The weather is still cold, there might be snow flurries, and while ponds and lakes are likely clear of ice, there's not a whole lot of hungry fish waiting to strike your bait.
But there are a few, and bullhead catfish are one of them. Ohio has three kinds of these bottom dwellers, the black bullhead which is basically a worthless little bait stealer, the yellow bullhead which reaches two pounds or more and has a yellowish cast, and brown bullheads which can hit four pounds on rare occasion, and offers plenty of specimens in two or three pound sizes. Particularly around Lake Erie which is where I like to fish them.
Bullheads are easy to recognize. They have the traditional catfish whiskers and have rounded tails as opposed to channel cats which have forked tails. I've caught them through the ice more than once, and caught plenty more when ice was still tinkling along the shore of farm ponds that had them, and more yet in shallow, swampy areas with cattails along the shore. As I said, I like Lake Erie marshes whether they be north of Fremont, along Sandusky Bay, or in the Catawba Island marshes where I sometimes could get permission to fish.
I like those places because they draw lake run bullheads that would average two pounds and in numbers great enough that I could fill a stringer in just a couple of hours. But I've caught nice bullheads in inland lakes too, like Charles Mill Lake, Clear Fork Lake, and more.
So long as there are shallow swampy areas with water often just two to three feet deep, the little catfish can usually be found there. And they're worth catching. Sometimes in the hot summer months their flesh can be a little soft, though still good for smoking.
But at this early time of year, and coming out of ice water, their fillets rolled in flour and cornmeal and fried crisp are downright tasty.
If there's a secret to catching these little cats, it's to have plenty of smell wafting through the water. They're almost blind, but those whiskers have hundreds of scent organs and more along their bodies and even tails. So, their favorite feeding tactic is to travel slowly along the bottom, trailing those whiskers in the mud, When something edible turns up, it's scented and swallowed in almost the same motion. So, if you're fishing with garden worms or nightcrawlers, it's wise to change baits occasionally to keep fresh scent wafting around the worm, and if using minnows, slightly crush their abdominal cavities under foot to release scent. There are lots of commercial scents available too, and such things as shrimp and liver. Bullheads aren't picky at all.
I usually fish them with two rods, each with a two hook rig consisting of a No. 6 snelled hook above a half ounce sinker and another No. 6 snell about a foot above the first . Cast out in one of those marshy areas, changing spots every ten minutes or so until that rod tip starts to bounce and a fat pout takes hold. You're in business. It's important to remember two things about bullhead fishing. One is that they've sharp spines on their back and side fins, so handle them with care. Two, when one bites, strike fast! Hesitate even a few seconds and he'll have the bait clear down into his stomach and you've got to dig the hook out with a hook disgorger. Given that, it's an easy (lazy) trip, just loafing along a marsh, watching redwing blackbirds doing acrobatics on cattails, and enjoying that weak sunshine. A good way to spend a few hours on those rare nice days.
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HOOKS & BULLETS
• The Sportsmens Alliance, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of hunters, fishermen, and trappers, will hold its 12th Annual Central Ohio Charity Shoot at the Cardinal Shooting Center on Saturday, May 5 on Ohio 61 near Marengo. All shooters will be provided 100 clay targets, shotgun shells, eye and ear protection, a good lunch and a chance to win great outdoor gear. Call 614-888-4868 for details.
• Pleasant Hill Lake Park is offering something unusual from 4 to 7 p.m. May 26 — a chance to make money and gain exposure for high school and college age students to perform live music at the park. To enter, send two demo videos and set list by May 1 to [email protected] Three finalists will be chosen and will be paid $100 to perform a 45 minute song set at the Park Beach stage between 7 and 10 p.m. Winner will return on Sept. 1 for $300 and an encore performance.
• Bass fishermen interested in catching BIG bass might enjoy Robert E. Woodard's new book, "Eye to Eye with Big Bass.” In the book, Woodard details bass movements, behavior and feeding patterns along with lake construction and management practices to grow trophy bass. It's available through the Author House Online Bookstore.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.