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Grim's Tales: Let's talk - ugly fish

2023 started with success!

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

I think I shared my 2023 goal to catch a walleye. What I didn't mention is that it is my ultimate goal to catch one of every legal Minnesota fish species, and I'm already off to a good start!

I still consider goals important to feeling motivated in life. I think it's important to remember that if you can't find joy in small things, you might just go through life feeling a lot of disappointment.

That was the thought that ran through my life as I reeled in my very first eelpout (Grim's Grub recipe column coming next week). Though these ugly fish are often admirably large, the one I caught was only about 2 1/2 pounds, certainly far from a trophy.

You would not have known that if you were on the ice with me March 7 as I was reeling it in and shouting in joy even after the actual diminutive size was revealed. I'm hooked!

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This eelpout, landed on March 7, 2023, was the first eelpout Travis Grimler has caught, getting him closer to his goal of catching one of every legal fish in the state.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

I want to go back out but I'm afraid my truck might not get off the lake with our new snow.

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That got me thinking about my fishing goals, particularly the odd ones, like catching a football size invasive goldfish and having it mounted on my wall.

Aside from longnose gar, goldfish are perhaps the only fish I would ever have taxidermied. Then there are the recipes. I target certain fish, like this burbot, specifically because I think they will be the best canvas for specific recipes.

The burbot I caught got me thinking of another big fish that's rather ugly and all fin โ€” the dog fish, also known as bowfin.

Read more of 'Grim's Tales'

I've never boated one, but I'm well acquainted with them. On Island Lake in Backus, I've become familiar with their line-cutting tendencies. They have teeth that rival northern pike, and a size and fighting ability that far surpasses them.

I've also seen them with my naked eye fairly frequently the past several years.

I saw one that I swear looked nearly 3 feet long in Pine Mountain Lake during an underwater expedition. A smaller one was watching me as I did another such expedition near the boat landing on Norway Lake.

I was once checking out lures stuck in a power line alongside a private lake on a country road when I noticed another enormous specimen in the shallows watching me, probably with curiosity and sense of danger equal to mine looking at those forbidden fruits in the power line.

The way bowfin seem to snap heavy fishing line like it's cotton thread helps lead people to simply call them trash fish. You'll be fishing for literally any species when suddenly your rod tip dips and you feel a "toink" like a plucked guitar string, and your line is snapped.

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If you're lucky, the culprit will roll on the surface for identification, but usually you can bet it's a bowfin.

The reason they are considered inedible is that their meat is notoriously mushy if exposed to even a little water. Most anglers I know soak their fish to remove blood, so that doesn't mesh well.

I have a suspicion that characteristic would lend itself well to making Chinese fish balls, which requires converting whole fish fillets into a dense, pasty mush before boiling, steaming or frying.

On top of that, the Minnesota record bowfin was only 12 pounds and 31.5 inches long. I suspect the record would be bigger, except I don't know an angler out there who has ever hooked into a dogfish and had positive thoughts afterward, even if the fight was good and the fish the biggest of the day.

I know some who would prefer the fish be deposited onto the shore or ice without another look. I also have suspicions that the monster I saw snorkeling in Pine Mountain could have at least come close to the state record.

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This bowfin, spotted while swimming across Pine Mountain Lake in the summer of 2020, could possibly rival the current state record.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

The biggest burbot in the state was 33 inches. The biggest pike was over 46 inches. I have caught a 43-inch pike myself. Without a doubt, 32 inches or 13 pounds isn't outside of the realm of possibility for a determined angler.

Come summer you can bet I'm absolutely going to be chasing that record.

The big challenge will be finding places where I can get a consistent bowfin bite. I'll absolutely try Island Lake as it has a reputation for bowfin. I'll certainly visit that rural lake and hope for a return of the monster I saw next to the shore.

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If you know of any body of water with a consistent dogfish bite, I'd be grateful to hear about it. If you want to join me in this or other expeditions, I'd also be open to chatting. Just drop me a line.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Opinion by Travis G. Grimler
Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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