Post date: Saturday, March 3, 2012 - 15:50
Updated date: 2/8/17
Ameiurus nebulosus - brown bullhead


The brown bullhead is a chunky species of catfish that is found from Canada in the north to Florida in the south. Like all catfish in north America, it has eight barbels around the mouth, a fleshy adipose fin, and no scales. This is a common, tasty, and plentiful sportfish. Underappreciated by many anglers,the Brown Bullhead can provide many enjoyable hours of angling fun, and it's a good eating fish as well. Brown Bullheads can grow quite large in good habitat, and are surprisingly tenacious fighters on light tackle. 


Other Names: Brown Catfish, Brownie, Common Bullhead, Common Catfish, Horned Pout, Marbled Bullhead, Minister, Mudcat, Marblecat, Mudpout, Northern Brown Bullhead, Red Catfish, Speckled Bullhead. The original Ojibwe name for this fish is "wawaazisii".


Barbels and Spiny Fins: All bullheads have eight barbels around the mouth - which are used for tasting and smelling the water. The barbels are harmless. However, bullheads also have three sharp spines one at the front of each pectoral and the dorsal fin. Watch out for those spines! The spines can deliver a painful sting - they are coated in an irritant toxin that can cause pain and swelling around the wound. Immersing the wound in water that is as hot as the wounded person can tolerate will detoxify the irritant and relieve the pain. 





The Brown Bullhead can be distinguished from the other bullheads because the chin whiskers are dark toward the tips and gray or white at the base, they have 21 to 24 full rays in the anal fin, the pectoral spines are heavily serrated, the sides of the fish are usually mottled, and they lack a light crescent at the base of the tail. The tail fin is shallowly notched. The coloration can be extremely variable between different populations. Some northern populations have very faint mottling that is barely visible, while some southern populations show highly ornate and contrasting mottling that looks almost like reticulations. One wonders whether the widely divergent southern subpopulation might be another species or sub-species entirely. Whatever the case, these southern brown bullheads are quite a sight to behold.




Brown Bullheads can be found in creeks, rivers, impoundments, ponds, and lakes. They often can be found in and around cover in the form of rocks, logs, or aquatic vegetation. They are not as tolerant of low oxygen levels as the black bullhead is, so they are much less likely to dominate winterkill lakes. They also prefer clearer water than black bullheads do.




Although brown bullheads can be caught any time of the day or night, nocturnal expeditions typically result in better catch rates and larger fish. Good baits for the brown bullhead include minnows, cut bait, and nightcrawlers, fished on or near the bottom. Enterprising anglers have also used pieces of hot dog, beef jerky, liver, chicken gizzards, and shrimp. Brown bullheads feed by sight more often than black bullheads, and thus can sometimes be taken on flies after being sighted. Brown bullheads are good fighters on light tackle. They feed on molluscs, insects, leeches, crayfish and plankton, worms, algae, plant material, and small fishes.

Range Map

Photo Credits:

Outdoors4Life, Dr. Flathead, DT

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