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Usually dark olive to black on the body, although it becomes light brown in some waters. The belly is usually white, but the color varies, and the belly is bright yellow in certain lakes and larger rivers, 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.
Statewide. The Black Bullhead is 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 can be found in 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 common in the backwaters and some sloughs of the Mississippi River, but its aversion to flowing water limits its abundance in the Missouri River.
Any available animal or plant materials
5 lb 8 oz.; 22 in. - Hamilton County, Farm Pond, June 1986 - Michael Hurd, Ellsworth, Iowa
1/2 a night crawler is bullhead candy - use long shank hooks to make hook removal easy!
The Black Bullhead lives in 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 almost all size streams. The largest populations are in low-gradient segments of small to moderate sized streams. They are often found in quiet silt-bottomed backwater areas and pools away from strong currents, living in water with 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. They build saucer-shaped nests in the mud or sand in about 2 to 4 feet of water. These nests are 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 almost 2 inches long and leave their parents to care for themselves. The Black Bullhead is usually the smallest-sized bullhead, but in larger lakes of northern Iowa some reach two pounds or more. In streams or lakes where food is scarce and the population density is high, they are much smaller and seldom more than 7- to 9-inches.
The Black Bullhead is strictly omnivorous, eating almost everything in the water. Midge and mayfly larvae make up most of the diet, but it also eats other insects and their larvae, small crayfish, worms, small mollusks, crustaceans, and many other animals and plants. Bullheads eat the eggs of other fishes, as well as feeding extensively on minnows. Fathead minnow,abundant 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