The Best Rig for Bullhead Catfish is an Old School “Slip Rig”

An Almost Three Pound Black Bullhead Taken On a Slip Rig, Note How Torn Up This Fish is from Life with Turtles in a Small Park Pond

Recently we have been working to acquire quite a few bullheads for our aquaponics systems.   We really think bullheads could be a great sustainable and even regenerative solution for modern aquaculture and aquaponics.

Despite their maligned reputation they are great eating fish, and grown out in a clean water system they would be even better.  They grow fast, reproduce faster than rats popping Viagra and there are generally no limits on harvest due to those factors.  Hence angler can keep a large portion of them without doing any harm to the ecosystem.  In fact, in many small bodies of water bullheads are heavily under harvested leading to huge numbers of very small fish.

These small fish are a perfect target for back yard aquatic and aquaponics enthusiasts.  Bullheads are a great harvesting size at about 10-14 inches and generally you can catch all you want at the 6-8 inch size in small ponds, creeks and back waters.  This means one only need grow out the fish for about 12 months or less if well fed to reach a harvesting size.

My issues as of late have been too many of them swallowing the hook.  Recently I reported on a method of using jig heads to minimize this.  That seemed to have promise but this weekend I used a very old school method and it worked flawlessly.

In Florida as a kid I often used this method for larger fish with bait casters.  In those instances the line was set with a light drag so the fish could run with the bait.  In this instance I instead went to a tight line with normal drag set.  With the rod set at a high angle the tension of the rod itself hooks the fish as soon as it takes the bait and attempts to move away with it.

The results are not scientifically conclusive or anything, I got out pretty late in the day so I only caught 8 bullheads before the heat put a stop to the action.  Of those 8 however, 7 were pretty small fish, about 5-8 inches in length, and zero were gut hooked.  So I will be trying this method more and keep a running tally.  I would say if you got into one gut hook in 20 with these fish you would be doing about as well as you could expect especially if you are not holding onto the rod at all times.

I have also been using hot dogs (Oscar Meyer Beef is best) because it is an old child hood favorite.  However it was leading to a lot of stolen bait and the pond I have found has such an over population of perch that they were picking it off even in deep water.

The problem was the solution!  I filleted a few of the small perch (in the south this is a generic name for sunfish like bluegill, green sunfish, pumpkin seeds, etc).  The cut bait with skin on held up a lot better, coupled with the tight line rig it was very effective in getting hook ups and reduced stolen bait to almost zero.

The video below shows how to use this rig.  The best part was getting to land an almost three pound black bullhead out of a small park pond that I would estimate to only be about a half acre of water.  So give this method a try and try those small ponds and back waters for bullheads, you might be surprised what you find.

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Just In Case You Thought Bullheads Were Only Scavangers

Those of us who respect the bullhead hear people bash them in ignorance all the time.

“Bottom feeding scavengers that eat nothing but mud and poop.”

In a word absolute nonsense, yes bulls are opportunistic and will hit your stink bait or cut bait but in the wild the bullhead is primarily a predator.  Their most common prey are crayfish, minnows and small fish like sunfish.

Check out “Bob the Bullhead” when his keeper gifts him with some lively minnows.

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The Fast Easy Way to Clean a Bullhead – (AKA Shucking Bullheads)

I have found three videos on this technique, each guy does it a little differently but the end result is the same.  I figured that I would post all three so that you could develop your own best practices.

Recently I put about 10 bullheads into my aquaponics system and I gave this method a try with one because it was so gut hooked I know it would not survive, the photo below was the result of this method, yep bullhead and duck egg for breakfast.

I actually didn’t do it right, if you note in these videos one important thing is do not cut into the side skins.  I had watched one of these videos over a month ago and didn’t refresh my memory before trying it.  I did cut into the skin, when I pulled the skin broke.  Even with that it was perhaps 10 seconds of work to grab it and pull it off with pliers.

I think the best practice here may be to put the fish on ice until they are cold and stiff, if you notice all the guys fiddle a bit with the first cut and the moving slimy fish.  I will try that next time and report back.  So check out this method and develop your own best practices for using it.  Be careful though I can see a guy trying to prove how fast he can do this and ending up with a nasty cut here!

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Preventing Gut Hooked Bullheads

When it comes to avoiding gut hooking bullheads up until now the best I was always able to do is keep the rod in hand, strike fast and use long shanked hooks and that doesn’t always work, plus a man just has to drink a beer now and again while fishing.

It never fails the bite has gone down, you set the rod in a holder or on a bucket and wham, you either have stolen bait or that cats got the dang hook down his gullet.

It is just how they eat mind you, they suck in bait and swallow it.  I think we forget that bullheads are not just scavengers, they are predators.  You know that little pond with thousands of bulls in it?  Yea if they we all scavengers they would all starve to death.

They eat a lot of minnows and a lot of small sunfish as we reported in this article here.  And such critters don’t sit around waiting to be eaten like that piece of hotdog, cut bait or night crawler you have sitting there on the bottom.  There is also almost never one bullhead in one place by himself or herself, they are shoaling fish.  Translation not only does prey escape, your buddy is gonna eat your find if you don’t get it first.

Today I came across this video, the concept is to use a lead head jig hook when fishing for bullheads.  As this will let you easily tight line and keep a very sensitive feel it should be dang useful for that alone.  I have never tried this but hope to give it a shot this weekend and I will report back on it.  It does seem to make a lot of sense though.  Bulls are far from hook or even thick line shy and it should at least discourage very deep hook sets.

Check out this fellows video and if you have tried this or any other method to reduce deep hookups with bullheads, please tell us about it in the comments below.

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Bullheads Added To an Aquaponics System

Today I finally found a true local bullhead hole, now that I know where it is I will be going back better prepared and I will bring chum with me.  Just got to keep the stupid turtles off the dang line in this place.  I caught half as many turtles as bullheads.

Long term I am currently constructing a 1400 gallon tank and I am planning to make bullheads the species of choice in it.  This tank will be isolated from my other three systems ensuing if we have captive breeding they are contained.

Bullhead have a bad rep with some but they are very good eating especially in clean water with a controlled environment, they grow fast, they are extremely tough and given the right conditions spawn readily.

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How I Discovered the Joy of Bullhead Fishing

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.

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Indiana Researchers find a Bullhead Catfish with a Belly Full of Bluegills

Click the Image to See the Original Source Article Reviewed in this Post

Wanted to do a quick write up on this one for a variety of reasons.  First the jist of the article,

Biologists were assessing fish populations on Loomis as they do every year on various lakes. The bullhead catfish pictured was discovered in a net along with dozens of other fish.Capturing bullheads is not that unusual. But this one was.

“The fish’s stomach was bulging and twitching,” said Bacula. “It was the fattest and most unusual bullhead I had ever seen. I wanted to see what was in there.”

“We were shocked,” said Bacula. “We counted remains of 18 bluegill in that 13-incher’s stomach. From what we could tell, those ‘gills were 3 to 5 inches long at the time they were eaten.”

Read the Full Article Here

Okay so here are a few of my thoughts.  First the researchers seem to find this unusual because they say “bullheads are bottom feeders”, I want to dispel that half myth today.  It would be more accurate to say that bullheads often feed on the bottom but they are not exclusively bottom feeders.

At one point in time I kept about a dozen bullheads in a 37 gallon fish tank.  Little guys about 4-7 inches long.  Just to learn more about them.  There was a pond about a mile from my home, in summer it teemed with fat head minnows.  About twice a week I went down to it and dip netted a bunch of them.  Took them home and put them in the tank, this was dinner.

I would sit back with a beer and listen to the sound of plunk, ploop, plop over and over as they would devour the minnows off the surface.  One of the largest yellow bullheads I ever caught was over 2 pounds (keep in mind the Texas state record is only 3.2 lbs.)  I was fishing in a city park pond with a beetle spin and the fish hit it running only about 1 foot deep in about 8 feet of water.

One of my favorite things is kicking back and just catching a bunch of bullheads with either hot dogs or night crawlers.  I usually use two rods, one on the bottom and the other with a float, I usually set the float to suspend the bait about 12-18 inches off the bottom.  Some days the bottom rig produces best, other days the suspended one does.

The point is bullheads are fish and fish move in patterns and at times due to temperature, season or food availability they feed at various depths, they don’t exclusively bottom feed.  Hence we should not limit ourselves to only fishing on the bottom.

Next the fact that a 13 inch bullhead was eating 4 inch bluegill should make us think about using shiners or bluegills (where legal) as bait at times, not just stink bait, crawlers, cut bait etc.  My grandfather always said the bigger the bait the bigger the fish, so next time you are being overrun with 3 inchers, consider trying some live bait a bit too big for the ones you are catching.

In any event this is a pretty cool story, do take time to check out the original article at South Bend Tribune.

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