Black Bullhead

Black Bullhead, illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


Black Bullhead are usually dark olive to black on the body, although in some waters it becomes light brown. Usually the belly is white, but here again the color is variable, and in certain lakes and larger rivers the belly is bright yellow, especially in early spring and during the breeding season. The chin barbels are dusky or black. This fish can be distinguished from the other bullheads by the light colored band at the base of the tail and the 17 to 20 rays in the anal fin. The tail fin is slightly notched, and the outer two-thirds of the fleshy membrane of the anal fin is uniformly black or dark-pigmented. The backside of the pectoral spine is weakly barbed. This fish is rarely mottled in color.


Black Bullhead Distribution

Statewide. The Black Bullhead is by far the most common and widely distributed of the three bullhead species found in Iowa. It is abundant in most of the natural lakes and in some man-made lakes. It is a common inhabitant of many farm ponds and is taken less frequently in some of the oxbow lakes that overflow from the major interior rivers. Black Bullheads are occasional to common in the river impoundments, although they are usually rare in flowing waters. It is quite common in the backwaters and some sloughs of the Mississippi River, but its apparent aversion to flowing water limits its abundance in the Missouri River.


Any available animal or plant materials

State Record

5 lb 8 oz.; 22 in. - Hamilton County, Farm Pond, June 1986 - Michael Hurd, Ellsworth, Iowa

Expert Tip

1/2 a night crawler is bullhead candy - use long shank hooks to make hook removal easy!


The Black Bullhead inhabits a wide range of aquatic habitats including; backwaters, oxbows, sloughs, bayous, swamps, marshes, ponds, natural lakes, reservoirs, pools of intermittent streams, and tributary confluences. It is found in virtually all stream size classes. The largest populations tend to occur in low-gradient segments of small to moderate sized streams. They are often found in quiet silt-bottomed backwater areas and pools of away from strong currents, inhabiting water having low diversity of fish fauna. They are tolerant of siltation, pollution, high temperatures as well as areas with low oxygen levels.

The Black Bullhead spawns in May or early June, usually in weedy or muddy shallow areas. Saucer-shaped nests are constructed in the mud or sand in about 2 to 4 feet of water. These nests range from about 6 to 14 inches in diameter and up to l0 inches deep. The number of eggs deposited depends on the age and size of the female, but the average is about 2,000 to 6,000, or more. Incubation is completed in a week or less under normal conditions. The young fry stay in tight black, ball-like schools until they reach nearly 2 inches in length, at which time they leave their parents to shift for themselves. The Black Bullhead is usually the smallest-sized bullhead, but in larger lakes of northern Iowa some reach a weight of two pounds or more. The record fish in Iowa came from a farm pond in Hamilton County and weighed 4 pounds, l2 ounces. In streams or lakes where food is scarce and the population density is quite high, they are much smaller and seldom exceed 7 to 9 inches.

The Black Bullhead is strictly omnivorous, feeding upon nearly every conceivable thing in the water. Midge and mayfly larvae make up a considerable part of the diet, but it also feeds extensively on other insects and their larvae, small crayfish, worms, small mollusks, crustaceans, and a host of other animals and plants. Bullheads have been known to eat the eggs of other fishes, as well as feeding quite extensively on minnows. Fathead minnow, an abundant form in most Iowa lakes and streams, is of particular importance in their diet.

Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.


Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.

Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames.

Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing

Present in these Iowa water bodies:
Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 18, Mississippi River Louisa Amenities listed are for the Toolsboro Ramp. The ramp at Toolsboro is paved but the road to the ramp is gravel. There is some shore fishing along the parking area and at the outlet of Lake Odessa. Amenities vary by location in pool 18 13300.00
Pool 16, Mississippi River Scott The amenities list are for Buffalo Shores campground in Buffalo, Iowa. Amenities at other locations in Pool 16 vary by location. 13000.00
Big Spirit Lake Dickinson 1m N Spirit Lake 5684.00
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5280.00
Saylorville Reservoir Polk North edge of Des Moines 4970.00
Lake Odessa Louisa 5 miles east of Wapello 3000.00
Tuttle Lake Emmet 1 mile east, 2 miles north of Dolliver 2268.00
East Okoboji Lake Dickinson east edge of Okoboji 1835.00
Trumbull Lake Clay 4 miles west, 5 miles north of Ruthven 1183.00
Lost Island Lake Palo Alto 3 miles north of Ruthven 1162.00
Silver Lake (Dickinson) Dickinson west edge of Lake Park 1041.00
Rice Lake Winnebago 1 mile south, 1 mile east of Lake Mills 1000.00
Five Island Lake Palo Alto north edge of Emmetsburg 973.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 940.00
Iowa Lake Emmet 6 miles north of Armstrong 802.00
Lake Manawa Pottawattamie Southwest edge of Council Bluffs 747.00
Lake Icaria Adams 4 miles north of Corning 648.00
Silver Lake (Palo Alto) Palo Alto 2 miles west of Ayrshire 648.00
Twelve Mile Creek Lake Union 4 miles east of Creston 635.00
Little Spirit Lake Dickinson 4 miles north of Orleans 604.00
South Twin Lake Calhoun 4 miles North of Rockwell City 600.00
Green Island Lake Jackson 1m E green Island 526.00
High Lake Emmet 6 miles east of Wallingford 467.00
Rock Creek Lake Jasper 4 miles northeast of Kellogg 466.20
Elm Lake Wright 5 miles Northeast of Clarion 458.00
North Twin Lake Calhoun 4 miles north of Rockwell City 453.00
West Swan Lake S.W.M.A. Emmet 3m SE Gruver 379.00
Swan Lake Dickinson 2m N Superior 371.00
Ingham Lake Emmet 6 miles east of Wallingford 357.00
Lizard Lake Pocahontas 275.00
Blue Lake Monona 3 miles west of Onawa 269.00
Elk Lake Clay 1 mile west, 3 miles south of Ruthven 261.00
Middle Sabula Lake Jackson W edge Sabula 260.00
Martens Lake Bremer 1 mi E of Tripoli 255.00
Lower Gar Lake Dickinson ½ mile south of Arnolds Park 251.00
Summit Lake Union West edge of Creston 250.00
Lake Cornelia Wright 3 1/2 miles north, 2 miles east of Clarion 243.00
Center Lake Dickinson 2 miles west, 1/2 miles south of Spirit Lake 220.00
Burt Lake Kossuth 4 miles west, 8 miles north of Swea City 200.00
Marble Lake Dickinson 4 miles North of Spirit Lake 173.00
Pickeral Lake Buena Vista 7 miles northwest of Marathon 170.00
Diamond Lake Dickinson 2 miles east, 2 miles north of Montgomery 143.00
West Nishnabotna River Fremont 121.00
Minnewashta Lake Dickinson 1/2 mile south of Arnolds Park 118.00
Silver Lake Marsh Worth 109.00
Iowa River (Marshalltown to Coralville Lake) Iowa 104.00
Swan Lake Carroll 3 miles southeast of Carroll 100.00
Diamond Lake Poweshiek 1 mile West of Montezuma 98.00
West Twin Lake Hancock 3 miles east of Kanawha 93.00
Morse Lake Wright 3 1/2 miles west of Belmond 90.00
Lake Keomah Mahaska 6 miles east of Oskaloosa 78.00
Lake of Three Fires Taylor 3 miles northeast of Bedford 72.00
Crawford Creek Impoundment Ida 3 1/2 miles south of Battle Creek 62.00
Atlantic Quarry Pond 3 Cass 60.90
Sands Timber Lake (Blockton Reservoir) Taylor 1 mile northwest of Blockton 60.00
Des Moines River (Stratford to Saylorville Lake) Polk The Highway 30 Access is in the middle of this river section and is located 3 miles west of Boone on the north side of Highway 30. 57.00
Little Sioux River (Correctionville to Missouri R) Harrison Little Sioux Park, 2 miles SW of Correctionville, Woodberry County Conservation Board 57.00
Greenfield Lake Adair 1 mile southwest of Greenfield 56.00
Des Moines River (Saylorville to Red Rock) Marion 50.00
Lake Hendricks Howard Located 0.5 miles northeast of Riceville. 40.00
Upper Gar Lake Dickinson east of Arnolds Park 36.00
Hooper Area Pond Warren 6 miles southwest of Indianola 33.80
Iowa River (Coralville Lake to River Junction) Johnson 29.00
Mohawk Park Lake Linn East side of the Cedar River off J Ave. 26.00
Mill Creek (Lake) O'Brien 1 mile east of Paullina 23.00
Bartlett Lake Fremont ½ mile west of Bartlett 22.00
Interstate Park Lake Franklin 1 mile west, 2 mile south of I-35 & Hwy 3 20.00
Murphy Lake Linn 1 mile Northwest of Bertram on the West side of Highway 13 20.00
East Lake (Lenox) Taylor 1/2 mile north of Lenox 18.00
Orient Lake Adair 1 mile southwest of Orient 16.00
Larson Lake Cherokee 2 1/2 miles east, 2 miles north of Aurelia 12.00
Thayer Lake Union 1 mile south of Thayer 11.00
Miller Poweshiek On the Southeast edge of Grinnell 10.00
Scharnberg Pond Clay 3m E Everly 10.00
East Bergfeld Dubuque 10.00
Hacklebarney West Montgomery 4 miles north of Villisca 4.80
Ambroson Pit (north) Winnebago 3 1/2 miles north of Forest City 4.28
Iranistan Pond Cass 5 1/2 miles north of Griswold 3.00
Wapsi River Trout Section Mitchell Located 0.5 mile west of McIntire. 2.50
Ashton Park Pond Osceola 2.00