Bullhead Catfish

Brown Bullhead Illustration by Duane Raver
(Enlarge image)

Scientific Name: Ameiurus nebulosus

Classification: Nongame fish

Abundance: Commonly found in many piedmont and coastal rivers, ponds, and reservoirs.



Black bullhead (illustration by Duane Raver/USFWS)

Yellow bullhead (illustration by Duane Raver/USFWS)

Bullhead from Yadkin River (photo: NCWRC)

State Record Bullhead (photo: 4 pounds, from Greenfield Lake, New Hanover, Co.; Mitchell McConnell on 3/14/2016)



Catfish Management in North Carolina's Southeastern Rivers

Additional Information

Bullhead catfish are extremely abundant in many North Carolina streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. They tolerate a wide variety of habitats, including very muddy water and even low oxygen levels. Although their numbers can be extremely high in many bodies of water, they usually don’t get the attention of other catfish species because of their smaller size. There are four bullhead species that are native in North Carolina: Yellow Bullhead, Brown Bullhead, Flat Bullhead, and Snail Bullhead. Black Bullhead catfish are non-native, and biologists occasionally see them during their routine sampling.

Although these catfish are difficult to identify by species, they are easily separated from other catfish by their lack of a forked tail. Color varies depending on species, but all are characterized by a robust, squatty appearance. Fish experts consider the white catfish a bullhead as well, although anglers can identify it by its white appearance and moderately forked tail.  

Bullhead catfish are considered nongame fish by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. 

All regulations are effective Aug. 1 of each year.

Nongame Fish Size and Creel Limits

Nongame Fish Regulations

Fishing Tips:

Bullhead catfish can be caught by many of the same methods used for other catfish. Worms, minnows, scented baits and hellgrammites fished on or near the bottom work well. Henry David Thoreau probably put it the best when he said, “they will take any kind of bait, from angleworms to a piece of tomato can.”

Places to Fish:

Practically all of the lakes, rivers and streams in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain contain bullhead catfish. The Yadkin River from W. Kerr Scott Reservoir downstream to Idols Dam in Winston Salem holds excellent numbers. Densities below Idols Dam on the Yadkin River are low, probably because of the introduction of flathead catfish. Good bullhead fishing is often not found in rivers and lakes that have flathead catfish since flatheads favor bullhead catfish as food.