After-breakfast bullheads


By James McGuire

Contributing columnist

“I’m going fishing!” I cheerily told my wife.

Breakfast was over. My ladylove was sipping the last of her morning tea before heading to work. I’d been contemplating a second mug of coffee when she‘d asked about my day’s plans.

Hearing my reply, she halted mid-sip and stared at me over the cup’s rim as if I were crazy. Alas, a familiar look.

“You’re crazy,” she said succinctly, confirming my suspicion.

My wife obviously doesn’t understand the vernal power of a wish-to-fish on a man too long deprived of his natural piscatorial endeavors.

Hoping to establish some logic, I pointed through the window at the view outside.

“The sun is bright, the sky is clear and blue, and the river is in great shape. It’s a perfect spring day to go fishing,” I said.

My wife pointed at the screen of the little digital weather station on a nearby shelf.

“It’s 24 degrees! Today’s predicted high is 49! And it’s still winter! You’ll freeze to death! Besides, what fish is stupid enough to bite today?”

“I’m pretty sure I can catch a few bullheads,” I said, adding, “I’ll dress warmly.” And yes, as a crazy fisherman, I’d just admitted to targeting a stupid fish.

“You need bait for catfish,” my wife pointed out. “Where are you going to get that?”

“I already have some worms from the compost pile,” I replied.

“Hummmph!” my wife answered. “That means this outing was premeditated!”

I grinned. “You spend too much time listening to those paranoid legal types at your office. I view both weather and worms as a fortuitous conjunction.”

“Hummmph!” She said again, before giving me a kiss and heading out. “Just be careful.”

Our local bullheads begin biting as soon as the ice breaks in the lakes and ponds, creeks, and rivers. Often long before the last patches of snow have melted away along their banks. My experience finds it’s practically impossible to start fishing for bullheads too early in the year—more a matter of how early you’re willing to bundle up, risk frostbite, and give it a try.

However, late winter and early spring are times of snow melt, rain, widespread run-off, and saturated earth. I don’t like fishing high, muddy water—but that’s mostly a personal preference.

Being “scent” rather than “sight” feeders, bullheads aren’t nearly so particular. If you can get your offering into the water—regardless of air temperature, cloud cover, or arctic winds—you can probably catch at least a few bullheads. Often quite a few.

I’ve been a bullhead fan all my life. Some of my earliest and fondest angling memories revolve around the many bullhead junkets my father and I shared each and every spring—to lakes such as Cowan, Indian, Loramie, and St. Marys, or stretches on the Great Miami, Little Miami, Seven Mile, and Twin Creek. Our hands-down favorite bullhead destination, though, was always the Stillwater River.

That’s another great thing about early-season bullheads, or when fishing for bullheads any time throughout the year—you never have to go far to find ‘em.

My wife was right about the bait business, however. You need live—or at least smelly—bait to entice bullheads. Crushed minnows, chicken livers or entrails, or some oily, stinky commercial concoctions.

I’m old-school, cheap, kinda lazy. I never use anything other than redworms or nightcrawlers—and I always dig or collect my own, from streamside driftpiles or a backyard compost heap.

My current worm container resides on a low shelf in our barely-heated laundry room. I believe in that old scout dictum to “be prepared!” So I’ve been scratching and digging at the compost pile up for several weeks, and have stockpiled sufficient bait to supply my early-season fishing needs well into May.

After my wife left, I gathered my bait and tackle. Had that second cup of coffee. Dressed warmly, loaded up, and then went back inside and traded up for my heaviest canvas coat. Maybe I wouldn’t freeze to death if I layered up.

Then I headed off.

Why you might wonder, does a fellow whose home is situated on the banks of the river he intends to fish, and could literally fish without leaving his yard, elect to drive several miles and walk a fair distance from where he parks, just to fish a different portion of the same river?

Truly, I dunno. I don’t think the bullhead fishing is any better upstream. I just feel more like I’ve gone fishing when I leave home…and I’ll agree that explanation sounds silly even to me.

But it’s all I’ve got.

I won’t try and tell you the bullhead action the other morning was fast and furious. It was not. I had to move around a bit, test out a few holes and pockets. But as the morning progressed, and temperatures soared in the mid-30s, fish bites came, slow but steady.

By the time noon rolled past, and I started wishing I’d eaten a bigger breakfast, a nice mess of chunky bullheads was on the stringer. Fish three-quarters to a pound-and-a-half in weight. I’d culled out the smaller ones.

Almost every bullhead came from a midstream pocket no bigger than a kitchen table. I don’t know what was out there that attracted and held those catfish to such a small spot. But it didn’t matter—it was time to head home and get my catch cleaned and ready to provide our supper.

Bullheads are homely—an inarguably ugly fish. They’ll never win a beauty contest.

But a bullhead’s worth is not measured by looks. Where they excel is in the skillet, on the platter, and ultimately, in your mouth and stomach. Bullheads are easily one of the tastiest fish around. Period! Dusted with a mix of cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper, and fried in bacon fat, they’re simply exquisite!

Catching those after-breakfast bullheads insured our evening meal would be superlative. I’d stir up some hushpuppies and make coleslaw to round things out.

My wife will have to admit that even a crazy fisherman has his value!

Reach the writer at [email protected]

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