All the lakes are open in our part of the state and when that happens I look back to the days when the bullhead was king of early season fishing. As a kid there were a few times when my uncle Harvey would take me with him to Pickerel Lake to fish bullheads. In those days folks learned about any area fish bite strictly by word of mouth.
Spring is when the bullheads are the best eating and that is also when the bite is usually the best. I can remember how folks would line the shore of Pickerel Lake and the cars would be lined up along the roadside on Highway 69. All of the "old timers" would await the day that ice out occurred so that they could pursue that whiskered fish. I can remember how pumped up my father-in-law Orv Johnson would be when one of his card playing buddies at the Twin Lakes Liquor Store would tell him about the latest hot spot where those big old yellow bellies were biting.
I have to say when I was growing up the bullhead was, beyond a doubt, the most abundant fish in the area. There was actually nothing better than a meal of early season bullhead pan fried and served with fried potatoes and Van Camp's pork & beans; yum, yum, mighty tasty. A lot of rural bars and service clubs would hold bullhead feeds and smelt feeds, both of which have become pretty much a thing of the past.
As a kid I paid my dues like all of the other kids who fished the whiskered one; that is getting stung by the dreaded stingers that the bullhead has which inevitably end up poking even the most careful fisherman. It wasn’t just a poke, but something that would stay with you for awhile, just as a reminder that you had been had by the bullhead.
Every once in a while I look back and remember fondly those days gone by and more importantly I wonder where are the bullhead? Folks used to also line the shores of Albert Lea Lake, especially by the Jugland Dam. Catching the whiskered one was pretty simple and there used to be an abundance of them. I know that times have changed and you won't find a guy in a $30,000 bass boat bobber fishing bullhead but they should still eat as good today as they did years ago. Bobber fishing was a favorite for a lot of bullhead fishermen & women but using a simple hook and sinker with a gob of worms letting it lay on the bottom was pretty darned effective; if you didn’t get snagged up on the bottom. When I worked at Conger Creamery me and a couple of my co-workers would go to Pickerel Lake and fish at night. We’d start a bonfire, cast out a gob of worms and wait for the line to go tight. It was simple fun that yielded results without a whole lot of effort.
I’d noticed a gradual decrease in the number of bullheads where I kept a seasonal camper on Lake Tetonka in Waterville. The year before I moved the camper up north I talked to some folks from Iowa who came up to the lake each year to fish bullhead for their annual feed. They’d said that the bullhead numbers had declined so bad that they had to go to the Morristown Dam to get their fish. On that same note they also said that the city of Waterville had folks fishing in Morristown so that they could have fish for bullhead days. Not a good thing for a town that called itself "the bullhead capitol of the world".
I spoke with a gentleman who has lived on Albert Lea Lake for many years and he told me that he used to catch a lot of bullheads every spring while fishing off his dock. He said that now he’s lucky to catch any. I am no marine biologist so I won’t guess as to what has caused the decline but I would sure be interested in finding out. I know that during my last few years at Best Point Resort on Tetonka Lake I would occasionally see a bullhead swimming just below the surface with a sore on its side. There could very well have been a disease of some sort that took its toll on that species. I am sure that the bullhead population or lack thereof is not at the top of the DNR list of things to worry about.
Speaking of a fish of a different color; I have seen some folks catching perch while fishing from the Front Street Bridge and I have also heard of folks catching and releasing some nice walleye while fishing the channel below the dam on Bridge Street.
I plan on taking a few days and heading up to the cabin to check and see how many trees are down and if the cabin survived the winter. I could wait until the opener but the little kid inside of me wants to get up there and like I do with my grandkids I will probably give in to the old kid’s wishes.
Until next time, it's a good time to drop a line in for some perch and panfish.
and, who knows, you may even catch a nice mess of bullhead. If you don't want to fish, it's still a great time to take a walk or ride your bike around the lake.
Remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers. They are the reason that we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.