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).
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.