Information Tacklebox


Catching and Handling Bullheads and Catfish

by Michelle Kelly, Aquatic Education Specialist

May 2012

Bullhead Eyes

When I'm with a group of kids teaching about fish and fishing, I find no other fishes capture the rapt, wide-eyed attention that the freshwater family of catfish engenders. Even Mark Twain knew the attention catching value of a good cat tale when he wrote about Huck Finn and his companion Jim catching a catfish in the Mississippi River "that was as big as a man, being six foot, two inches long, and weighed over 200 pounds. We couldn't handle him of course…"

With their dark, scale-less and slimy skin; soft, flat-bottomed bellies; six mysteriously long trailing whiskers or "feelers" (barbels); sharp, menacing, venom-tipped dorsal and pectoral spines; gaping soft- but tough-lipped mouths and iron-grip jaws; the ability to survive in oxygen-poor conditions where more handsome fishes cannot; and the heightened sensory perception a body covered in taste buds from nose to the tip of their tail provides – and that enable them to successfully ferret out food where they lurk in the murky depths that render their smallish eyes rather useless… I mean, how cool can fish get?!

Yellow Bullhead

Their fascinating, relatively freakish features are the makings for incredibly fun fish stories where separating facts from fiction can be quite a challenge - and are a sure bet to keep a group of kids engaged!

And with MinnAqua's Fishing: Get in the Habitat! leader's guide, you can take kids catfish and/or bullhead fishing so they can start building their own repertoires of fanciful fishy stories!

In addition to being inspirational fodder for fish tales, both bullheads and catfish can be counted on to bite on just about any bait you offer, just about any time of day or night, always give you a good fight, and despite their somewhat nefarious reputations – they make quite a tasty meal!

Here are some tips that can help your bullhead and catfish fishing forays be successful:

Habitat and Equipment



Holding a Catfish Use caution when handling members of this feisty family of fish! Catfish and bullheads are armed with single thick, sharp spines at each of the leading edges of their pectoral (side) and dorsal (top) fins. When alarmed, the fish firmly extend these spines that easily pierce human flesh.


Finally, Regarding Those Fish Stories

And after the fishing trip you can have the kids write down their fish stories – for remembering, and retelling (with a little embellishment, of course) on another day! Oh - and did I tell you the one about…


Catfish MN DNR
Bullhead and Catfish biology and Identification
Bullhead and Catfish Management in MN MN DNR
Whiskered Giants of the North This is a PDF file. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download it. MN DNR, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, Michael A. Kallok, Sept.-Oct. 2009
Cool Cats This is a PDF file. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download it. MN DNR, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, Greg Brening, May – June, 1993