Bullhead Wisdom and Folklore

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Corey's picture
Bullhead Wisdom and Folklore
<p><span style="color:#000000;"><span style="font-size: 16px;">Hey, folks! </span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="color:#000000;"><span style="font-size: 16px;">I just updated all of the bullhead pages. I&#39;m looking to get some feedback and expand on them! I&#39;ll post links to them below (or just hit the Species tab), so check them out. Then, feel free to share stories, tactics, observations, and recipes. </span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li> <strong><span style="color:#000000;"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/black-bullhead">Black Bullhead</a></span></span></strong></li> <li> <strong><span style="color:#000000;"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/brown-bullhead">Brown Bullhead</a></span></span></strong></li> <li> <strong><span style="color:#000000;"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/yellow-bullhead">Yellow Bullhead</a></span></span></strong></li> <li> <strong><span style="color:#000000;"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/flat-bullhead">Flat Bullhead</a></span></span></strong></li> <li> <strong><span style="color:#000000;"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/snail-bullhead">Snail Bullhead</a></span></span></strong></li> <li> <strong><span style="color:#000000;"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/spotted-bullhead">Spotted Bullhead</a></span></span></strong></li> <li> <span style="color:#000000;"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><strong><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/white-catfish">White Catfish</a></strong></span></span></li> </ul> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="color:#000000;"><span style="font-size: 16px;">Let&#39;s work together and make this the ultimate compendium of bullhead wisdom and lore!</span></span></p>
IvanTortuga's picture
Looks awesome

Really nice expansions! Seeing as I'll be targeting my first few bullhead in spring these additions are much welcomed ;) 

Outdoors4life's picture
Love the updates!

Love the updates!
Skinny Aaron even made the Brown bullhead section. 

I have some southern bullhead fishing to do.


It is all perspective!

Acer Home Inspections

Deftik's picture
Every single person I've ever

Every single person I've ever taken fishing in my entire life I've started by bullhead fishing. In my opinon bulllhead fishing is not only the face of roughfishing its the most easy accessable, cheap, and fun way to fish. As stated in the brown bullhead article its strongly advisable to fish for nocturnal fish AT NIGHT, however they can also be caught during the day. I normally use a size 10 hook dangling over a single weight rigged with half a night crawler. Y sticks found in the woods buried into the ground make great set ups for bullhead fishing, nothing about bullhead fishing requires any special clothing, tackle, or reel. It can be done with bargain brand everything and I think thats the allure. I've found the bigger the bullhead the muddier tasting they are and only tend to keep anything under 12 inches and a pound in weight. 

Bullhead activity at least through my intense observation of 15 years is directly related with heavy rain. More rain always equals more fish.

Also worth noting at least from my trips, Brown Bullheads look drastically different in Florida I've gone as far as to coin them southern brown bullheads do to their intese color difference and heavily mottling. 

Heres some various photos of Browns over the course of the years.


Corey's picture
Thanks, Deftik

Great post. Looking for some more!

Dr Flathead
Dr Flathead's picture
Bullheads have really taught

Bullheads have really taught me a lot about fishing over the years.  Especially as a youth fishing for them in neighborhood storm water ponds.  We had three such ponds in my old hood.  They didnt have much for panfish in them at first.  Mostly black bullies and goldfish.  Spent a bunch of time fishing for those bullheads in there.  They really helped shape the roughfisherman that I am today.  So I'd like to give a shot out to the lowly bullhead.  I've been lucky enough to catch 4 different kinds of you thus far.  And I hope to add more.  I think about the gourmet east coast bullies all the time.  How I would love to experience catching flat and snail bullheads.  And to whoop on some white cats is high on the list as well.   

Corey's picture
Thanks, Doc!

Great info and pics. I'll try to incorporate some of this into the species pages.


For everyone (including those who have already posted) what are some of your favorite bullhead baits? And what's the weirdest thing you ever caught a bullhead on?



Outdoors4life's picture

One of my all time favorite bullhed baits is live frogs.  I have not done it for years but I used to go to one grandfather's house and catch frogs. Then my other grandfather would take me out to Gull Lake where we would catch many large bullheads for my great grandmother who was from Iowa and loved bullhead more than anything. I learned much on the dock swatting mosquitoes that were relentless in the warm summer nights. Just after dark is when the bite started and always lasted until we ran out of frogs.

I found that using shrimp was great for keeping the smaller ones off my line. 

Areas that chumming is allowed will get a feeding frenzy going and really help with the bite.

It is all perspective!

Acer Home Inspections

Dr Flathead
Dr Flathead's picture
Bullheads will bite on almost

Bullheads will bite on almost anything sometimes.  Especially if you get a feeding frenzy going.  I've caught them on fruit snacks, gum, slim jims, cigarette butts, dead minnows with fuzzy mold.  All sorts of shit really.  They will even hit a plain hook when the frenzy is on.  Usually the frenzy happens while we are trying to catch them for catfish bait.  You can get them so jacked up they smash your plain hook.  Probably because it still smells of crawler or other bullheads.  Nightcrawlers make them go mentally crazy I think.  I also target large bullheads with huge chunks of cut sucker minnow.  A huge piece of cut sucker is a great way to keep the smaller ones away.  I hope to fish bullheads more this summer.  I'd really like to crack the 3 lb mark on any of the three species around here.  I've found a lake in southern MN with huge yellow bullheads in it.  So far the biggest one we have sampled from it was a monsterous 17 incher weighing 2 lb 7oz.  I think one over 3 lbs might be possible.  And if I got one over that mark it would probably end up hanging on the wall in my office.  A mounted bullhead?  The walleye fisherman just wouldnt understand.  Tournament bass guys would just shake their heads.  Hard core trout fisherman would laugh.  I love being a roughfisherman...  

TonyS's picture

Not too much to add here, I've caught Bullheads on all kinds of stuff.  One of the first fish I was introduced to by my Grandpa along with sunfish.  Usually I use crawlers, cutbait or chicken livers.  Cut bait and livers keep the pesky sunfish away, especially important for daytime bullhead runs.  


Around deep carpets of weeds on clear lakes (usually with Yellow Bullheads) I love running the bait under a lighted bobber, set the depth to keep the bait just above the weed tops and catch plenty of bullheads without getting everything wrapped up in the weeds.  


I guess I've never tried anything really odd for bullheads, I've caught Yellows on 6" live suckers fishing for pike/bowfin.  Browns I've caught in Lake Michigan fishing crawlers in 25 FOW for White and Yellow Perch and Drum.  Maybe the most random bullhead was a Brown my wife caught at the top of Chequamegon bay of Lake Superior probably in 25-30 FOW on a whole dead smelt fishing for Sturgeon and Burbot

philaroman's picture
well, since whites are in the family...

my weirdest story would be catching a very chunky white (est. well over 3, pushing 4 lbs.) w/ someone else's big gold Kastmaster in its mouth, attached to line/rod/reel.

wish I could say it was a Loomis/Stella, but it was the cheapest, crappiest Walmart combo...  left it on the bank, but kept the spoon

P.E.T.A. sucks!!!  Plants are living things, too -- they're just easier to catch!

Wisfisher's picture
Your comment about fishing


Your comment about fishing when it rains brings back memories of fishing with my late step-dad. Everytime we went for bullheads, we would head out to the north side of town where the baseball fields were, collect o couple cans of nightcrawlers and then head to the river. All this only when it was raining, and we always went home with a bucket full.

Any fish species is worth catching.

andy's picture
Winterkill bullheads

I posted this a while ago in reply to a forum question, figured I'd re-post because it's relevant.


I've monitored a small northern MN lake for 30+ years, and in this time the lake has experienced a few Winterkills - a Winterkill is when a harsh Winter casuses oxygen depletion and the majority of the fish die.  Almost all of the bass, crappies, sunfish and pike lie rotting in the shallows.  But the bullheads survive because they can tolerate very low oxygen levels and turbid water.  Bullheads are also voracious eaters of dead stuff, so all of the lake's bullheads suddenly have no competition from other species along with a gigantic food supply of rotting fish.  

Just after a particular Winterkill, I was fishing this lake and had loons chasing my Rapala - because there were no live fish for them to eat.  That day I caught two giant bullheads on the 6" plug as I cast for pike.

The bullheads thrive and grow very quickly after a Winterkill.  While other species in the lake are trying to rebound, years go by and the Bullhead is King.  After a period of time, the rest of the species in the lake catch up and the bullheads seem to go into a serious downturn - food is scarce, and maybe the sunfish eat their young.  Pike prey on a lot of adult bullheads.  They lie dormant, just waiting for another harsh Minnesota Winter.  They disappear but never deplete.  Always hiding and waiting for a chance to take over the lake again.

I have also witnessed the River Otter's fondness for eating bullheads.  In a lake full of crappies and perch and golden shiners, the otters invariably pop up on the ice with a big fat bullhead to chew on.  Just another fun fact about the bullhead's place in the ecosystem.


Also, they like to eat hot dogs.

Moose439's picture
Bullheads are a staple of any

Bullheads are a staple of any good roughfishermans yearly diet. In the dog days of summer when the catfish bite isn’t real great they are one of my favorite night time targets. Like the panfish of the Catfish family they are usually eager biters and most times if there is one there is a whole mess of em.


Bullheads are for the most part very hearty fish, the toughest of them being the Black Bullhead. Black Bullheads can live almost anywhere, tolerating environments that are so polluted and oxygen deprived most fish wouldn’t survive minutes. They also seem to have a knack for surviving even the worst winterkills Minnesota has to offer, these are some tough fish. I’ve found them inner city residential ponds only a few feet deep and seen a video on youtube not too long ago of some kids catching them out of a sewer. Though they will tolerate these less than optimal environments they are usually stunted in these type of waters from lack of forage and space.

Deep lakes with lots of forage and some predators to thin the herd are the best for targeting bullheads for the table or trophies. I’ve found that if a lake has large panfish that the Bullheads are good sized as well and vice verse.


The Yellow Bullhead also known as a Butter Cat in the Southern United states is the tastiest of all the bullheads I have eaten. In my experience yellows seem to do better in moving water than other bullheads and also seem to prefer cleaning cooler water than the Blacks. Most cooler clear lakes with good weeds in Minnesota are dominated by either Yellow or Brown Bullheads by night.


Browns are definitely the pickiest of the three minnesota bullheads ard are usually only found in very clean and clear lakes. They are the largest of the three with specimens over three pounds being not out of the question. They also seem to be the most likely to be active during the day.


Bullheads will eat just about anything including chunks of other Bullheads. I have personally used a lot of really bizarre baits for bullheads and have found thy will eat most anything but definitely are in their own way picky. In different bodies of water and different times of year I have definitely found that some baits greatly out fish others. Nightcrawlers are a definite can’t lose favorite for these guys but some of my other favorites include pizza dough(from your buddy who works at the local pizzeria), hot dog chunks (these can sometimes be obtained for free from friendly gas station folk who are throwing away the old overcooked stuff before they close) small sunfish(like 1.5-2 inches), any kind of cutbait(chubs are my favorite especially when they are spawning) crayfish and sweet corn. If you are hunting trophy bullies I would suggest trying large pieces of a tougher cutbait on a good sized hook. This will keep the smaller fish from stealing your bait as easy and keep them from hooking themselves.


Your standard bottom rig will work just fine for bullhead but a lighted float can really help keep you from snagging up in the weedy areas bullheads love. Its also a lot of fun to watch a lighted bobber get smacked by a hungry bullhead. You can get away with fishing with six to eight pound mono for these guys but I prefer to use fifteen to twenty pound braid because of how snaggy and weedy their prefered habitat is.


My experience with the three south eastern bullheads is very limited so I won’t chime in on that.



philaroman's picture
that reminds me...

a winterkill is pretty rare in my area, but I noticed oxygen depletion & competition removal from other causes, producing similar results

a couple times I fished a small(ish) lake where I litterally could not catch any species except a ton of brown w/ occasional yellow or eel (common, here)...  turns out, it had been recently drained and refilled slowly (rain/tiny creeks) over time... some bass & chain pickrel were stocked (allegedly -- I never got any), but by that time the bulls were running the place; many in a size range & attitude that said, "ain't no runt hatchery-conditioned predator gonna' eat me -- stock more fingerlings, biach!!!"

P.E.T.A. sucks!!!  Plants are living things, too -- they're just easier to catch!

Corey's picture
Trophy Bullheads

Man, reading Andy's story reminds me of the great times we used to have fishing bullheads at night as kids. Or trotlining them on our snapping turtle hooks, there were some monster yellows in there back then. Which got me thinking, what do you guys consider a trophy bullhead? 15+ inches?

Now I am thinking about finding some trophy bullhead water and going for a personal best. This lake looks kinda good. I'll bet I could find some more.

Jason E.
Jason E.'s picture
I had a black bullhead in an

I had a black bullhead in an aquarium once. It was a great opportunity to study this fish.  It ate corn, ham, turkey, cheese, and bugs of all sorts. Interestingly, if I put an ant or fly in there, the bug had to die and sink to the bottom before being consumed. Of course, crawler pieces and waxworms worked too.  A few behavioral traits I noticed too.  I had a green sunfish in the same tank before I switched species to the bullhead (it was a small tank, suitable for one or two fish at a time).  The bullhead was WAY more sensitive to vibration than the sunfish. Even someone walking across the room seemed to stir a reaction.  The sunfish was, predictably, more visual, acting by sight more than smell.

Another observation that I'm sure others have experienced but, from what I've read so far, no one has mentioned, is that black bullheads and common carp coexist nicely in polluted waters.  There are rivers and ponds near Milwaukee that are quite gross.  No other fish in there, except black bullheads and carp.  They hit on the same baits and seemed to get along pretty well. I would assume they ate one another's eggs and fry and such, but who knows.

A problem I've experienced in polluted waters, however, is that black bullheads, in particular, get stunted pretty easily. Catching a bunch of 5-8 inch bullheads can get tiresome, after a while. Without channel catfish or some other predator to keep them in check, they seem to reproduce fast and eat up their food supply, resulting in stunted fish.

Here's one of my nicer black bullheads, caught in a small pond in southern MN:

Mike B
Mike B's picture
I spent my formative years

I spent my formative years living next to a storm pond just like the one Dr. Flathead grew up on. Black bullheads and goldfish were the primary residents as well. For a while there were some yellow perch in it too but they disappeared. The black bullhead, however,  were a constant and are still there after all these years as I delightfully discovered during a visit to Winnipeg in 2013. For several years they were my most consistent catch. A trophy fish didn't even measure 12 inches but I still enjoyed catching them. I used to patrol sidewalks on rainy afternoons in search of earthworms. These I fished under a big red and white bobber. The memory of it dancing on the surface of the water while fishing for bullhead I think is what draws me to roughfishing today. I also made my own dough baits. I added all kinds of crazy crap to it: vanilla extract, cheez whiz, bacon bits -- it all worked.

Other kids couldn't understand why I wanted to spend time fishing in that stinky, old pond for ugly, little catfish. Fishing for bullhead made me an outcast, a freak at school. It's a badge of honour I still hold dear today.

mike b

Phil's picture
Definitelya a badge of honor

Definitelya a badge of honor to look eye-to-eye with a bullhead and an act that can denote a key seperation between those who take the time to undestand what is really going on in the world versus those who eagerly swallow a pre-programmed reality like a hungry bullhead wolfing down a gob of limburger cheese.

Love the Bullheads – they’re rough to the core and each species can have slightly different traits.  From some of what I have seen the blacks try to conquer with sheer numbers, browns can be most finicky and yellows can be territorial and aggressive towards the other bullhead species.  

Long ago conditions were right in an outlet of a swampy lake to where all three species could be caught in the same little pool.  However,  the yellows commanded the ultimate spot behind an old submerged barrel that sat out in front of the culvert and blocked the current from the outflow.  Even though there were probably 50,000 blacks and the occasional brown milling about in the current and in the slack water just inches away, it was yellows only in that five-square-foot area of prime real estate.

I haven’t tripled up on bullheads now for many moons and believe that to be an awesome and fun challenge for a sweaty July night – pick out a lake that has all three species sampled and see if you can find them all – what are the key variables – Current? Cover? Depth? Bait? 

Two of three species together in combination can be pretty common - but getting all three out of the same body of water- that’s some good bullheading my friends!

Goldenfishberg's picture
One my my fondest memories of

One my my fondest memories of growing up was when my old man took me down to the local lake in town to see the thriving masses of freshly hatched baby bullheads. Watching those squirming boiling masses of baby bullheads churning up the water was amazing to me as a young lad. Dropping in any sort of lure or jig in the throng of bullheads would almost immediately illicit a strike from the protective parents. Years later I remember that in spring when I am chasing bullheads in June. It is still amazing to me to see the sheer masses of these freshly hatched bad asses. I have amassed many scars on my fingers and palms to these worthy adversaries, nothing teaches a man about proper fish holding techniques better than the humble hungry bullhead.

Ya just Can't catch um from the couch.

fishinnick's picture

An interesting bullhead experience last summer. Went to check out a little marshy area connected to a natural lake and came across these two fish hanging out near the shoreline. Not the clearest photos, but in the first pic you can make out the fish in the top middle/left part of the photo(with its head nearly breaking the surface), and then the other fish is on the bottom right.

I've only visited this place maybe two other times, and don't have any other bullhead experience in that or its connected waterways. Not sure of the exact species. This was in the middle of July, and around midday. Possible spawning activity? They definitely appeared to be together, instead of two random fish roaming around. But I could be wrong




This was probably my coolest bullhead catch.  Caught moments after I landed a decent pike, on the same exact fly...a Clouser minnow.


SomewhereDownstream's picture

I didn't know they liked to live in the sewer, but I've found billboards (that is what my computer keeps autocorrecting to) in a stream I could've jumped across, a pond with so many bluegills that they'd eaten all the bass eggs, and even what was literally a dried up mud puddle. I've also caught little juvenile billboards a number of times by running my hands through thick weeds along the edges of streams and ponds. In conclusion, the billboard is a prolific and annoying species that can generally be identified by its close proximity to the world's slimmest scum. (Okay, I wasn't talking about the catfish that last time.)


andy's picture
Fly-caught black bully

I got this fat prespawn female black bullhead while fishing for rock bass on the Mississippi river.


Eric Kol
Eric Kol's picture
I'll join the choir in
I'll join the choir in singing the praises of bullheads. Along with bluegill and pumpkin seeds, bullheads were the fish of my youth. My dad lived on a small lake in Pine Springs MN (near Stillwater) and bullheads always seemed to end up on the other end of the line. These were black bullheads, and in the spring I would look for the black clouds of slow moving bullhead fry as they slowly made their way around the shore in the shallowest water. In addition to welcome aquarium guests, these tiny bullheads made excellent bait for large bluegill and I would eagerly net them. These tiny tadpole sized bullies had the most potent "sting" of any other sized bullhead! They were sharp and when I would handle them too roughly their "stings" would be stronger than any bee sting. White bear lake used to produce huge bullies, which I would eagerly bring home for my mother to cook. I still enjoy eating bullies from clean water, especially yellows. I would hands down rather catch a trophy bullie than a trophy walleye!

Carpy Diem!

drawer.bli's picture
To add some pics: 

To add some pics: 


A nice pic of a yellow bullhead. Small, but I loved the picture.


Late fall white catfish


Summer midday, 95 degrees, yellow bullhead


Small but smooth white cat


A hefty southern brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus marmoratus)

FP4LifesDad's picture
Bulls some info and pics

Here is some info I put on here early from a question:

Hot dogs a fave bullhead bait also chicken fat, liver, night crawlers, minnows, the back channels on OtterTail lake have so many in them it's about the only thing you can catch at night and sometimes during the day.  Again dirty, stagnant, nasty pond looking water is where they like to hang out.  They are also excellent to eat if you smoke them.   Often times in the early part of summer you will see black clouds swimming around the shore of some of our lakes which are made up of hundreds sometimes thousands of baby black bullheads.  Ive came across schools of the adults like this before scuba diving but not nearly as often as you will see the baby clouds right up by shore.  Great aquarium pet, but they will pick at other fish species in their tank at night until they eventually kill them.  Supposed to be good flathead catfish bait too but I've never tried it.  If you are not familiar with bullheads they have a sharp spine on the leading edge of their dorsal fin and one on each of their pectoral fins.  The spines are actually serrated with little barbs, when bullheads are alarmed they will flare all three of these spines out in defense, it makes them harder for predator fish to swallow them whole and pretty painful for anglers not careful enough who get stuck by them.  A common misconception is that they sting you and some people think its from their barbels (whiskers) all the whiskers are for is sensing for food in the dark, muddy water they like to feed in.  It's not a sting at all, but a sharp spike that sticks you as I described before.  Like Andy said they clean up the dead stuff in the lake, think of them as the crows or coyotes of the water world, going around eating anything they can find dead or nearly dead to make an easy meal out of they are very opportunistic feeders, also the reason they are hard on other fish in an aquarium, when the lights go out the bullheads come out! Oh, one other thing bullheads don't have any scales like other fish they have skin with a coating of slime on it.  Somebody told me once that the slime from the belly skin will ease the sting of getting stabbed by one of their spines, but I've never tried it and have no desire to test the theory on purpose!!  Lastly what I've noticed in our area is that blacks prefer the really nasty, swampy, muddy bottom backwater areas while yellows seem to like the transition areas between these and the main lake where the bottom is cleaner and firmer and browns prefer the main lakes themselves where the bottom is clean and firm.  I would never have thought of OtterTail as a good bullhead lake because it's so sandy, bottom we catch some beast browns from there.  Also the yellows and browns don't seem to mind some pretty heavy river current either.

Here are some pics of our BLACK BULLHEADS:

Here are a couple YELLOW BULLHEAD shots:

Finally a few OtterTail openwater BROWNS:

You can tell from the pictures alot of bullheads get caught in the daylight, but if you really want to hammer them fish when the sun goes down.  They are attracted to light as I've observed scuba diving, so don't worry about having a lantern or flashlights on the dock or boat it doesn't bother them a bit from my experience.


IsaacsFishingCorner's picture
I'm a little late to the party

I'm a little late to the party, but I thought I'd add some microfishing I did for Yellow Bullhead. I was fishing Crooked Creek in Nashville, Indiana and found a few seculeded puddles from when the creek had flooded. In one of those I found a small tree branch in the puddle and could see a bunch of small catfish underneath it. I used a small piece of nightcrawler as bait and was quickly able to catch 2 of the small catfish.

It took me forever to correctly identify them as Yellow Bullhead, but it was one of the coolest microfishing experiences I've had yet. It was the only time I've ever been able to sight fish for bullheads.

The rest of my bullhead fishing has been pretty normal, I usually have the best luck catching the bigger ones on small dead minnows. Or if I'm going for numbers nightcrawlers always do well fished close to the bottom.