Sunday, June 06, 2010

How to fish for bullhead

Bullhead are considered a rough fish in Minnesota. Bullhead are certainly not among the most desirable fish in this state, which prides itself for its high quality fisheries. Yet, fishing for bullhead does provide some unique advantages.

Why fish for bullhead?
  • In Minnesota, the limit for bullhead is 100 and the season never closes.
  • Bullhead can provide fast and plentiful fishing action for kids
  • Fishing bullhead helps take pressure off of more desirable species
  • You can eat them and they are fairly easy to clean (in our muddy lake, they do not taste very good. If you're going to eat them, catch them out of a clear lake with a sandy bottom or a clear stream).
  • Thinning the lake of bullhead helps other forager species by reducing competition, such as a walleye and rock bass.
  • You can toss them in the garbage without having to feel guilty
  • In many states you can cut them up and use them as bait for other fish
  • They can thrive in very low oxygen conditions, and can be stocked where other fish can't survive, such as small ponds and ditches.
  • Since so few people actually fish for bullhead, maybe you'll get lucky set a new state record! It is very unlikely that big one's are "fished out."
How to catch bullhead?
In our lake, it seems we are always hooking bullhead when we don't want to.  I've caught them on lures, and have even seen them try to stuff large sucker minnows down their small bodies. They can be very aggressive when there is something to eat, even when its twice their size.

Yet, set out to intentionally catch bullhead and you will find there is some technique to catching these buggers. The biggest problem we have is getting the bait past the sunfish in our lake, down to the bottom where most of the bullhead are.  To accomplish this, but sure to use a heavy weight that will take your hook right down to the bottom.  Bullhead can out-muscle other fish on the lake bottom.

What kind of bait to use when catching bullhead?
Bullhead will eat anything and everything. Generally, the smellier the bait, the better.  Worms make great bait for bullhead, but sunfish will also aggressively fight for worms.  I've found that leeches work well. If you bunch a leech on a hook, it is more difficult for the sunfish to eat, yet bullhead and their larger mouths can take them in quite easily. The other advantage of a leech is that the skin is much tougher than a worm and it is more difficult for sunfish to tear a leech off the hook.

Tip: bullhead have a sense of smell that is better than a bloodhound. Plant some bait in a container at the bottom of the lake and you can bring in a swarm of bullhead. I like to use plastic strawberry or blueberry containers that have many slits to drain water; just fill it with worms or even cut up bullhead, and drop it into the water at the end of your dock. Soon you will have bullhead sniffing around. Be sure to retrieve the container when you are done fishing.

The special equipment we use for catching bullhead includes a standard rod and reel, a medium size weighted hook (to send it to the bottom quickly), a thick workmans glove for handling the bullhead (they are slippery, and they have nasty spines that can be painful if you are stuck), and a five gallon bucket for containing our catch. Leeches, worms or any other kind of bait will work.

Our "family record" for catching bullhead stands at 42 black bullhead.  Generally we quit for lack of endurance, rather than lack of bullhead action. To encourage the kids interest in fishing, I pay them a bounty of 10 cents per bullhead. It keeps my kids busy all afternoon and only sets me back about $2.

Interesting facts about bullhead
They are a North American native species of fish
They are found in the fossil record going back at least 300 million years
They have an incredible sense of smell, better than any dog
They can "smell" with most of their body
There are three main species: black, yellow and brown
They can survive very low oxygen conditions



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips! I enjoy bullhead. They're good eating to me. We stock our shallow pond with them and have a lot of fun catching them.

Anonymous said...

Good article, just don't like the point about throwing them in the garbage... either eat, use for bait, or release for someone else to catch. If you do catch them in muddy water, keep the a day in a bucket (alive) and change water at least once during that time, do not feed them... most of the muddy taste will be gone once they have had clean water go through their system, then kill, clean, roll in corn flour and fry...

Anonymous said...

Thank for your comment, and sharing your technique to get the mud taste out of Bullhead.

Some people in Southern Minnesota really love Bullhead, although they are looked down upon in my area. Waterville, MN has an annual Bullhead Days celebration.

Anonymous said...

Catching fish and throwing them away or leaving them on the bank is EXPLICITLY ILLEGAL IN MN, including rough fish. It is a very common misconception in MN that rough fish are supposed to be killed. There are only a handful of invasive species like asian carp which are supposed to be killed if caught.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments. I retract the part about throwing them in the garbage. That's just the culture here in walleye country, and it's wrong and wasteful.

In southern MN and Iowa, bullhead are a very desirable fish, and a lot of people really like them. I've also come to appreciate them a lot more after catching so many. I enjoy them more after learning the trick to flush out their muddy taste by soaking them in cold clean well water.