Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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A simple approach to summer bullhead fishing

By John M. DeLisle Sr.

Contributing Writer


When it comes to glamor, the lowly bullhead comes in last. Yet, whatever the bullhead lacks in looks, color and high-jumping aerobics, it makes up for in tasty table fare.


New York State is home to three species of bullhead: black, yellow and brown; with the brown being the most abundantly caught.  


All three species of bullheads are scaleless. They have barbles located above, below and on the sides of their large mouths, which are used as feelers for locating food. Bullheads have small eyes, however, their sense of smell makes up for their poor eyesight. They all have spines located at the front of each pectoral fin and along the leading edge of their dorsal fin. If the angler is not careful, these bony spines can create a stinging puncture wound. 


Checking the regulations listed in the New York Freshwater Fishing Digest, the bullhead species falls under the “All Other Species Section,” which means the season for them is open all year, with no minimum length and no daily limit. 


Although the occasional bullhead is caught through the ice, for the most part bullheads are most active in the springtime and throughout the summer on into early fall. Bullheads become sluggish when water temperatures begin to fall below 60 degrees. When that happens, the bullhead bite begins to slow down, and eventually stops altogether.


The best time to fish for bullhead is when late spring water temperatures hit the 60- degree mark. That is when bullheads move into the shallows to spawn. It is also a great time for anglers to head to their favorite lake, pond, or section of river with rod and reel to vie for these hardy yet, feisty bottom dwellers.


Experienced bullhead anglers know that the best time of day to fish them is from dusk right on to about midnight. That’s the time when these wide-mouthed, whiskered-faced “horn-pout,” as some folks call them, bite best.


Though fishing for bullhead can be done from a boat, I prefer to fish for them from shore. My preference for shore fishing is the result of my first bullhead fishing experience, which was from shore and resulted in my first bullhead catch. As a matter of fact, we caught quite a few that night while sitting in lawns chairs along the shoreline of a river setback, in the yellow-golden glow of a Coleman, gas lantern.


Our rods were propped up on Y-branches stuck into the shoreline. Each rod had a copper bell clipped to the rod tip that would give off a little tinkle whenever someone got a nibble. That tinkle was our signal to rush to the rods to see whose line the fish was hitting. 


As the lucky guy slowly lifted his rod, while waiting for that telltale sign the fish was heading off with the bait, the rest of us looked on. Once the fish was hooked, we would then cheer our buddy on while offering expert advice for landing the fish. 


When it comes to fishing for bullhead, a 6- to 7-foot medium-action rod is a good choice. Some anglers prefer to use a closed face reel over the open-face type for bullheading, simply for the added spool protection from shoreline grit, mud, and slime. I have used both without issue. These days, I prefer an open-face reel, though I will admit I pay careful attention to where and how I prop my rod and reel up for fishing.


I rig my bullhead fishing reel with 6- or 8-pound test monofilament line. I then install an egg-shaped slip sinker onto the line, then I tie on a snap-swivel. To the snap-swivel, I attach an 18- to 20-inch leader with a No. 4 hook. I suggest making up a dozen or more leaders with hooks in case of snags. 


When it comes to bait, my old stand-by is a nightcrawler. Nightcrawlers however, are not the only bait used for catching “horn-pout.” Other baits include crawfish, chicken liver, shrimp, dead frogs, and believe it  or not, I have even caught them with hotdog chunks when I ran out of crawlers.  


I like catching bullheads ranging in length between 10 and 14 inches. Fish this size weigh .75 to 1.5 pounds depending on age and how well they have been feeding. I call these fish “pan-fish size” bullheads, as they fit nicely into the average skillet. 


Before heading out, it is always a good idea to check on your local weather conditions and to dress for the weather. It won’t hurt to bring along an extra pullover, sweater or blanket just in case, especially if you are taking a youngster or two along. 


I always bring a cooler full of drinks and snacking food on every bullhead outing. There is nothing like enjoying a refreshing cold drink when it is hot out, or when it cold, a hot mug of coffee, tea or hot chocolate.


And, don’t forget the camera! 

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