how big do bullhead catfish get

How Big do Bullhead Catfish Get, on Average?

Like most things in the world, there are several different types of catfish – nearly 3,000 different species to be exact! Naturally, they come in all shapes and sizes.

So how big do bullhead catfish get? On average, bullhead catfish grow to be roughly in the one to two pound range.

Keep reading to learn about different types of bullhead catfish, how fast bullhead catfish grow, record-setting bullhead catfish caught in the wild, and whether or not they’re good eatin’. 🙂

Types of Bullhead Catfish

The bullhead catfish falls under the genus Ameiurus. There are a total of seven species recognized in this particular genus:

  • Snail Bullhead
  • White Bullhead
  • Black Bullhead
  • Yellow Bullhead
  • Brown Bullhead
  • Flat Bullhead
  • Spotted Bullhead

The three most common types of bullhead catfish found in North America are the Black, Brown and Yellow Bullhead. You’ll find that, among the three, the average size and weight will vary.

The Yellow and Brown Bullheads will grow to be somewhere around 1.5 feet long. In contrast, the Black Bullhead may reach somewhere around 2 feet in length.

Black Bullhead

The Black Bullhead is considered the largest of the Bullhead catfish. These fish typically weigh in at about 1- to 2 pounds, and you will almost never find one larger than 4 pounds. The average length is somewhere between 8-14 inches. The largest specimen ever studied was a whopping 24 inches. The Black Bullhead is characterized by its black or dark brown dorsal side and its white or yellow ventral side.

It may be difficult to distinguish the Black Bullhead from the Brown Bullhead due to their similar appearance. Depending on the area it is caught in, where both Black and Brown Bullheads may inhabit, it may be nearly impossible to tell the difference between the two without getting extremely up close and personal.

Brown Bullhead

The Brown Bullhead can grow up to 21 inches, with most adults ranging in sizes from 7.9 inches to about 19 inches. Adults usually weigh in the neighborhood of 1.7 pounds, but have been known to reach weights as high as about 8 pounds.

In most cases, they won’t grow larger than 2 pounds, but the current world record is 7.375 pounds. You can identify a Brown Bullhead by its yellow-black chin whiskers and the missing bar at the base of the tail.

On occasion, you may hear the Brown Bullhead referred to as a “mud cat” (yes, like the Minor League North Carolina baseball team). This is because Brown Bullheads usually prefer to live in lakes or murky waters and are known to be bottom feeders. They thrive in the dark, muddy waters and are not overly popular among fisherman.

Yellow Bullhead

Yellow Bullheads are considered to be the medium-sized catfish of the family. They rarely grow to be larger than 2 pounds, but have been known to grow as large as 4 pounds. With an average lifespan of about 12 years, Yellow Bullheads grow to be anywhere between 6 and 14 inches.

You can easily identify the Yellow Bullhead by its white whiskers. It is easy to distinguish from the Black and Brown Bullhead due to its light yellow sides. The underside of the head and body can be bright yellow, yellowish white, or bright white. Also bottom-feeding catfish, you’ll usually find Yellow Bullheads in murky areas or areas that have rocky or sandy terrain.

How Fast do Bullhead Catfish Grow?

So we know how big they can get, but how long does it take bullheads to reach their full size? Of course, it varies by type!

Black Bullhead – the Black Bullhead will grow faster and larger in an environment that is not overrun by other catfish. Overly populated areas will inhibit growth. Most Black Bullheads will reach a length of about 4 inches within the first year of life. They should reach their full length by the time they are five years old.

Yellow Bullhead – The Yellow Bullhead will grow to about 3 inches in length by the end of their first year of live, reaching their full length by the time they are three or four years old.

Brown Bullhead – Like the Black Bullhead, the Brown Bullhead will grow better and at a faster rate when in an environment with fewer fish. They can grow up to 5 inches in their first year and will usually reach full length by the time they are five years old.

What is the Biggest Bullhead Catfish Ever Caught?

The biggest bullhead catfish ever caught weighed in at a hefty 8 pounds 2 ounces.

The world record setting Black Bullhead was caught in New York State in August of 2015.

Are Bullhead Catfish Good to Eat?

There are mixed opinions on whether or not bullhead catfish are good to eat. The perception is that the bullhead will taste muddy and be unappetizing due to the areas they tend to thrive in.

The truth is, bullhead catfish are just as good as channel catfish. As long as the catfish is caught when the weather is cooler and from fresh,  clear water, they are perfect for your fish fry! If you do happen to catch a bullhead in its typical environment, you can combat the potential for a muddy flavor by soaking it in fresh water for a couple of days prior to eating. Soaking will cleanse the meat and remove any unsavory flavors.

Be sure to clean and the fish properly. This should be an easy task considering bullheads actually do not have scales! Once it is cleaned and soaked, just throw some flour on it and it’s ready for the fryer! While most recipes will say that they are best enjoyed fried, they can also be used in an alternative recipe such as baked or in a stew.

Black and Brown Bullhead meat should be a reddish-pink color. It is not really recommended to eat the meat of the Yellow Bullhead unless it has been caught in very clean water.

Because most catfish tend to feed at night, you’ll have better luck fishing for them when they are most active. The best times will be during any low-light hours: after sunset or before sunrise. While the usual bait consists of regular angle worms or nightcrawlers, they will eat just about anything you put on the end of your hook!

Why are Bullheads Bad?

In terms of being “bad”, North American bullheads are not dangerous to humans. Their spines do contain a mild poison, but it is essentially harmless. The most you will experience if poked by a spine is a burning or stinging sensation, reminiscent of a bee sting, that could last for several hours.

It is important to be aware of the species of catfish you are fishing for and to take note of what part of the world you are in. In other places around the world, you may encounter other catfish which do have a very highly toxic venom that is extremely dangerous to humans. It is highly recommended that you seek immediate medical attention if you have been stung by the spine of one of these catfish.

While not normally overly aggressive, catfish can become defensive, so tread carefully when handling one! Your best bet is to wear a pair of gloves, as most catfish stings occur on the hands. These catfish can also stay alive outside of the water for several hours, so take care to not get bitten.

A more prevalent issue with bullheads is the inconvenience they may cause for some fishermen. While bullheads can be a good time for beginner fishermen practicing catch and release, they can also cause some problems. The bullheads tend to compete with the channel catfish and stir up the water. This causes the water to become turbulent and will make it more difficult for fishers trying to catch channel catfish. It is usually not recommended to stock them in a pond unless the sole purpose of the pond is to practice catch and release.

Conclusion: How Big do Bullhead Catfish Get?

To sum it all up, bullhead catfish come in a variety of shapes and sizes. While the average sizes fall in the one to two pound range, this can vary depending on a number of factors, the biggest being environment.

If you are looking for a bullhead of a specific size, it is best to research its individual habitat and decide where to fish from there!