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What Is a Mudfish?

By Pamela Pleasant
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A mudfish is a type of fish that lives and thrives in mud or muddy water. There are more then a few kinds of these fish and they can even be unrelated. They inhabit swampy areas and they prefer heavily weedy drains and wetlands. If these areas become dry, a mudfish can survive by living under a decaying log or leaves. All they need is leaves or other debris to keep them moist and they can live out of the water for as long as two months.

The mudfish has this adaptation ability which allows it to survive in places other fish can’t. In some areas of the world, the mudfish is on the endangered species list. This is a result of diminishing wetlands and swamps, which are the animal’s natural habitat. Most of the endangered mudfish are located in New Zealand and Australia, but they can also be found in other parts of the world.

There are many types of mudfish and they can look different from each other, depending on where they are found. For example, in New Zealand the Canterbury mudfish resembles an eel. They have longer thick bodies and are a dark brown with yellow specks that can be seen on the underbelly of the fish. In North America, these fish are referred to as bowfins and they are longer, thick fish. The bowfin has dorsal fins and a green speckled color. They resemble an average fish but their jaws are exceptionally large and powerful and they also have very sharp teeth.

This fish typically spawns in the early spring and the female can produce as many as 2,000 eggs. They will stay in a fresh water habitat and will not leave unless the water dries up. These fish are only active at night because they are nocturnal. When the natural habitat completely dries more than a few times, the fish can be stunted in growth.

In places where the mudfish are on the endangered species list, it is illegal to attempt to try to catch them. They are not considered a popular choice for most fisherman, but they can be eaten. The mudfish can taste similar to catfish and it can be grilled, stewed or pan-fried. Along with a strong fishy taste, this fish has an unusual texture. Prepared meat has a slippery feel even after it has been rinsed off and it also has the consistency of a thick gel.

Can You Eat a Mudfish?

Mudfish are commonly referred to as "trash fish." This moniker would lead you to believe that this fish is hardly worth catching for a good meal. It may make you question if it's even safe to consume. However, despite its reputation, it is perfectly safe to eat. It can even be tasty if you know what you're doing. If not appropriately prepared, mudfish can have a muddy flavor, which is why people assume it is simply a foul-tasting fish. After all, mudfish live in murky environments, and animal habitats and diet often affect the taste. The mudfish digestive system is also unique from other fish in the way that its body manages metabolic waste; instead of excreting it directly, it first converts it to urea. This process can also affect the flavor, which many people find offensive.

The mudfish has very soft, oily flesh, so you should avoid smoking or grilling it; these methods won't deliver the best results. However, mudfish meat can be mild yet quite flavorful when you bread and fry it. It can also be tasty when baked, stewed or poached.

A word of caution: mudfish are extremely bony compared to other fish. They not only have a central axial skeleton, but you will also find very fine intramuscular bones. If you decide to eat a mudfish, be careful to clean it well. Then, be aware of the potential for a small bone here or there that could be hidden in the meat.

How To Catch Mudfish

A few mudfish species are on the list of endangered animals, which makes them illegal to catch. However, these species are mainly native to New Zealand and Australia, such as the Canterbury mudfish. Fortunately, most mudfish species around the world are thriving. Before you decide to try your hand at catching a mudfish, though, it's best to inquire locally to make sure there are no endangered species nearby.

Mudfish are usually pretty plentiful if you know where to look. However, like any fish, knowing a few facts about their routines and behaviors can help. You'll find that even though it is not typically difficult to find a mudfish, successfully getting it out of the water and into your boat can be challenging. Many people who suddenly catch a mudfish often assume that it's a large bass at first because it is powerful for its size and will generally put up quite a fight as the angler is attempting to reel it in. The fish can break free unless hooked by a strong, sharp hook that is adequately connected to a taut, sturdy, braided line (ideally, between 30 to 60 pounds) on an 8-weight rod. Be careful of this fish's sharp teeth and powerful jaws when you finally win the initial fight.

You can catch mudfish all year, but you have the best chance in late summer. They tend to be closer to the surface since the wetlands are usually dry by the beginning of the summer season. Since mudfish are bimodal breathers (i.e., they can breathe in water and on land), they can survive on land for up to two months. Like other fish, though, they favor being in the water. They are also incredibly adaptable to environmental changes, so migration isn't required as it is for many fish species. Mudfish live in areas rich in dense vegetation, slow-flowing or still water, and of course, mud. You will find mudfish in habitats such as wetlands, bogs and drainage basins. Mudfish only need a wet environment to survive. They thrive in water that would kill most types of fish. This water typically has very low oxygen and pH levels. Mudfish are also adaptable to extreme heat and cold, so you are just as likely to find them in a hot, humid area as you are in a freezing body of water.

Different types of bait will attract mudfish, so there are several options to try. First, it is helpful to know what they like to eat so you can choose the most suitable bait. Mudfish tend to eat whatever they can catch easily. They don't have the best vision, so they're limited to slow-moving prey. However, since they live both in the water and on land, they eat aquatic and terrestrial creatures, including insect larvae, freshwater shrimp, water fleas, earthworms, beetles and snails. They are not very picky; sometimes, they eat fish eggs and even younger, smaller mudfish. Fresh bait usually works best with mudfish, so begin your mudfish fishing adventure with earthworms or shrimp.

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Discussion Comments
By anon351519 — On Oct 14, 2013

Mudfish are endangered animals. They eat mosquitoes, worms, mosquito larvae and snails. Mud fish are carnivores. They eat small bugs in the water. The scientific name is neochanna. The body covering of a mudfish is scales.

By behaviourism — On Jul 22, 2011

I have known a few people who fished a lot, and they really did not even recommend eating mud fish for the most part. If you ask about the best way to cook a mud fish, these friends of mine would most like answer with "Use it as bait and get a real fish."

By julies — On Jul 22, 2011

My son spent a semester in New Zealand as part of his college education. He sent us a postcard that had a picture of a mud fish on it, and it explained a little bit of its history.

When he came home, he showed us many more pictures he had taken with his camera. I found it very interesting to learn more about them and why they have been considered endangered.

When you know someone who has seen this first hand, it makes you more interested in how this happened, and what can be done to make sure they are protected and thrive in their natural habitat.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 22, 2011

My sister moved to New Zealand for work, and her property contains a mudfish habitat. She asked for advice from an environmentalist group on how to maintain the area, and they had a few suggestions for her.

First of all, they told her that the land must be in good condition for the mudfish to be there in the first place. They told her to keep it as it is as much as possible. The overhanging culverts help to keep out predators, and the aquatic plants and weeds provide shelter, plus a place to lay eggs.

They told her never to remove the plants in late winter or the beginning of spring because the little, transparent eggs might be all over them. If she got rid of the plants, she could eliminate a whole generation!

By kylee07drg — On Jul 21, 2011

I have family in South Carolina who love to fish, and they once told me all about the bowfin mudfish. They have one mounted on their wall, and it is weird looking. The dorsal fin covers more than half of the entire fish.

Though bowfins do breathe through gills, they have an added breathing feature. These fish have a primitive lung that allows them to breathe air! If you see one coming to the surface, you might actually see it gulping air. I guess this feature is good for a mudfish, because if the water supply gets low, it can survive by breathing air.

By discographer — On Jul 20, 2011

Some mudfish are considered endangered but it's kind of different than what we are used to. We know of panda bears and tiger species that are endangered. There is only a certain number of these species are left on earth.

Mudfish are endangered in a different way. Some are considered endangered because they are found in a one or two locations on earth. But the actual numbers of mudfish at these locations can be pretty big.

It is still a threat to the species though because if something happened to that habitat, that population of mudfish could be wiped out. So mudfish are kind of on a thin line. They are not as close to extinction as some other species as animals in the traditional way, but they still require protection for their survival.

By bear78 — On Jul 20, 2011

@burcidi-- Mudfish eat worms, mosquitoes, mosquito larvae and snails. They are carnivores, so I think they can eat all small bugs and animals in the water.

They don't migrate to the sea but I know that many mudfish species are starting to live in manmade waterways because the wetlands are starting to dry out or the water is taken from them intentionally. So some mudfish have had to adapt to various manmade habitats. Like the article said, as long as there is water and moisture, they will be fine.

It's a different story when the water is unclean or if there are no plants in the water that provide enough oxygen for them. These factors threaten mudfish and if they can't find a better place, they could die.

By burcidi — On Jul 19, 2011

I want to write an essay on mudfish for school and there is a lot of information here that I was looking for.

Can you also tell me what mudfish eat?

I heard that some sweet water fish migrate to the sea after they are a certain age. Do mudfish ever do that? Or do they always stay in the swamps and wetlands where they were born?

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