I finally found the chance to do a little bullhead fishing, which is pretty much how it all started for me. If I remember correctly (this is a long time ago, something like 60 years or so) it was me and dad, anchored out a ways on O’Leary Lake, and catching bullheads almost as fast as one could bait up. Of course, dad was doing all of the work. I remember it was an aluminum boat, or metal of some sort, because the fish were making a real racket bouncing around on the floor. We’d reel one up and dad would place it under his foot to aid in hook removal an d then just toss it in the middle of the boat. There were fish flopping all over the place. Since then, I’ve always enjoyed catching them.
Years ago, bullhead feeds were quite popular in neighborhood taverns. The bar owner would by them in large containers and one of my good friends used to clean fish to pick up a few dollars for the upcoming weekend. Innocent times. It’s too bad it still doesn’t happen. As a teenager we’d gather on the shores of Red Lake over near Calumet and fish into the night for them. As I recall, we caught plenty of them and they were of pretty decent size. I may have to go back there and give it a whirl. Maybe it’s still good? Later on and in my twenties, we’d set up camp at the Little Bear Lake public access and fish into the night, catching oodles of bullheads. I tried this a few years ago and the size wasn’t nearly what it used to be but the mosquitos were all of that.
To this day, I still find it a lot of fun to do. There are, however, a couple negatives to this sport. One is the mosquitos seem to come out in full force. You better be prepared, wearing long sleeves, a hat, and have doused yourself with bug spray or you’re going to be sitting in the car or worse yet going home. Another down side is it tends to happen at night, when I now am normally in bed. Get there too early and you’re just waiting around, maybe catching a few small sunfish, before “the bite” gets going, which is usually around 10 pm. That’s bedtime for me. I guess it’s an age thing, as it never used to bother me. Another issue dealing with age is it’s hard enough to tie on a hook during daylight hours let alone in the dark wearing a head light. The eyes just aren’t as sharp as they used to be.
It had been years since my last outing so I joined my nephew, Jesse Clusiau, for a little shore fishing action off his dock. We set up early and had to wait two hours before the first fish bit. It was a little guy, maybe seven inches long. Bullheads being bullheads, it didn’t matter the size, as the hook was totally out of sight, like normal. It was a cute little bugger, looking at me with its mouth wide open, about the size of a quarter. Not really thinking, I stuck my finger in its mouth to remove the hook, like I do to crappie, and then it happened.
That cute little mouth snapped down in a flash and pinched my finger as hard as it’s ever been. I let out a yelp, pulling my finger out at the same time. The fish was still swinging around on the end of my line, waiting for another chance at being set free. I warned the fish “do that again and you’re going in the livewell.” I had forgotten how strong their jaws are but am well refreshed of it now. Thank goodness it wasn’t a seventeen incher. They’d be calling me “lefty.”
We fished into the night, catching a dozen or so. It wasn’t fast and furious but fun none-the-less. Also, there is somewhat of a bullhead ambience when set up and fishing for these bottom feeders. Lanterns are lit and placed out of the way behind us so the flurry of moths and other insects aren’t flying in our faces. The warm glow, and smell, of Citronella oil burning “tiki torches” are lit as well and aid in warding off the bugs. Dead calm, you can hear neighbors across the lake, along with the loons from time to time. It’s a happening place in its own quiet and serene setting. It’s something you should do, given the chance.