Dogfish Have Jurassic Bark

By Ted Peck - November 1, 2012
Keep your line in the water long enough and you'll eventually tangle with a dogfish, perhaps the most maligned rough fish swimming in Midwestern rivers.

Let's be honest here. If you're an angler who pretty much advocates catch and release a great deal of the angling experience is based upon the pull-the pugilistic ability of that critter on the other end of the line to rock your world.

Those folks who say they are sport anglers but revile encounters with drum, ling cod, gar, carp…and even white bass…have dichotomy in their philosophy which needs reconciliation.

All of these fish species put up a whale of a fight. I submit contention that the dogfish, a.k.a. grinnel, mudfish, bowfin or choupique is more of a scrapper than the feistiest trout, smallmouth bass or muskie.

If you've ever had Amia calva stretch your string you know this is the truth. Even though the experience might have left you somewhat fearful. That's okay. It's human nature to fear what we don't understand.

The dogfish is one ornery looking critter, with behavior that confirms his evil presence. Dogfish are primarily carnivores. They will readily inhale spinnerbaits, plastics and other lures intended for gamefish, thinking they are munching on an easy meal.

Once you set the hook the stamina these fish display is incredible, driven by a tail which morphs into a caudal fin that runs half-way up the fishes' back.

Like northern pike, the battle isn't over once you get the fido-fish in the boat. They will wait for you to touch them, then explode like a rottweiler who is having a bad day…including every intention of chomping you with a mouthful of very sharp teeth.

Releasing a dogfish at boatside rather than in the confines of your watercraft is a good idea. It may be easier to get your lure back when this combatant is growling at you on the deck of your boat. But there is a 50/50 chance you will experience some form of injury before getting on with your day of fishing.

This kind of tenacity simply has to be admired. If you can't appreciate the potential for a fish to give you a whuppin' both in and out of the water, maybe you should consider selling your tackle and buying a small goldfish.

Just to provide a scintilla of honesty in all this trash talk, I love fighting these prehistoric monsters…but I'm not to keen on bringing them into the boat. One boatside flip by an irritated 10 lb. dogfish can send $20 pliers winging into Davy Jones locker.

That reference to being prehistoric is absolutely true. The American Fisheries Society data indicates dogfish are "the sole representative of an ancient fish family dating from the Jurassic period 180 million years ago".

One bizarre anatomical characteristic is truly gee- whiz. The air bladder of the dogfish which lies under the spine is also a functional lung, allowing dogfish to survive in water totally devoid of oxygen by merely easing up to the surface and taking a gulp of air.

How could you not respect one of God's creations that fights 30 percent harder than any other fish, can bite you and has the potential to breathe both above and below the water?

These kind of traits lend themselves to fish stories. It has been said that fishermen aren't born liars, but we learn quicker than most folks. With this disclaimer I would like to tell you a true story about a dogfish. At least Grandpa said it was true. And he was one helluva fisherman.

He was trying to catch a mess of catfish from shore using clams and dipbait in an attempt to feed Grandma and their six kids back during the Great Depression.

Grandpa had six or seven forktails on the stringer and was up the river about 50 yards looking for a couple more when he observed a ruckus in the general vicinity of where his stringer was tied to a branch on the riverbank.

Dropping his cane pole, Grandpa high-tailed back to the stringer, arriving just a minute late. A big dogfish had chased Grandpa's stringer of catfish up the tree. At least that's what he told my Mother and the other kids. And that's the truth.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.