douglas said...

Nice article on dogfish. Very interesting. My father and I have a guided bass fishing trip coming up in Minnesota, June 2 on Lake Minnetonka. I'll be up there for a conference, and couldn't resist throwing in some MN bass action.