It wasn't so long ago that I was enthralled by bullheads. My dad often wondered why and to this day I really couldn't tell you with certainty what it was that made the species so attractive. Maybe it was the heft of the fish, so much larger than the sunfish regularly caught from the dock or possibly due to the charm of its unique attributes; tiny eyes, whiskers and the infamous spines that were said to be poisonous, at least in folklore to gullible young anglers.
Today if you happen to venture into my kindergarten classroom, you'll notice a large aquarium with native fish species that rotate annually. One year there were sunfish, another harbored muskie fingerlings, but none have held the interest of the 17, 2-inch long bullheads a few years back. The aquarium glass had to be constantly cleaned from handprints and smudges where noses were flattened against the clear pane in an attempt to gain better perspective.
One year a largemouth bass was the sole residence in the tank, which worked out well since I was introducing kids to angling through a community education class on fishing. The first two sessions were held in the classroom and the largemouth bass was a focal point for learning about fish body parts and behavior.
After some training in knot tying, lure selection, casting and safety, the youth participants were placed in pairs and trios and scheduled for actual fishing trips on the water, a hands-on approach to angling instruction. Besides, there really isn't a better way to teach a child to fish than to actually take them fishing!
One particular morning found two young boys partnered with me, 6-year-olds, who were enthusiastic, yet a little sleepy at 7 a.m. Fortunately the action was rapid and our time quickly became filled with bite after bite and fight after fight from quality fish. In two hours the three of us caught over 25 largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern, and walleye, a great morning to say the least.
One of the boys also caught what most people refer to as a rough fish, but remains the Holy Grail of freshwater inhabitants to a youngster - a bullhead! Neither one wanted to throw it back, even though there had been no second thoughts about releasing anything else. It was studied, examined, poked and prodded, more or less given a fish physical.
After finally tossing the bullhead back into the lake, we returned to the dock to meet each child's parents. Needless to say, the two were obviously excited to offer an oral recount of the day's catch to the adults. After landing over 50 pounds of quality gamefish, the boys definitely had bragging rights that day. Yet when asked by the anticipating grown-ups about their catch, both boys never mentioned the walleye, bass or northern pike, but instead enthusiastically cheered, "We caught a bullhead!"
It's hard not to smile when imagining how your outlook upon various fishing trips throughout the course of life may have changed if each angler had only gotten that excited over a bullhead.
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