Overview

Yellow Bullhead - Ameiurus natalis

Also known as: Butter Cat, Butterball, Polliwog

The yellow bullhead occurs natively throughout most of the eastern and central United States (both sides of the Appalachians). In the southern portion of its range, the yellow bullhead extends further west (western Texas) than the brown bullhead (Alabama), and tends to occur in small, weedier and shallower waters. Like the other bullheads, it has also been successfully introduced outside its native range.

The yellow bullhead ranges in color from olive to brown to almost black dorsally with a yellow or white belly and yellow or brown sides that are never mottled as they often are in the brown bullhead (A. nebulosus). Juveniles usually have dark brown to jet black bodies. It is the only bullhead in which the chin barbels are yellow, buff, or pale instead of a dark color and the upper barbels are brown. The tail is rounded which helps to distinguish the yellow bullhead from the brown bullhead and the black bullhead (A. melas), which have truncate or slightly emarginate tails. An even better distinction between the yellow and black bullheads is the spine at the top of the pectoral fins. In the yellow bullhead, as in the brown, this spine has sharp, tooth-like serrations along the back edge. In the black bullhead it is either not serrated at all or only very weakly serrated.

The flesh of this small catfish is whiter than that of the brown bullhead, which is rather cream colored, and is of excellent quality. Even though the yellow bullhead is smaller in size compared to the other bullheads, it is a scrappy fighter and popular with anglers.

Habitats

Weed Beds (Freshwater)

Weed beds provide great structure. They provide food and shelter for baitfish, attracting game fish. Look for weed beds that lead to deeper water and create a break line, or look for sunken weed beds in deep, open water.

Shoreline Shallows

The water along the shore always provides a lot of structure and food. So, it attracts fish. Pan fish, such as crappies, sunfish, bluegill and perch, come in to feed on the baitfish. Early in the morning – or late at night- game fish will swim into the shallows to sneak up on both the baitfish and pan fish making it possible to land a big pike or even a Muskie close to shore.

Sunken Objects

Trees, branches, logs, stumps, rocks,—they’re all structure. They all provide shelter, shade and protection for fish. So it’s a good place to find fish. Always watch your line, and be extra careful if you’re in a boat.

Spring Holes

When water boils up from the bottom of the lake, it creates a spring hole. In the summer, deep-water fish are attracted to these holes because the water coming out is always cooler relative to the surrounding waters. Even when the hole is not in deep water, spring holes can attract unsuspecting, deep-water lunkers.

Gradual Shores

Like any structure that tilts gradually down and into deeper water, a gradual-sloping shoreline can provide plant food, attract fish and create a path out of and back into deeper water. However, a really gradual slope will create a large expanse of shallow water that will not attract fish.

Piers, Docks and Pilings

Call it structure. Wherever there’s structure there’s food, shelter, and fish. Weeds, grasses and other food sources can attach to anything. Docks and piers provide shelter from the sun and a nice resting spot for both big and small fish.

Holes

Holes are glacially formed basins that are lower than the rest of the lake. Water in these holes is cooler, attracting deep-water fish on hot, summer days. You’ll need a topographical map to find them.

Walkways and Bridges

Walkways are like piers, but are specially built fishing platforms that are near or run parallel to bridges, piers, shoreline bulkheads, or similar structures. An example is a walkway along a bridge, but constructed at a lower level. This keeps anglers safe from auto traffic and puts them closer to the water.

Fishing isn't always allowed from bridges because of the danger from traffic. Bridges where angling is permitted must be fished carefully. Many game fish hold down current of the bridge as baitfish and nutrient rich water float by. Cast your bait up current, and let it drift back.

Overhanging Trees and Bushes

Usually close to shore, these spots offer protection from the sun and above-water predators. Bigger fish rest in these areas if the water isn’t too shallow, allowing quick access to deeper water for feeding and escape.

Points and Break lines

A point extends out from the shoreline and slopes gradually down and into deeper water. It’s a good place to fish. But a point with a quick drop-off or one that doesn’t extend into deeper water isn’t a good place to fish.

- The sloping-out formation of a point creates a break line.
- A break line draws fish from deeper water to shallow water in search of food.
- Fish the point of the point and the corners of the point (the part that curves back into the shore).

Inside Turns and Coves - The Opposite of a Point

An inside turn is a small inlet that cuts into the shore. If the water in the turn is shallow, you’ve got another break line and another great place to catch fish.

A cove is a larger version of an inside turn, with more shoreline, more shallows, more protection, and more fish. Smaller fish will patrol a cove for plant food and bait fish, and game fish may come early in the morning or late at night.

Islands or Sand Bars

These sunken or partially sunken bodies of land will attract both baitfish and game fish if they create a break line or contours that slope gradually down and into deeper water. Water currents run around islands, too, carrying small plant food and aquatic animals that float on the surface. This also attracts baitfish and game fish.

Rocks

Rocks are structure. They provide fish with shelter, cover, food and a possible place to mate. Remember, fish structure. If the rocks are in deeper water or on the edge of deeper water, they provide an even better place to fish. Just avoid snagging your bait on the rocks.

Lily Pads

The insects and other aquatic critters that live on or around lily pads always attract smaller bait fish; baitfish always attract bigger fish. Huge patches of lily pads can also create shade, which also attracts fish. Cast into the edges and openings. Otherwise, you’re likely to tangle up your gear.

Freshwater Lakes and Ponds

Lakes and ponds are great places for fish to live. They produce abundant plant food and offer plenty of cover for fish to hide. Shoreline structures like docks, logs, stumps, brush and rocks provide shelter, shade and protection for fish, which means that they also provide great fishing opportunities for the anxious angler. You can fish lakes and ponds from the shore or from a boat. You can, also, find fish in shallow or deep water, in open water or near natural or near man-made structures. In lakes, you can catch freshwater fish like largemouth and smallmouth bass, pike, pickerel, perch, panfish, trout, and even salmon. Get to know your lake’s structure. Points, inlets, holes, sunken islands, dams, submerged objects (manmade or natural), reeds and weeds are all considered structure. You should always fish in and around structure. It’s a simple formula: 1.Structure creates shallows. 2. Shallows create plant growth. 3. Plant growth attracts baitfish. 4. Baitfish attract game fish.

Current Edges

A current edge is a place where natural or man-made objects slow the current. When the current slows, the food that travels with it also slows. So fish rest at current edges and wait for a nice, slow meal to come by. Current edges can be created by natural or man-made structures like bends, merging currents, drop-offs, rocks and islands.

Drop-Offs

When water flows over a drop-off, it slows down and sinks, taking the food it carries with it. A drop-off is a great feeding place because it has food, deeper water and it’s away from the current, allowing for a more relaxing dining experience for the fish.

Rock and Boulder Pockets

When flowing water hits rocks and boulders, it splits and goes around the obstruction, creating an area of calm water on the downstream side of the obstruction. Fish will rest, facing upstream, on the downstream side of a rock. These pockets are small, but a handy cast could land you a fish.

Undercuts

Undercuts are considered the perfect hiding spot on the river. They occur where the current has cut out a cave-like hole in earth or rock along the shore. If there’s a tree above the undercut, all the better. Undercuts provide protection from above-water predators and the sun. And easy access to deeper water for feeding or escape. The biggest, baddest river fish live in undercuts.

Dams and Falls

When water continually drops off a dam or falls, it creates a big hole or drop-off. Fish will sit at the bottom of these holes to get away from the current and to eat sinking food. Fish can get trapped in these holes if they are going upstream to find cooler water or to spawn.

Riparian Zones

Riparian zones are the middle strip of vegetation between the river and the flatter land beyond the shore. These zones serve as a natural biofilter to protect water from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff and erosion. And they supply shelter, food and shade for fish and other aquatic animals. A thriving riparian zone is a sign of good water quality and good fishing.

Fishing Methods

Bait Casting

Bait casting is a style of fishing that relies on the weight of the lure to extend the line into the target area. Bait casting involves a revolving-spool reel (or “free spool”) mounted on the topside of the rod. Bait casting is definitely an acquired skill. Once you get the hang of the technique (check out the casting animation), you will be casting your lures right on target into the structures where fish are feeding and hanging out.

With bait casting, you can use larger lures (1/2 to 3/4 ) and cast them for longer distances. To get started, you’ll need a rod with good spring action, a good quality anti-backlash reel, 10–15 pound test line and a variety of specific bait-casting lures.

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.

Fly Fishing

With fly-fishing, various materials are used to design a very lightweight lure called a fly. A fly can serve as a ‘dry fly’ or ‘wet fly’. A dry fly will float on the water and mimic a floating insect and a wet fly will sink below the surface to mimic a swimming bait. It takes a little practice, but fly-fishing is a pure and exciting way to fish. Unlike other casting methods, fly-fishing can be thought of as a method of casting line rather than lure. Non-fly-fishing methods rely on a lure's weight to pull line from the reel during the forward motion of a cast. By design, a fly is too light to be cast on its own so it must follow the trajectory of the cast fly line, which is thicker and heavier so that it casts easier than lines used in other types of fishing (such as monofilament). The angler normally holds the fly rod in the dominant hand and manipulates the line with the other hand close to the reel, pulling line out in small increments as the energy in the line, generated from backward and forward motions, increases.

Spin Casting

We won’t say it’s foolproof, but spin casting is an ideal fishing method for beginning anglers. Spin-casting equipment is easier to use than bait casting. You can use it to cast both light and heavy lures without tangling or breaking your line. Basic equipment includes a 7-foot rod, a spinning reel and 6–10 pound test line for casting 1/16- to 3/4 ounce lures. You can use an open-face, closed-face or spin-cast reel for spin casting.

Still Fishing

Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.

Bait & Lures

Bread or Dough Balls

Bread and dough balls make for excellent baits for bottom feeding fish. The bread or dough leaves a nice scent trail in the water that can be detected by bottom dwelling fish suck as catfish and carp. Any bread or dough will work but if making your own dough, make sure the dough is nice and firm so that it will remain on the hook when submerged in water. When using a piece of bread, add a little bit of moisture to the bread by chewing on it or splashing a small amount of water over the piece. Shape the bread or dough into a compact round ball and bury your hook in the ball so that only the hook tip sticks out.

Cut Bait

Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.

Flies

Poppers and flies are small lures used with spincast and fly-fishing tackle. These baits are very good for pan fish and other fish that feed on the surface such as trout and bass. Poppers get their action from a cupped face carved or molded into the front of the lure body. Fly action is totally controlled by the angler.

Jigs

Jigs have weighted metal heads and a tail made of animal hair, soft plastic, feathers or rubber. Anglers sometimes add a minnow or piece of pork rind to the jig's hook. Jigs can be used to catch nearly every kind of freshwater fish

Minnows and Nightcrawlers

Basically, minnows are baby fish and a good all-around freshwater bait. They're readily available from bait and tackle shops or you can catch your own if it's legal in your area. Minnows come in different sizes. Use larger 'shiners' for bass and pike fishing.

For cast and retrieve, trolling and drifting, hook the minnow vertically through both lips or through the tail.

For still fishing with a bobber, hook the minnow through the back just in front of the dorsal fin. Take care not to damage the spinal cord. The key is to keep the fish moving on its own.

Tricks and Tips for Minnows

For really good action, hook the minnow upside down on a light jig. It will struggle to regain an upright position

Store minnows in a minnow bucket using the same water from which they were bought or captured, and take care not to crowd them.

Worms are a good bait for nearly all freshwater fishing. You can find enough worms for fishing from a few shovels of dirt in your garden or from a shaded, damp area. Worms can also be purchased in fishing tackle stores and bait shops. For walleyes and bass use earthworms or night crawlers.

For pan fish, sunfish and trout use smaller manure worms. You can find them in cattle and horse pastures.

Trick and Tips for Worms

To prevent smaller fish from nibbling the worm without biting down on the hook, you can use just a piece of the worm.

If you have small worms, thread the hook through the side of the worm at several places along its body. For bait-stealing fish such as sunfish, thread the worm on the hook until the hook is completely covered.