Fishing Freshwater

Bowfisherman Harvests Uber-Rare Golden Bowfin in Wisconsin

A local fisheries biologist noted the bowfin was likely the first one ever killed in the state
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A Wisconsin angler with a golden bowfin.
Tanner Peterson holds up the golden (xanthic) bowfin he harvested in Wisconsin in March. Photograph by Tanner Peterson / Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Wisconsin angler Tanner Peterson has the rare distinction of being the first person in the state to harvest a golden bowfin. That’s according to a fisheries biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, who informed Peterson of how rare the catch was. Both Peterson and the DNR shared photographs of the fish on social media.

“First ever harvested in Wisconsin history,” Peterson wrote in an Instagram post over the weekend. “Truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Peterson clarified that the bright gold coloration of the bowfin was due to a rare genetic skin condition known as xanthism (or Xanthochromism). The condition can affect a variety of fish, birds, and amphibians, and it sometimes results in a bright orange appearance instead of a golden color. There have been several xanthic bass (both smallmouth and largemouth) caught in recent years, for example. But since bowfin are caught less frequently by anglers across the country, a golden specimen is a rare thing.

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“I confirmed with a statewide expert on fish ID that you have indeed harvested a golden bowfin,” DNR fisheries biologist Travis Motl told Peterson in an email. “He noted he’s never seen one that color and he’s seen a LOT of fish. Very cool!”

It’s unclear what waterbody Peterson pulled the fish from, and he did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the DNR noted in a Facebook post that the bowfin was caught somewhere in Racine County. Although the species is sometimes confused with invasive snakeheads, bowfin (also known as dogfish) are native to Wisconsin and the larger Mississippi River Basin.  

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As for the method of take, a Facebook user pointed out that Peterson’s golden bowfin “wasn’t caught. It was shot” — meaning it was taken with bowfishing equipment and not a rod-and-reel. And looking at the video of Peterson holding the fish, it does appear to have a hole in its belly. This would be perfectly legal, though, since the DNR classifies bowfin as a “rough fish” and allows them to be shot and speared by anglers.

“The angler didn’t share his method with us,” the DNR wrote in a response to that comment. “But when you bowfish, the arrow is connected to a line and it gets wet, so technically the angler did wet a line.”