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Can You Eat Mudfish? A Swamp Chef’s Special Perspective

Have you ever gone bass fishing and hooked into something that looked like a snake? At first, you might think it is a small musky or a snakehead. It fights aggressively and darts through the weeds like a water snake. But once your reel it all the way in, you discover you hooked a mudfish. Now you have to decide if you want to keep it. Can you eat mudfish?

Lucky for you, we’ve got the answers to all your mudfish questions. In this article, we’ll discuss if you can eat mudfish, what they taste like, and how to prepare them. We’ll also quickly review how to identify mudfish, how to catch them, and the best tackle to use. Soon you’ll know much more about mudfish than the average fishermen! Let’s get to it.

What are Mudfish?

So what exactly are mudfish? Mudfish (also called bowfin) are a type of freshwater fish that look very similar to snakehead. Mudfish are native to North America and are commonly found through the eastern United States and Canada. They like living in shallow water where they hunt smaller baitfish and other creatures like frogs and even small birds. 

Mudfish are usually brown and green in color with dark spots down their sides and a long fin down their backs. Similarly to snakehead, they also have a black dot on their tail that imitates a second head. They also have the unique ability to breathe both air and water.

Author Note: Their gills extract oxygen from water while their gas bladder has a small duct that allows them to breathe air. This allows them to live in shallow, tepid water that doesn’t have enough oxygen for normal fish to live in.

Prehistoric Past

Mudfish are often called “living dinosaurs” as they have retained some of the features of their primitive ancestors from millions of years ago. Their ability to breathe both air and water is one of these abilities. They also have rows of very sharp teeth that line the inside of their mouths all the way back to their throats. This allows them to latch onto their prey and not let go.

Mudfish also have pronounced nasal cavities that are similar to their ancient cousins. They are covered in large cycloid scales that were shared with other prehistoric fish and reptiles. 

Can You Eat Mudfish?

So, can you eat mudfish? The answer is yes, but you might not want to unless under dire circumstances. Mudfish have thousands of tiny bones throughout their bodies that are hazardous to eat for most animals. These bones can easily get stuck in your throat or damage your intestinal tract. If you do decide to eat a mudfish, you’ll need to take the time to pull out the bones before or after cooking it. They also aren’t known to taste very good – people that have tried eating them have reported a strong, dirt flavor similar to most bottom-feeding fish. This is most likely due to them living in tepid water full of dirt and other bad-tasting things. 

What do Mudfish Taste Like?

As we mentioned above, mudfish don’t taste particularly good. They are known to taste similar to their names – muddy. There are plenty of other freshwater fish (like kokanee, lake trout, and rainbow trout) that taste much better. Only eat mudfish if you have to!

How to Prepare Mudfish

If you do decide to eat mudfish, here is a quick guide in how to clean and prepare one.

  1. The first step in cleaning mudfish will be to bleed the gills. This will work to remove as much of the strong-tasting blood and preserve the flavor of the meat. 
  2. Begin by cutting down the mudfish’s belly starting from the anal fins up to the pelvic fins and the beginning of the collar.
  3. Next, reach up inside the mudfish and pull out the innards. After you pull them out, be sure to wash away any blood or pieces of the guts that are still on the meat. The guts have the strongest mud flavor.
  4. Next cut through the collar and remove the head. You can either dispose of this or use it for bait to catch a bigger fish.
  5. Next, it’s time to cut out your mudfish fillets. Make a cut across the end of the tail on both sides. Then connect the cut your already made on the belly to the end of the tail.
  6. Make a cut from the top of the backbone starting at the collar and going all the way down to the tail. Move your blade all the way down the spine while cutting through the skeletal bones. 
  7. The last step is to remove as many of the pin bones as you can with a pair of needle-nose pliers or your fingernails. It will probably be impossible to get rid of all of them, but pulling them out at this step will decrease the likely hook of eating them.
  8. Seasoning is your best friend with mudfish – if you have any garlic powder or seasoning salt, don’t be shy with it!

Best Tackle for Mudfish

If you’re trying to catch mudfish on purpose (they are a cool looking fish), we recommend using a medium bass fishing reel paired or baitcasting reel paired with a crankbait rod. Since mudfish eat similar prey as bass, we like to use the same kinds of lures. Texas Rigs, topwater frogs, and other weedless lures are a great choice.

Author Note: Since mudfish like to hunt in heavily weeded shallow water, you’ll want to fish a lure that won’t get caught on the heavy cover. 

Try and imitate the way a wounded fish or frog would move. Imitating the mudfish’s natural prey is the best way to catch them. Cast your lure nearly on top of where you think the mudfish is hiding. Give it a couple of flips and see if you can entice a bite. If you’re fishing a topwater lure, try and imitate a wounded baitfish on the surface trying to swim to shallower water. If there are any mudfish nearby it’ll be lights out.

Where Can I Find Mudfish?

As we mentioned above, mudfish can be found all over North America usually in swamps or backwater locations. Shallow lakes, marshes, and industrial ditches are common places for mudfish to live. They enjoy living in places that other fish would find inhospitable. If you’ve ever fished for snakehead, mudfish enjoy the same kind of habitat. 

The best time to catch mudfish is before their spawning season in the spring. Since mudfish tend to live in warmer climates, this is usually around late February or early March. That being said, you can catch mudfish year-round.

Final Thoughts

The first time you catch a mudfish, you might be annoyed that it isn’t a largemouth bass or a snakehead. But after fighting them several times, you’ll quickly understand that they are a ton of fun to catch. Can you eat mudfish? Yes, you can, but you probably shouldn’t Stick to eating better-tasting freshwater fish and catch mudfish purely for the sport. Got a mudfish story you want to share with us? Let us know about it in the comments below.

Happy Hunting!


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