"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Spring Bullheads
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

Spring is a good time to fish for, and eat, bullhead catfish because their host waters, often very muddy, have been clear as the proverbial bell for several months (most of the time since last October). Low sediment.
This not only makes their flesh more firm, but tastier than this species will be through the warm months and into next fall. Moreover, and this is true throughout the year, I liken the eating of bullheads (all three species) to eating bananas, because “they have no bones.” (Remember the old Homer and Jethro song, “I Like Bananas”?)
In reality, that can be said, about bananas . . . not bullheads. Bullheads do have the spinal column type bone series that stretches from the back of the head to the tail. They may have a few rib cage bones, too, but I have never noticed them and I have skinned and cleaned hundreds of bullheads for the skillet. Actually, a well-dressed bullhead appears much like the double roll of flesh from a well-cleaned chicken-of-the-sea (ocean fish, very palatable). 
[Note: A skillet of well-browned chicken-of-the-sea is almost enough to justify the two-day drive to the Outer Banks in N. Carolina, providing one overnights at Hickory and has din-din at the J. & S. Cafeteria.] 
Back to spring bullheads. Tactics are about the same for the three species we have in Indiana and the Midwest (brown, black, and yellow--or chucklehead). The latter is the largest of the three and probably most eaten. Blacks are smallest and have a pectoral spine that is said to exude a poison, at least very painful.
Fish all on the bottom, of course, but that doesn’t mean they won’t take a bait--any bait--at any other depth. Tight lining, with just enough sinker to take a bait to the bottom, is my favorite method. Miniature set lines are good at night.
A wet washcloth or towel over their heads will keep them happy when unhooking bullheads as one gouges out a swallowed hook. This often happens because bullheads swallow baits quickly.
Incidentally, to gouge a swallowed hook out of a bullhead, a good method is to hold them with the top of the head in one’s secondary hand (mouth out) with the right pectoral spine between index and second finger of that hand. With firm grip, allow the index finger of the other hand to follow the line to the bend of the hook. To extract the hook, simply curve the finger and pull out the hook. The fish can be held either head or tail first.
Bullheads have teeth like a very fine-toothed file so the index finger will be scraped.
Frying bullheads (the same way I fry most fish) is simple and ditto for mushrooms (my fish-frying tactics can be found on http://.bayoubill.com). Brown on all sides, but not burned, is the watchword. Don’t burn ‘em.
Cleaning bullheads is simple (not easy). Hold the fish back up with secondary hand, the head in the palm of that hand and the tail flopping free. With other hand and sharp knife (small blade) make a shallow crosswise cut where the head joins the body. Put down knife and grasp the skin of the back with pliers and pull skin off as you exert pressure with the hand/arm holding pliers. This, a bit like skinning squirrels, will leave a “V” of skin on the belly. Grasp the point of the “V” with knife and thumb and pull skin back over tail.
Cut off head, remove entrails, tail and fins and you have a tasty piece of fish.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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