Post date: Saturday, March 3, 2012 - 15:46
Updated date: 2/8/17
Ameiurus melas - black bullhead


The Black Bullhead is the most common bullhead in the midwestern US. It can be distinguished from the other bullheads in several ways: the chin whiskers are all black or dark gray, the tail is square or shallowly notched, and they have 17 to 21 rays in the anal fin. Fin membranes are jet black in color. Their pectoral fins are not heavily serrated. Black Bullheads also have a distinctive lighter-colored bar at the base of the tail. Black bullheads often show some bright yellow coloration, especially on the jaws and underside. This results in some confusion with the yellow bullhead, but the yellow bullhead has white chin whiskers and a rounded tail. Black Bullheads are able to tolerate extremely poor water conditions, and often thrive where other fish species are unable to live. Winterkill lakes, in which fish populations are periodically devasted by a lack of oxygen in the winter, are prime locations for black bullhead populations to explode. They are found in rivers, streams, and lakes, and seldom weigh more than a pound.


Other Names Bullhead, Common Bullhead, Yellow Belly, Yellow-Bellied Bullhead, Black Catfish, Black Cat, Horned Pout, River Snapper, Stinger


Barbels and Spiny Fins: All bullheads have eight barbels around the mouth - which are used for tasting and smelling the water. The barbels are harmless. However, bullheads also have three sharp spines one at the front of each pectoral and the dorsal fin. Watch out for those spines! The spines can deliver a painful sting - they are coated in an irritant toxin that can cause pain and swelling around the wound. Immersing the wound in water that is as hot as the wounded person can tolerate will detoxify the irritant and relieve the pain. 




Like the rest of the bullheads, the black bullhead can be caught with a wide variety of baits and presentations. Bullheads have quite hard and bony mouth plates, so make sure your hooks are sharp. The most common way to do it is to fish a worm under a bobber around dawn or dusk. You can also fish directly on the bottom. Presentations that place the bait near heavy cover (logs, brush, rocks, rip-rap, thick vegetation, etc.) will often be more effective. Other baits you might want to experiment with are live or dead minnows, cut pieces of fish, slim jims, dead frogs, chicken or beef liver, flavored doughballs, gummi bears, pieces of meat, squid, shrimp, grubs, crickets, swedish meatballs, and insect larvae. When in the right mood, black bullheads will avidly pursue an artificial lure, as the above photo of a fly-caught spring black bullhead shows. However, their eyesight is not that good, so they may miss fast-moving presentations. Work a bead-head wooly bugger in a series of slow twitches as near to the bottom as possible. For better luck, dip your flies in a fish-attracting scent (like vanilla extract, anise oil, or liver juice). Long-shanked hooks or circle hooks make unhooking bullheads far easier, as a greedy black bullhead can easily swallow a standard hook. At night, a lighted bobber makes for some really fun fishing. It's loads of fun watching that glowing point of light disappear out of sight when a greedy bullhead takes off with your bait.


Bullheads for the Table


Like the other bullheads, black bullheads are good to eat. Skinned out, they have only a backbone and a few short ribs, which makes eating them easy. They can also be filleted off the backbone in typical fashion (after skinning), although smaller specimens don't provide much meat when this is done. Bullheads from stagnant, muddy water can acquire a muddy taste - if this is the case, you'll want to be meticulous about removing all the dark meat along the lateral line, as wel as any yellowish belly meat. You can then soak the fillets in cold saltwater, milk, or baking soda water for ten minutes to an hour to remove the off flavor completely. Bullheads are usually breaded and deep-fried, although in some areas they are broiled, barbequed, or pickled. Bullheads have gone out of favor in recent years, although those in the know still quietly harvest their annual share of the bullhead population, while the rest of the fishing community misses out. Please share any bullhead recipes you have, as we'd liove to try them!






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