Are Trash Fish (Garbage Fish) Good to Eat?

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Among sports fishing enthusiasts the term trash fish or garbage fish refers to a type of fish that is considered rubbish, not worth the time to pursue and catch them. But within that loose meaning, different people have different ways of casting the definition. 

Many fishermen consider any fish species other than the one they are trying to catch to be a trash fish. Or, you can define a garbage fish as one that doesn't taste good on the table. For still others, it might be invasive species that we're trying to expel from lakes and rivers. On a more official level, the term is usually used to refer to non-game species—those fish that are not controlled by regulations on catch limits or keeper size. 

This doesn't mean, however, that there is no reason to catch these species. Some of them fight hard and are great fun to catch. There are several examples of so-called trash fish you may well want to catch for the sport, or try as fish for the dinner table.

Gar (Lepisosteiformes  spp.)

Gar often are considered trash fish because they are not a gamefish species and are usually thought of as inedible. But you can, in fact, eat gar, and they do fight hard when hooked. This is a very old species, a needle-nosed armored fish that resembles a sturgeon and which can grow very large—100 lbs.or more. Landing an enormous gar is a heart-pounding moment. A gar's teeth can cut your line, so it takes a special rig to land them consistently. And despite the reputation, gar are good to eat if you know how to clean them.

Bowfin (Amia calva)

The bowfin is a hard-fighting freshwater fish that is often caught while fishing for other species. They eat minnows and other baits used by fishermen and will hit on many lures, from crankbaits to plastic worms. Bowfin are rarely eaten, but some people who have cooked and eaten them report that they are quite good. This is another very old species and one that can tolerate warm waters with a low oxygen content. They are often caught during times of year when gamefish are sparse. 

Freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

Freshwater drum grow big and fight hard. In some parts of North America, they are known as sheephead or sheepshead. They are often found in the same waters that harbor walleye and are often caught while fishing for other species. A big drum will give you all the fight you can handle on bass tackle—a jig-and-pig is especially good when angling for freshwater drum. Many people do eat drumfish and say they are very good. Some studies indicate that the freshwater drum may help control invasive zebra mussels by feeding on them.