Bullheads are small cousins of catfish with no scales and sets of wormlike feelers, called barbels, on the front of their face. The brown bullhead lives in lakes and streams throughout Minnesota.
General description: The brown bullhead lacks scales. It has four pairs of dark barbels. You can tell it from the black bullhead by the lack of light-colored band near its tail fin. You can distinguish it from the yellow bullhead because of its dark coloring.
Length: This is the largest bullhead species growing 8 to 14 inches long.
Weight: 2 pounds is considered a good size by anglers. Minnesota's record brown bullhead, caught in Shallow Lake in Itasca County, weighed 7 pounds, 1 ounce, but a 2-pounder is usually considered big.
Color: The brown bullhead is dark green to brown above and lighter-colored on its underside. It looks a lot like the black bullhead but tends to have blotchier coloring.
Bullheads spawn in April through June. The female lays eggs in a shallow hole she scoops out on the bottom of the lake. The male cares for the eggs. After the young hatch, one or both parents look out for them.
Brown bullheads eat just about anything: insects, leeches, snails, fish, clams, plants, and so on.
Walleyes, northern pike and other predator fish eat bullheads up to four inches long.
Habitat and range
Brown bullheads are found in most of Minnesota. They are at home in lakes with low oxygen and turbid water, as well as in backwaters and ponds. They are particularly common in the Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix rivers and tributaries.
Population and management
These popular food fish are abundant. Fishing is open all year, and the bag limit is 100.
Like other bullheads, brown bullheads have sharp spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins. When they are alarmed, they can hold their fins erect. Sometimes anglers accidentally jab their hands on these sharp spines. Some people, when jabbed, mistakenly think they have been stung by the barbels on the bullhead's face. But the barbels are harmless.