Bullhead catfish will charge your lure and viciously attack it while putting up a fight as you try to reel them in. That is one of the many reasons anglers all over the United States love fishing bullheads. Not only are they delicious, but the thrill of reeling in these hard fighting species makes it all the more enjoyable when you pull a monster out of the water.
If you’re going fishing for bullhead you need to read this guide. Here we will cover a little bit about bullhead, where to catch them, the equipment you need, and offer you a few additional tips to help you catch more bullhead catfish.
Types of Bullhead Catfish
There are three common types of bullhead that are found throughout the United States. Black bullhead, brown bullhead, and yellow bullhead. Each type of bullhead has a water preference where you are more likely to catch them.
Black bullheads tend to reside in most waters without having much of a preference. You can find them in lakes, streams, ponds, and swamps. Whether the water is muddy, weedy, or clear, black bullhead can be found in it.
Black bullheads have dark chin barbells (whiskers), are dark on top, and usually have a pale belly with a vertical bar at the caudal fin base. They usually have a short anal fin and small eyes
If you fish heavily vegetated streams and lakes that are clear, you are more likely to find brown bullhead. The water is usually clear to moderately clear with a lot of weeds and grasses.
Brown bullhead can be identified by their dark chins and pectoral fin spines. They also usually have dark mottlings (spots or smears of color) on their side.
When you’re fishing for yellow bullhead you need to look in smaller bodies of water that are heavily weeded. This is the habitat that they prefer. Look for them in shallow bays of lakes, ponds, and slower-moving streams that are heavily vegetated.
Yellow bullhead can be identified by their white or yellow-colored chin barbels (whiskers). They also have either a light yellow to olive green color on their back with a white to yellow belly.
How Big Do Bullhead Catfish Get?
The average bullhead will be around 10 inches in length, with larger bullheads measuring around 15 inches in length. Trophy sized bullheads can reach lengths upwards of 17 inches with the world record bullhead weighing around 6 pounds. You’ll be pretty lucky to catch anything larger than 3 pounds on your average bullhead fishing trip.
Where to Catch Bullhead
Bullheads can be found throughout the United States. Lakes, streams, ponds, and swamps are likely places to fish for bullhead. They tend to prefer stationary waters, so try not to fish in areas with any current. Fish for them in waters less than 10 feet deep where they usually roam around in search of food. Look along the edges of weed beds, holes in creeks, backwater areas in slow-moving rivers, along the edges of ponds, or near structures like dead trees and docks.
What Do Bullhead Eat?
Bullhead a wide variety of different foods such as crayfish, insects, mussels, snails, eggs, and various fish eggs. Figuring out what they regularly feed on in the waters you will be fishing and using it as bait can really get the bullhead biting.
In the fall bullhead are very active as they feed to prepare for the cold winter. When the water cools in autumn you can find them moving nearshore into the shallows to feed. As the water drops below 60 degrees bullhead become very inactive as their metabolism slows. So the best time to fish in the fall is earlier in the season before the bullhead slow down.
The activity of bullhead decreases dramatically in the wintertime, but this can still be a great time to fish if you look in the right areas. When the water is between 40 and 55 degrees in the winter, look for bullhead in deeper waters, where they tend to congregate. They are harder to catch through ice but if you fish open waters you can still have success.
Early spring when the water is too cold is not a very productive time. They will still be in their winter areas very inactively feeding until the water warms. Once the water warms up to about 60 degrees the bullhead move into the shallows where you can fish them quite productively. Spring fishing is great during both day and night time. Look for the bullhead in the warmest parts of the water.
Bullhead also spawn in the springtime. They spawn near streams and river mouths. In the northern U.S., they spawn when the water reaches around 70 degrees. In the Southern U.S., they spawn when the water reaches around 75 degrees. If you’re trying to fish the spawning sites, bullhead usually build nests to spawn on mud and sand near cover.
In the summertime look for bullhead in areas where the water is around 12 to 15 deep. Don’t fish deeper than 15 deep or you may have a hard time catching any. Look for bullhead near weed bases and structure. In the nighttime bullhead move into the shallows to feed. They feed pretty much nonstop when the water is warm, making this an excellent time to fish for them.
Bullhead Fishing Equipment
Rods and Reels
For bullhead fishing, a good light to medium action spinning rod and reel will work fine for most situations. A rod right around 6 feet in length will work fine, or you can opt for an extra-long rod if you know you have to cast a long distance. Read our full guide on the best catfish rods.
Lures and Baits
For most bullhead fishing live bait tends to work best, however, you can catch them with a good inline spinner like a rooster tail. Try carrying a few colors in your tackle box and toss them out when the bullhead are in the shallows.
Bullhead tend to hunt more by smell than by sight which is why live bait works best. Nightcrawlers are a tried and true effective bait for getting the bullhead to bite. You can use a syringe to inflate them to make them more noticeable to hungry bullhead.
Soaking your worms beet juice to die the red is a classic trick that will make your worms even more attractive to bullhead. The red color attracts them but it also toughens up the worms so they bullhead can’t steal them off your hook.
Bullhead are known to eat just about anything you dangle in front of them. They can be caught with things like bacon, hot dog chunks, corn, and even chicken liver. Chicken liver is known to be one of the more effective baits, so give it a shot next time you are going after bullhead.
For most bullhead fishing, a 4 to 8-pound test monofilament line is a great option. Stick with a 6-pound test line for your average bullhead fishing day. You can go as heavy as 10 pounds but a heavier line will make bites harder to notice as your sensitivity goes down.
Use smaller sized hooks with longer shanks for fishing bullhead. Size 2 to 1/0. Bullhead are known for swallowing hooks and a longer shank will make the hook a lot easier to remove.
Bullhead Fishing Tips
Don’t Use Motion
Still fishing is the way to go when it comes to fishing bullhead. You don’t need any motion to successfully catch these fish. Prop your rod up with a holder after you cast and let the bullhead come to you. Pay attention to your line though. It will either spurt and twitch or there will be light taps to signal that a bullhead has bitten.
Try Bottom Fishing
Bullhead are known to be bottom feeders who use their whiskers to locate food. You don’t even need a bobber to fish for bullhead. Bobbers can often be counterproductive by lifting your bait off the bottom where the bullhead are feeding. You may need to use a small weight to get your bait down to their level. You can try a split shot weight, but really any weight will do.
Don’t Set Your Hook Right Away
Bullhead can be tough to get a good hookset if you try too soon. They are known to spit out hooks. To combat this, you have to let them start moving away with your bait before you set your hook. Count to around three seconds and then with a quick snap of the wrist set your hook. Don’t do it right when you feel motion. It’s also a good idea to carry a lot of extra hooks with you since they are known to swallow hooks whole.
How to Handle Bullhead
It is important to learn how to properly hold a bullhead because they have sharp spines that can pierce your skin. The best place to hold a bullhead when removing your fish hook is right behind the dorsal spine at the top of the fish. Wrap your hand around the fish behind the dorsal spine with your fingers behind the gills and pectoral spines of the fish. You may also want to use a forceps or needle-nose pliers when removing your hook to make things easier.
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