I have friends who sometimes ask me why at 45 I still chase bullhead catfish. The simple answer is they are fun to catch and good to eat but in reality the answer is deeper than that. Like many my story of bullhead fishing goes back to being a kid.
When I was 7 years old we moved to an apartment complex that at the time was called “Fountain Lakes”, in reality there was one lake but that was enough. I had parents that didn’t want to fish and this is before the internet, so I leaned mostly by watching people around me and reading magazines like Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. My first bullheads were caught in this lake, generally on Green Giant nibblets corn. I spent most of my time on this lake (a big pond really) catching bluegills and giant golden shiners. I was too young to cook so spent most of my time doing catch and release.
We moved to a new apartment complex a few years later when I was 10, by then I was very self sufficient for a 10 year old. The 80s were a different time and kids at that time were not constantly looked after and fussed over. So when I found out that an apartment complex up the road (about 3/4th of a mile) had a place to fish, no one batted an eye about me going there.
By now I was learning to cook fish, mostly on the grill (because fish stink or so said my mother) and starting to keep some fish. At this new place everyone called the water a canal, it was really a long pond with a cool layout. You can see it here, I rapidly figured out a method to catch really big bluegills at this place and soon was catching quite a few large mouth bass.
Then one day I met a woman there, I would guess she was in her early 20s. She simply had a cane pole with a float and was using hot dogs for bait, and was catching black bullheads like crazy. The fish were nice say 11-13 inches on average. She was a nice lady and showed me what she was doing but would not give me any hot dogs.
Again this was the 80s, kids were self starters so I hiked about another half mile to a convenience store, bought some hot dogs and made a bobber out of a stick because I didn’t have any with me.
That night I came home with a bucket of about a dozen fat bullheads. But I really didn’t know how to clean them. While my dad was a work-a-holic and didn’t fish much he came from a fishing family. When he came home he was impressed and simply showed me how to head and gut them. He said, just grill them in foil and peel the skin off with a fork when you eat them.
I was hooked! I now could go get fish whenever I wanted except say in the depths of winter. Later a friend showed me how you can simply filet bullheads like any fish and just cut the skin off the filet. Then I learned to deep fry them!
For a few years we lived there and I fished all the time. In that apartment, at a golf course we finagled our way into by picking up balls, in the St. John’s River, at the beach and in local creeks. The fish though that I most kept and ate was the humble bullhead.
When I was almost 14 we moved to Pennsylvania where my family was from. My dad retired, my uncle hunted and fished all the time. Soon I was shooting deer with a bow, wading for trout, catching small mouths in the Susquehanna river and hiking into the back woods for native brookies. Occasionally I would find a bullhead or two but like most as I got older my idea of catfish turned to channel cats. In 1989 I joined the Army, served until 1993 and after coming home I eventually moved to Texas in late 93.
At that point I was broke, I put the shoulder to the grindstone and focused on career and fished very little. By the time I was 24 I met my wife who I am still with after over 20 years now. As I went from dead broke to doing okay to doing well, I started fishing again. My first appoach was “vacation fishing”, hiring guides, taking trips to surf fish the Texas Coast, etc.
One day I went to a small pond just a few miles from our home. A simple city park and caught the biggest yellow bullhead I have ever caught on of all things a beetle spin lure. Soon I was back there with hot dogs and a bobber. There was some part of my childhood, a good part that came back that day. All of the sudden I remembered why we fish in the first place. Because it is plain simple fun and because it can help put food on the table.
So the bullhead will always be a special fish to me, I will pursue all species and I will say I sure get more excited about a big channel catfish or a black tip shark then a bullhead, but I still love catching the little catfish and I damn sure like them fried up.
To me they are all you could want in a fish. They breed in a way that makes a rat look like a slacker, so you don’t worry about over fishing them if you are at all responsible anyway. They are quick to bite if you put the right bait in the right place. They really do great in small bodies of water making them easy to find and accessible to most people.
So how did you come to enjoy bullhead fishing, what parts of the country did you first catch them in? Tell me about your view of the bullhead.