Spring bullhead fishing is one time when you can get away with calling it a “fishin' pole” - not a “fishing rod.”
It's just that unsophisticated. It's about as kick-back casual as the angling life gets, especially when you go night fishing:
The hissing old green Coleman, faithfully sputtering out a bright white circle of light. Sure proof against the black curtain beyond.
A folding easy-chair. Can of worms. Couple of baloney and cheese sandwiches. Bag of chips. Six-pack of a favorite worthwhile beverage. A big old cigar - to fend off the mosquitoes, of course.
Oh, and don't forget the driftwood campfire, a modest little one. And a buddy or two to swap lies with.
That, as the man says, is living. So is eating a mess of deep-fried bullheads and “fixins.”
Bullheads are at their best as table fare in the spring, when the waters still are cool and their flesh is firmest. Which makes for the perfect excuse to take off after supper for one of the lower tributaries of western Lake Erie and set up shop for as long as you can stay awake.
These little brown catfish average 10 to 12 inches and typically weigh less than a pound, though larger specimens will spice up a night's angling. Their natural feed includes insect larvae, small crayfish, snails, and dead fish. But fishermen generally use night crawlers, chicken livers, or red worms for bait.
Most casting and spinning tackle suffices for bullheading. Terminal tackle simply is a hook and sinker - just enough weight to hold the line taut in the prevailing current. Reel in the slack, rest the rod at an angle on your tackle box or on a log, and watch the rod-tip for a “bite.” Bullheads are scrappy fighters.
They are active early in the morning and just before dusk, too, but the after-dark shift attracts a lot of fans. There is something about a campfire under the stars and a sliver of moon that just completes the picture. That, and the fact that bullheads feed primarily by taste and smell and are most active at night.
Any of the shallow creeks with mud bottoms that lead down to the lake usually have bullheads, though Ottawa County seems to lead the pack among better regarded sites.
Following are some bullhead fishing sites recommended by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Lucas County: Bayshore Access, at the warm-water discharge behind Bay Shore Power Plant; Ward and Cooley canals, just north of State Rt.2 in Jerusalem Township near Bono.
Ottawa County: Little Portage River Access, west off State Rt. 53 just south of Port Clinton (reached on foot, heading to the river then following the dike around to where the Little Portage empties into the main Portage River); Muddy Creek (fish around the bridge on State Rt. 53, south of Port Clinton near the Sandusky County line).
Also, County Road 17 bridge on the Little Portage, farther upstream from the lower access; Toussaint River Access, on State Rt. 19 just south of State Rt. 2, north of Oak Harbor; Turtle Creek Access on State Rt. 2, west of State Rt. 19; Rusha Creek, on State Rt. 2; LaCarpe Creek, off State Rt. 2 (try the roadside rest near Camp Perry).
Erie County: Sandusky Bay Bridge Access (the old vacated bridge across Sandusky Bay, accessible from both sides of the bay); Dempsey Access on Sandusky Bay, off Bayshore Road northeast of State Rt. 2 and east of the old bay bridge; Willow Point State Wildlife Area, on Wahl Road northwest of U.S. 6, west of Castalia.
Bullheads, and their larger cousins, channel catfish, can be found in many other areas as well, from inland ponds to other creeks and rivers. Just look for some slow-moving backwater, unfold your camp chair, and start looking for some firewood.
On the rivers and Lake Erie - If white bass are your game, get down to the Sandusky River at Fremont for a spring run that at least equals the excellent one a year ago.
“This keeps up, they're going to name it the white bass capital of the world,” said Bernie Whitt at Anglers Supply in Fremont. White bass of 15 and 16 inches are being taken from small boats around the U.S. 20-bypass bridge on upstream to the sand docks, all below downtown Fremont. Downtown anglers and those upstream toward Rodger Young Park and beyond also are taking fish.
Whitt thinks that some rain will pull the schools of larger fish into the downtown area.
Thornwood Public Golf at Fremont, next to the park, is running a walleye and white bass tournament tomorrow and Sunday. Cash and prizes of more than $1,500 are being offered. Stop at Thornwood on the river to enter. For other details, call 419-334-2452.
Good catches of both white bass and jack walleye are being taken on the Maumee River at the popular sites above Maumee-Perrysburg. Try using one-sixteenth to quarter-ounce jigs and tails, or jigs and minnows. Carolina-rigged floating jigheads, with light weights, also are working very well.
A white bass of 1.85 pounds, taken by Bernard Byrd, of Grand Rapids, leads the weekly contest at Maumee Valley Bait and Tackle. A walleye of 8.5 pounds, 28 inches taken by Linton Barber, of Austin, Ind., leads the shop's weekly walleye list.
On western Lake Erie, Maumee Bay is too murky to successfully fish for walleye, thanks to recent easterly winds. It may take well into the weekend or beyond to settle out, though it is thick with fish, said Rick Ferguson at Al Szuch Live Bait.
Anglers who have been vertical jigging with minnows off the reefs, especially around Niagara where water is cleaner, have done well. Trollers east of the Bass Islands have been taking walleye on suspended worm harnesses. Jim Fofrich Jr., and a crew recently took 15 fish up to 311/2 inches, most of then 4 to 10 pounds.
Anglers are reminded that tomorrow and Sunday are designated as free fishing days in Ohio, with no licenses needed for residents.