Thursday, July 7, 2016

Lowly bullhead about to get its due bill paid in full

Being bull-headed seems to have helped a lowly and too-often neglected fish species get another shot at appearing on the Fish Ohio eligibility list.

It appears that the bullhead catfish is going to swim its way onto Ohio’s trophy fish recognition program ledger, a list that currently contains the names of 20 other species. Among them are such well-thought-of, illustrious, fish species demigods as the muskie, the walleye, the largemouth bass, the smallmouth bass, the yellow perch, the rainbow trout, and the – well, you get the picture.

Then there is the lesser Fish Ohio list assemblage. This group includes the likes of the common carp, the freshwater drum, and well, not really any others that I can think of, anyway.

Filling that large section of the Fish Ohio list – species which seldom see fishers becoming excited to the point of doing the anglers’ version of a happy dance - are the likes of the northern pike, the white bass, the channel catfish, and the rock bass.

But word has come how the Ohio Division of Wildlife is preparing to reinstate the bullhead to the list of Fish Ohio-qualifying species. The bullhead’s reappearance after either a 27- or 28-year absence may hook the list next year or possibly catch the 2018 version at the latest.

The proposed qualifying length for bullhead entries will begin at 14 inches and stop at 20 inches. Anything longer than 20 inches will obviously be a figment of an angler’s overly ambitious imagination. That or the applicant mistakenly was looking at a scale’s metric numbers instead of its inch marks.

Oh, lest I forget, the Wildlife Division intends to add also to the Fish Ohio registry the long-nosed gar (24 to 50 inches), the bowfin (23 to 36 inches), the sucker/all species (20 to 44 inches), and the Kentucky spotted bass (15 to 22 inches).

Maybe for some of you out there this news about the bullhead is being greeted with a huge and boring sigh, possibly a shrug of the shoulders, or perhaps with some other – and equally less-than-enthusiastic - response.

Not me, my anglings brothers and sisters; not by a long shot, by George. My reaction is “Hot Dog!” coupled with “it’s been too long in coming!”

For the past several years I’ve lobbied the Wildlife Division to the point of me being a pest, I imagine. Each and every time I’d have a conversation with Vicki Farus – the Wildlife Division’s Fish Ohio administrator – I’d pester her unmercifully about reinstating the bullhead to the trophy fish recognition program’s list.

Sort of like the way Roman statesman Cato the Elder incessantly ended all of his Senate stump speeches with the phrase “Delenda est Carthago,” (“Carthage must be destroyed”) until , by golly, Rome ponied up; perhaps in part because the empire  grew weary of Cato the Elder’s constant badgering.

Without apology I likewise became a nettlesome irritant regarding the need to rehabilitate the bullhead’s lowly standing amongst Fish Ohio award-seeking anglers.

Consequently the bullhead’s approaching crown retrofitting remains a proper and dignified step once you stop to think about the subject.

Let’s look at the facts of the matter if I may, please. There’s always been this friendly tiff between walleye whackers and smallmouth bass aficionados. The former slavishly claim their pick is what sells fishing licenses while the latter says their selection is found pretty much throughout Ohio.

Hey, folks, the bullhead beats them both in each department. Going with the popularity angle you’ll find that with more than few angling surveys, persons often cast as many ayes for “anything that bites” than they do for a specific targeted fish species. And bullheads universally fall into that “anything that bites” genre.

Now let us go to the next round. Sure smallmouth bass are scattered to and fro from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. However, please don’t try to snooker anyone into believing that representatives of this fawned-over fish species are the most ubiquitously found throughout Ohio. The smallmouth bass is not even close to being able to make that claim.

Bullheads inhabit the waters of Lake Erie and the Ohio River, of course. Yet you’ll find them in just about every creek, every stream, every river, every reservoir, every lake, and every farm pond from Marietta to Montpelier, from Conneaut to Cincinnati. Surely, bullheads clean the smallmouth bass’s – and the walleye’s – clock in the diversity of waters where the species is found.

Nor let us forget that bullheads come in three flavors, too. You’ve got the yellow, the brown and the black. The brown grows the largest with specimens approaching four pounds and is the least commonly found bullhead form in Ohio. The yellow is the middle child and tops out at about 3.5 pounds, but it is the most commonly found bullhead subset that anchors the tribe in Ohio.

The smallest variety of the three-member bullhead clan is the black, topping out at around 2.5 pounds. However, this little squirt is the most water-quality tolerant of the bullhead family tree, says the Wildlife Division.

As for the heaviest-ever bullhead caught in Ohio, the Outdoor Writers of Ohio – which maintains the state fish record book - lists the species’ Number One entry as a fish weighing 4.25 pounds and measuring 18.5 inches. It was taken from a farm pond on May 20th, 1986 by Hugh Lawrence Jr. of Keene.

As for the bullhead’s culinary qualities, no less an angling authority and frequent Ohio Outdoor News contributor than Paul Liikala crows about the little guy’s fry-pan attributes. Liikala says he prefers the bullhead to its substantially larger and well-respected cousin, the channel catfish.

I’ll take Liikala’s word on that one, given that the last time I can recall skinning and filleting a bullhead was probably sometime around 1964.

Even so, I have always embraced this angling love interest for the much maligned and under-appreciated bullhead. It sustained me as a young angling sprout who fished the Chagrin River with cheap spin-casting gear. And importantly the bullhead did so when nothing else was willing to bite – or was even tolerant of the Chagrin River’s then-polluted waters.

As I matured and could afford much more expensive tackle and had obtained access to a number of first-rate farm ponds and small lakes the bullhead was there also. Its familiar form and eagerness to snack on just about anything and everything I tossed its way helped to reassure me that all is well with my angling life.
We’ve been long-time friends, the bullhead and I. The way I figure it the least I could do for this unglamorous fish species with its insulting name is to stand up, be counted, and say “Welcome home to the Fish Ohio eligibility list, little buddy."

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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