Bullheads rarely exceed a pound but thanks to their abundance and hard-fighting nature, they’re favorites of many anglers. (photo by Keith Sutton)
Can’t-Miss Tips for Summertime Bullheads
by Keith “Catfish” Sutton
Remember the old saying, “Good things often come in small packages”? Bullhead catfish exemplify that.
During the dog days of summer when temperatures soar and many fish quit biting, I like to fish for bullheads. These widespread catfish—black, brown and yellow—don’t get nearly as big as their blue, flathead and channel catfish cousins. But like bluegills and perch, they’re great fun to catch on light tackle and delicious on the dinner table. In waters where they thrive, catching a dozen or two during a short outing happens quite often, providing the angler with great memories of fun times on the water.
If you’re among the many who enjoy fishing for these hard-fighting little whiskerfish, or a convert just learning the bullhead-fishing craft, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your times on the water this season.
Keep It Simple
In most cases, using simpler fishing methods works fine and allows you to enjoy bullhead fishing to the max. There’s no need to buy expensive fishing tackle or learn how to tie complicated rigs. Your strategy can be as unencumbered as using a cane pole and small hook to dunk a worm or piece of chicken liver. Fish on or near the bottom, using a small sinker to carry your bait down. Or use a bobber to float the bait slightly above the bottom. You do not need to fish deep or far from shore.
The Light Touch
Using light tackle allows you to better savor your rock-’em-sock-’em battles with these little warriors. Most bullhead aficionados prefer using ultralight spinning or spincast combos. Four- to eight-pound line is appropriate in all but the most snag-infested waters. The hooks you use should range in size from No. 4 to 1/0. Big sinkers aren’t needed, either. In the calm waters where bullheads are almost invariably found, you can use split shot or small egg sinkers instead. Light tackle is less likely to spook wary fish, and all cats you catch will fight like whoppers.
Use Sharp Hooks with Points Exposed
Many novice bullhead fishermen have trouble hooking cats that bite. Remember these two simple methods that will help alleviate that aggravation. First, be sure your hooks are needle-sharp. Run each point over a fingernail. Sharp hooks dig in. Those that skate across the nail without catching should be honed or replaced. Second, instead of burying your hook in bait, leave the barb exposed. Catfish won’t notice. More hookups will result.
Carry Plenty of Hooks
Bullheads are notorious hook swallowers, so you should always carry plenty of hooks on your fishing trips. You can remove hooks from a fish’s throat using a disgorger or long-nosed pliers, but it’s quicker to cut the line and retrieve hooks when you’re cleaning your catch. Better yet, use small circle hooks, which almost always hook the fish in the corner of the mouth and are easily removed.
Fish Right at Night
You can catch bullheads during daylight hours, especially in waters that are muddy or stained. You’ll catch more during summer, however, if you fish at night when bullheads are more actively feeding. Zero in on deep holes in creeks; backwater areas on rivers; weed bed edges in ponds and swamps; and boat docks, long points and underwater humps in lakes.
Where legal, you can use chum to attract more bullheads to your fishing holes. Place a gallon of wheat in a plastic bucket and cover it with water. Place in a sunny location outdoors, uncovered. Allow it to sit for several days until the mixture sours. Scatter handfuls of the fermented mix in several areas prior to fishing. Lower your regular bait to the bottom with the grain, and prepare for action.
Bullheads are attracted to all sorts of baits, from crickets and homemade stinkbaits to frogs and even bubble gum. A fat worm fished on or near the bottom will almost always draw in hungry fish, but my favorite baits—chunks of cheap hot dogs, hickory-smoked bacon and fresh bloody chicken liver—come straight from the grocery store and are easy to keep at home. Bullheads have big mouths but you’ll catch more if you cut baits into pieces about the size of a big marble. Check your rig often and rebait as needed.
It’s very important for catfish anglers to remember that all catfish, including bullheads, have turbo-charged senses of taste and smell. They’re covered from nose to tail with taste buds in the skin and whiskers, and have much better than average olfactory organs. This can work in the angler’s favor because heightened senses allow catfish to more easily find and eat bait. But bullheads also can detect, and will avoid, even minute quantities of sunscreen, gas, oil or insect repellent that come in contact with the bait. You should avoid getting any of these on your hands, if possible. If you can’t, slip on some latex gloves before handling your bait.
Care & Cleaning
If you catch bullheads in clean water and ice them down immediately, they’ll be delicious on the dinner table. Don’t keep them hanging on a stringer in warm water, or the flesh will get soft and have a poor taste.
It’s important that you also skin the fish and remove all dark red meat along the lateral line. This rids the dressed fish of unsavory flesh.
A Tasty Recipe
Here’s a bullhead recipe that’s hard to beat. Combine ¾ cup yellow cornmeal, ¼ cup flour, 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper and ½ teaspoon garlic powder in a large bag. Add fish and shake to coat. Fill a cooker half full of peanut oil and heat to 365 degrees. Add fish and fry until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 5 minutes. Serve piping hot.
Because they’re abundant and easy to catch, bullheads are great kids’ fish. Next time you fish for them, take a youngster with you. That’s among the best of all ways to spend time outdoors.