Common Name: Bullhead Catfish
Scientific Name: Icatalurus melas
Distribution: Bullheads can be found all along the Mississippi River and Great Lakes, where they are able to survive in some of the most toxic, acidic waters. Their ability to hibernate increases their chances for survival in oxygen-poor waters where few fish survive the winter freeze. Perhaps the ultimate indicator of their durability is that bullheads can survive for several hours out of the water, frequently cocooning themselves on the muddy shoreline. A pest to fishery managers, bullheads devour weeds that provide cover for other fish. Because of this, no state currently places a limit on bullhead fishing.
Spawning: In the spring, bullheads lay their eggs beneath bottom debris or in small depressions along the floor. Females will clear out an area, moving obstructions with their fins or mouths, then wait for a male to come along. The pair will head-butt each other in the abdomen several times before entwining. After a few attempts, the female will release her eggs in a cloud of the male’s milt. When the fry hatch, bullhead parents protect the young and return the exploring fry back to the nest until the young reach about an inch in length.
Angling: At night bullheads actively feed in shallow water and near the surface, but during the day these catfish cluster together and feed in deeper holes and water channels, eating plants, crawfish, minnows, insects, worms, and most edible pieces of garbage.
Bait selection when fishing for bullheads is easy, as the fish will eat whatever is thrown their way – hot dogs, marshmallows, pork rinds, worms, you name it. Fish for bullheads at night using nightcrawlers on a No. 4 hook tied directly to the line. Add some weight to the line about twelve or sixteen inches above the hook, and cast the worm into the water. Prop the rod on a forked stick, wait until the rod tip bends, and then point the rod towards the fish until the line tightens again. Quickly set the hook and reel in the fish.
Bullheads tend to roll, but they are not hard-fighting fish, quickly submitting to the inevitable. If the bullhead takes the bait but then drops it, replace the weight on the line with a small sinker to lessen resistance. When the fish are foraging close to shore, the weight of the nightcrawler is all the weight needed for shallow casting.
Bullheads taste best when caught in the spring, from less polluted waters.