Ask any group of anglers if they like to eat catfish, and you are likely to get mixed answers.
In some parts of the country, catfish are served in restaurants and support a robust commercial fishery. But, some people think they taste like mud or are even bad for you…
In this article, I’ll give you my perspective on whether or not one of the most common species of freshwater catfish is good to eat: The Bullhead catfish!
Are bullhead catfish good to eat?
Bullhead catfish are very good to eat, even by people who don’t normally like fish. Despite being considered trash fish in some parts of the country, they’re easy to catch, easy to prepare, and very tasty.
The term ‘Bullhead Catfish’ may refer to a number of different freshwater catfish.
The most common are the brown bullhead, the black bullhead and the yellow bullhead.
In this article, I am primarily focusing on the brown bullhead, because those are the type of bullhead I’ve eaten my entire life!
What Do Bullhead Catfish Taste Like?
Bullhead catfish are a mild-flavored fish, with a semi-firm texture. The meat is pink, and easily absorbs the flavors and seasonings it’s prepared in. It is considered a broadly acceptable fish, enjoyed by even the pickiest eaters.
Some anglers believe that bullhead have a muddy flavor, and, like any other fish, if they’re taken from muddy or polluted water, this can be true. This belief is reflected in regional names for them, including mud cat or mud pout.
However, a bullhead that comes out of a clean lake, stream, or healthy pond is a great eating fish!
In fact, a bullhead gutted and cooked on a forked stick over a campfire, with no other preparation or seasoning, can be enjoyed even by people who don’t even normally like fish!
The meat is not ‘white and flakey‘ like the highly prized black crappie…instead, it’s firmer meat, with a larger fillet profile. It’s thicker and more robust and this is reflected in its taste.
Where Did The Bad Tasting Reputation Come From?
So why the bad reputation in some areas? Maybe it’s because bullhead catfish can live in muddy water where they won’t taste very good.
One thing that may have contributed to the reputation bullheads have for muddy flavor is that they’re able to live in very muddy, very polluted water, with low oxygen levels that very few other fish can tolerate.
Another thing that has contributed to the poor reputation of eating catfish is because some species of catfish do taste like mud!
Larger sized catfish can become very fishy, tough and have a muddy or weedy flavor. This is usually the case with very large channel catfish, white catfish, blue catfish and flatheads. The best eating size catfish are between 1-6 pounds, or 12-20 inches in length.
This is great for folks who want to eat bullhead catfish, because they rarely exceed 5-6 lbs anyway!
The bullhead’s reputation is also at least partially regional. Throughout much of the Northeastern United States, bullhead are prized for their flavor.
Throughout New England and the deep south, farm ponds stocked with bullhead for use at the family dinner table are still very common.
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Are Bullhead Catfish Safe To Eat?
Bullhead Catfish are safe to eat as long as they come from a safe body of water.
With any fish you plan to eat, you need to know the general safety and pollution level of the water that you’re fishing in, but this is especially true with bullhead.
This is because they’re so hardy. Bullheads can live in water with very low oxygen and with contamination levels that would kill most fish. You don’t want to be eating those particular bullheads!
Other than that, they’re totally safe to eat. All the meat on them is good.
Are Bullhead Catfish Poisonous?
Contrary to popular belief, Bullhead Catfish are not poisonous. Like most other species of catfish, they go have sharp pectoral and dorsal spines that can poke you, but they do not contain poison and they are perfectly edible and safe to eat.
Are Bullhead Catfish Good For You?
Bullhead catfish from a clean body of water are a very healthy addition to your diet.
A medium bullhead has about 500 calories, 28 grams of fat, and 34 grams of protein. This makes it a healthy source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s also high in potassium and iron.
This is a fairly calorically dense fish. It also has a high level of carbohydrates, with 16 grams per serving.
How To Catch Bullhead Catfish
Bullhead catfish are very active after sunset, so targeting them at night is ideal. Use a 2/0 circle hook, and fish on the bottom with a strong-scented bait.
I’ve caught bullhead catfish on minnows, shrimp, shad, shiners, chicken gizzards, and even old deer meat.
Some people make their own homemade catfish bait out of kool-aid!
I like to find an area of sandy bottom, or muddy bottom on the edge of a channel, weed bed, or other structure. Catfish often feed within casting distance of the bank, making them easy targets.
Most catfish anglers use multiple rods and reels at once, to increase the likelihood of a catch.
Cast out a few lines, sit back, relax, and wait for a bite!
How To Prepare Bullhead Catfish
You’ll need a sharp knife and a pair of skinning pliers. It’s also a good idea to wear pair of gloves to protect you from the spines. A bullhead’s spines can prick you even after the bullhead is dead.
Starting right behind the bullhead’s head, you slice the belly open to the tail and pull out the guts. You then break the spine with your knife, right behind the head.
Using the pliers, hold the top of the spine in one hand, the head in the other, and pull apart hard.
The skin will peel completely away from the meat and you’ll be left with all the meat and bones attached to the pliers and the head, skin, and fins in the other hand.
See The Full Guide: How to Skin A Catfish Step by Step
If you want to, you can then cut a fillet off the bones, but the fillet you get will be pretty small and the meat around the bones is really good, so you probably don’t want to waste it.
Some people just cook the whole thing and eat around the bones.
Generally, there’s no need to soak a bullhead that came out of clear water, but if you caught it late summer in muddy water an overnight soak in cold water or brine will resolve any muddy flavors that might have crept in.
How To Cook Bullhead Catfish
Because bullhead are so mild they can be used in any recipe you can imagine. They don’t need a lot of sauce to hide strong flavors but they’re compatible with pretty much any sauce you want to use.
You don’t need to do anything special when cooking bullhead.
Like most catfish, bullhead really shine when they’re breaded and fried, but they’re great any way you cook them.
Bullhead are a large-boned fish, so you don’t need to worry about picking out a lot of little bones when you’re eating it.
So, there you have it…
Bullhead catfish are great to eat! They are fun to catch, and typically have very generous bag limits in most states.
Throw in some grits, a salad, baked beans, and get ready for a fine meal!
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