Black Lake bowfin
Years ago when my fishing buddy and neighbor had a cottage on Black Lake we would often go there in early September. We both were working so we could only go for the weekend. Largemouth bass were our targeted species and we fished for them in the thick weedbeds with topwater lures like Hula Poppers. We caught bass most of the time but every once in a while a fish would strike and demolish the hooks on our Hula Poppers.
One morning my neighbor got a vicious strike on his lure, only to miss the fish. “(Descriptive adjective deleted) ling,” my partner would say.
“What’s a ling?” I asked.
“You’ll know when you get one because they fight like heck, and if you miss one be prepared to straighten out the hooks on your Hula Popper because they will be crushed,” he advised. As if to confirm his statement he showed me the hooks on the lure he just reeled in. They couldn’t have been more bent if someone used a pair of pliers to do it. As a neophyte Black Laker I had a lot to learn.
Bowfin (the term "ling" is often interchanged between bowfin and burbot, although the burbot reference is actually correct) aren’t localized to Black Lake and are found throughout the eastern United States. They can be found throughout the Great Lakes and even in Lake Champlain. A bowfin's body is shaped like a torpedo, while its head is bullet shaped. The mouth contains rows of short, sharp teeth on both the powerful upper and lower jaws. The dorsal fin runs along their back for more than half the length of the fish and male bowfin have a distinctive dark spot near the tail fin. Bowfin can exist in water with a low oxygen content because of a swim bladder that functions like our lungs. They're voracious predators and are often found in the same heavily vegetated areas preferred by largemouth bass.
The first time I ever caught one I thought I had hooked the mother of all largemouth bass. My rod was bent in a tight arc and I could hardly budge what was on the other end of my line. “I got a big bass,” I told my partner. “Ling,” was all he said. Shortly, I saw the foot-and-a-half long bowfin thrashing on the water’s surface. The fish rolled a few more times and was gone. As my neighbor predicted, I was soon reaching into my tackle box for a new Hula Popper because, as he predicted, the hooks were mangled to a point of uselessness.