Catfish management

Five species are caught on hook and line in Minnesota: channel catfish, yellow bullhead, brown bullhead, black bullhead and the flathead. The first four species are very closely related; the flathead is a more distant cousin. All catfish have eight barbels (four on the upper jaw and four below), which are sensitive to touch and along with much of the rest of their bodies are covered by taste buds. All species have spines in the dorsal and pectoral fins that can injure a careless angler.

Ecological types of Minnesota waters.
Average number of hours needed to catch catfish and bullheads in Minnesota's waters.

All three species of bullhead are popular game in Minnesota prairie regions, where bullhead are plentiful and other species are scarce. These small catfish are easy to catch and require no sophisticated equipment. They are often caught below low-head dams, where all three species may congregate in dense writhing masses.

These hardy fish are also important for their use in urban ponds, where they are stocked to provide fishing for kids, the handicapped and others who have limited mobility. In many of these small, poorly oxygenated ponds, other fish cannot survive.

Bullhead are important to commercial fishermen, who harvest about 1 million pounds a year. All three species make up the commercial catch, though the DNR is considering ways to steer commercial fishermen toward the black bullhead, to leave the larger yellow and brown bullheads for hook-and-line anglers.

Bullhead are managed with possession limits that are extremely liberal but prevent unregulated commercial fishing. Otherwise, it is important to maintain good water quality, which favors yellow and brown bullhead over the smaller black bullhead. Fish managers would like to increase the average size of bullhead. Since these fish are caught for the pan, not for sport, catch-and-release regulation are inappropriate. As mentioned before perhaps flathead catfish or some other predator can control bullhead numbers, allowing the surviving fish to grow larger. Otherwise, fish toxicants might be used to the same effect. Either approach, however, would be of use only on small bodies of water.

Beyond that, catfish species differ greatly in their size, their sporting appeal, and the ways they are managed.