Tips for Bullheads

Follow these 13 steps to catch America's favorite catfish.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Bullheads will pounce on any offering of edibles with wild abandon. They strike hard and without any pretense of caution. They fight tenaciously. Rolled in cornmeal and fried, they are delicious. It is not surprising, therefore, that millions of anglers of all ages love bullheads.

In Iowa, for example, bullheads lead in fish popularity polls, with anglers catching 12.5 million a year. In Waterville, Minnesota, the Bullhead Capital of the World, residents gather each June to enjoy Bullhead Days, a celebration in which deep-fried bullheads are served by street vendors. Bullheads are the only type of catfish available to many New England anglers, and thus are frequently targeted. Millions of the catfish are stocked annually, particularly in small urban waters.

If you’re among the many who enjoy catching and eating these bantam brawlers, or a convert just learning the bullhead fishing craft, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your next “pollywog” junket.

1. Fish Light
Go light to savor your rock-’em, sock-’em battles with these bantam catfish. Use ultralight spinning or spin-cast combos. Four- to eight-pound-test line is appropriate in all but the most snag-infested waters. Hooks for bullheads range in size from No. 4 to 1/0. Don’t forget artificials. Small lures such as in-line spinners will catch bullheads, too.

2. Fish at Night
Bullheads feed around the clock, but the night bite is usually best. Bullheads avoid current. Zero in on deep holes in creeks; backwater areas on rivers; weed-bed edges in ponds and swamps; boat docks; long tapering points; and underwater humps in lakes.

3. Keep It Simple
The simpler your fishing methods, the more you will enjoy bullhead fishing. Your strategy can be as unencumbered as using a cane pole and small hook to dunk a worm or piece of liver. Fish on the bottom with a small sinker to carry your bait down. Or use a bobber to float the bait slightly above the bottom. You need not fish deep or far from shore to catch bullheads.

4. Hook What Bites
Bullheads have a propensity for holding the bait, letting the angler reel them in, then spitting the bait out at the last second. When tight-lining, let the fish start moving off before you strike. Count three, then set the hook with a quick, upward snap. When bobber fishing, wait until the float disappears or starts moving slowly away.

5. Carry Plenty of Hooks
Bullheads are notorious hook swallowers, so carry plenty of hooks. You can remove hooks with a disgorger or long-nosed pliers. Better yet, use small circle hooks, which tend to hook the fish in the corner of the mouth and are easily removed.

6. Blow Up a Worm
Night crawlers are irresistible to bullheads, especially when you use a hypodermic syringe to inflate them. Adding a shot of air in the body lifts the worms up, making them more visible above the bottom to foraging catfish.

7. Dye the Worms
Soak worms in red beet juice to make them more attractive. This also toughens a worm’s “hide,” making it harder for a bullhead to steal it off the hook.

8. Consider Bait Options
Bacon makes great bullhead bait, especially hickory-smoked. Chunks of hot dog and cheese are relished, too, and fresh chicken livers are hard to beat.

9. Make a Liver Rig
A small treble hook attached to your line with a snap swivel works great when fishing liver. Unsnap the swivel, remove the hook and push the eye of the hook through the liver so the liver is impaled on the three barbs. Then reattach the hook to the swivel. The liver is now less likely to fly off when you cast.

10. Blend Some Doughbait
Here’s a popular formula for doughbait that will entice bullheads. Run a pint of chicken livers through a blender until liquified. Slowly add Wheatiess cereal, and continue blending until the mixture turns into a ball. Roll into grape-size pieces and place in a zip-seal bag. Cool to firm before using.

11. Wash Your Hands
Bullheads will reject bait that comes in contact with even the smallest quantities of sunscreen, gasoline, oil or insect repellent. Avoid these. If you can’t, wear rubber gloves when handling bait.

12. Don’t Get Stuck
Beware the bullhead’s sharp pectoral and dorsal fin spines. If you get poked, old-timers recommend swiping the fish’s belly across the wound to neutralize the stinging sensation. Household ammonia dabbed on the wound has the same effect.

13. Keep ‘Em Cold
If you catch bullheads in clean water and ice them down immediately, they’ll provide the entrée for some delicious meals. Fish taken in muddy or polluted water might have a disagreeable taste regardless of how you care for them.