Brown Bullhead (Ictalurus nebulosus)

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Brown bullheads are elongated, with a broad flat head. They are generally small, ranging from 8–14” (20–35 cm) on average. They have four sets of barbels (whiskers), three under their head and one pair on top. Their back and sides range in color from yellow-brown to blue-black, while their belly is generally white. They have a very square tail, distinguishing them from channel catfish which have a deeply forked tail. Bullheads have very sharp bony fin rays on their pectoral (front) fins and one on the dorsal fin. These fins are what cause the “sting”, not the whiskers as many anglers think.

Common Names: brown bullhead, bullhead, mudcat

Habitat of the Brown Bullhead

Brown bullheads are found throughout much of central and southern Ontario. Bullheads generally prefer warm, shallow water, where they are usually associated with the bottom. They prefer abundant weed growth with mud to sand bottoms, but can also be found in shallow areas of less productive lakes. They are extremely tolerant to degraded conditions; for example, they can survive in water up to 97ºF (36 ºC).

Spawning Patterns of the Brown Bullhead

Brown bullheads spawn in late spring to early summer (May to June) when water temperatures reach approximately 70 ºF (21 ºC). They spawn along mud or sand bottoms, usually near weeds, stumps or rocks. One or both of the parents guard the eggs until they hatch. The Diet of the Brown Bullhead Brown bullheads typically feed most actively at night. Their diet includes aquatic plants and algae, insects, worms, fish eggs, and small fish. Most feeding is done on or near the bottom. Age and Growth Ranges of the Brown Bullhead Very little information is available on the age and growth of bullheads. A bullhead’s age is determined by slicing the pectoral (front) bony fin ray into thin slices. These slices would have zones or “rings” similar to that of a tree. Generally, it would take bullheads in Ontario 3 to 4 years to reach 10” (25 cm) and they probably live to about 10 to 12 years.

Tips on Fishing for Brown Bullhead

Bullheads are most easily caught at night, when they are most actively feeding, but they can be caught during the day as well. Live baits such as worms or minnows work well, as do doughballs and stinkbaits, fished on the bottom.