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Black Bullhead

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


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.


Black Bullhead Distribution

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 often 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 dislike of flowing water limits its abundance in the Missouri River.


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.

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 it easy to remove the hook!


The Black Bullhead lives in a variety 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. 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. It 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.

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:

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Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 9, Mississippi River Allamakee River Mile 647.9 at Lynxville, WI upstream to River Mile 679.2 at Genoa WI. 35169.00
Pool 11, Mississippi River Dubuque River Mile 583 at Dubuque, IA upstream to River Mile 615 at Guttenberg, IA. 19875.00
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
Spirit Lake Dickinson One mile North of Spirit Lake 5684.00
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5340.00
Saylorville Reservoir Polk North edge of Des Moines 4970.00
West Okoboji Lake Dickinson northwest edge of Arnolds Park 3847.00
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 1065.00
Five Island Lake Palo Alto north edge of Emmetsburg 973.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 940.00
West Swan Lake S.W.M.A. Emmet 3m SE Gruver 830.00
Iowa Lake (Emmet Co.) Emmet 6 miles north of Armstrong 802.00
Lake Manawa Pottawattamie Southwest edge of Council Bluffs 784.70
Little River Watershed Lake Decatur 1 mile west of Leon 733.00
Lake Icaria Adams 4 miles north of Corning 648.00
Silver Lake (Palo Alto) Palo Alto 2 miles west of Ayrshire 648.00
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
Swan Lake Dickinson 2m N Superior 371.00
Little Swan Lake Dickinson 371.00
Ingham Lake Emmet 6 miles east of Wallingford 357.00
Middle Sabula Lake Jackson W edge of City of Sabula 350.00
Green Valley Lake Union 2 1/2 miles northwest of Creston 338.00
West Lake (Osceola) Clarke 2 miles west of Osceola 320.00
Independence Impoundment Buchanan Independence 280.00
Badger Creek Lake Madison 5 miles southeast of Van Meter 276.00
Blue Lake Monona 3 miles west of Onawa 275.00
Lizard Lake Pocahontas 275.00
Brinker Lake Black Hawk N edge Waterloo, located within George Wyth State Park. 270.00
Elk Lake Clay 1 mile west, 3 miles south of Ruthven 261.00
Martens Lake Bremer 1 mi E of Tripoli 255.00
Lower Gar Lake Dickinson ½ mile south of Arnolds Park 251.00
Lake Cornelia Wright 3 1/2 miles north, 2 miles east of Clarion 243.00
Summit Lake Union West edge of Creston 230.00
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
Swan Lake Carroll 3 miles southeast of Carroll 120.00
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 This stretch is located in Marshall, Tama, the SW corner of Benton, Iowa, and Johnson County. A popular access is at the Hwy 21 Access, which is part of the Iowa River Corridor Wildlife Area, just south of Belle Plaine. 104.00
Diamond Lake Poweshiek 1 mile West of Montezuma 98.00
Lake of Three Fires Taylor 3 miles northeast of Bedford 97.00
RAPP Park Lakes Page north edge of Shenandoah 95.00
West Twin Lake Hancock 3 miles east of Kanawha 93.00
Morse Lake Wright 3 1/2 miles west of Belmond 90.00
Cedar Lake Madison 2 miles northeast of Winterset 90.00
Turkey River (above Clermont) Fayette This section of river includes the headwaters in Howard county and flows through Winneshiek and Fayette Counties. A popular access is at Vernon Springs Park just 2.5 miles southwest of Cresco. 89.00
Wapsipinicon River (state line to Tripoli) Chickasaw This section includes Bremer, Chickasaw, Howard and Mitchell County. Twin Ponds Park has good access to the Wapsi River and is about 5 miles southeast of Ionia. 88.00
Lake Keomah Mahaska 6 miles east of Oskaloosa in Lake Keomah State Park 78.00
Binder Lake Adams 1 mile northeast of Corning 76.00
Winnebago River Floyd Located in Winnebago, Hancock, Worth, Cerro Gordo, and Floyd Counties. A good access point is East Park in Mason City. It offers excellent shore access to the river and a good starting point for a float trip down to the Averydale Access. 72.00
Iowa River (Iowa Falls to Marshalltown) Marshall This stretch is located in Hardin and Marshall County. A popular access is located in Pine Lake State Park, just east of Eldora on County Road S56. 66.00
Big Sioux Recreation Area Sioux 65.00
Missouri River (Sioux City to Little Sioux) Harrison Chris Larsen Park: 1280 Larsen Park Road/Sioux City, IA. Located on the Sioux City riverfront along the Missouri River. Larsen Park offers 110 acres on the Sioux City Riverfront. Managed by the City of Sioux City. 64.00
Cedar River (above Nashua) Floyd This stretch is found in Chickasaw, Floyd, and Mitchell Counties. A popular multi-use location is the Charles City Whitewater Park in downtown Charles City on Hwy 14. 63.00
Cardinal Marsh Winneshiek Located off of 345th Ave or County Line Rd about 3 miles southeast of Cresco. 62.00
Crawford Creek Impoundment Ida 3 1/2 miles south of Battle Creek 62.00
Missouri River (Council Bluffs to state line) Fremont Lake Manawa State Park: 1100 South Shore Drive/Council Bluffs, IA 51501 phone: 712-366-0220. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Lake Manawa State Park has boat ramps on the Missouri River within the park. 61.00
Atlantic Quarry Pond 3 Cass 60.90
Alice Wyth Lake Black Hawk Located on north edge of Waterloo in George Wyth State Park. 60.00
South Skunk River (Cambridge to Pella) Marion A hard surface access is located South of Cambridge on the north side of Highway 210, 3 miles east of Interstate 35. 58.00
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
Cedar River (La Porte City to Cedar Rapids) Linn This stretch is located in Benton and Linn County. A popular river access is in the Dudgeon Lake Wildlife Area right of Hwy 150 on the North side of Vinton. 56.00
Greenfield Lake Adair 1 mile southwest of Greenfield 56.00
Big Woods Lake Black Hawk Northwest edge of Cedar Falls 55.00
Cedar River (Cedar Rapids to Moscow) Cedar This stretch is found in Linn and Cedar County. A popular access is found in Palisades State Park which is on Hwy 30 between Cedar Rapids and Mount Vernon. 55.00
Wapsipinicon River (Troy Mills to Oxford Junction) Jones This stretch is located in Linn and Jones County. A popular access on this stretch is in Pinicon Ridge Park, just off Hwy 13 by Central City. 53.00
Missouri River (Little Sioux to Council Bluffs) Pottawattamie Wilson Island State Recreation Area: 32801 Campground Lane/Missouri Valley, IA 51555 phone-712-642-2069. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wilson Island Recreation Area has 544 acres along the Missouri River near Missouri Valley Iowa. 53.00
Des Moines River (Saylorville to Red Rock) Marion A mid-section access point for this stretch of river is at the Pleasant Hill Boat Ramp. This ramp is located on SE Vandalia Drive immediately east of Highway 65. 50.00
Lake Hendricks Howard Located 0.5 miles northeast of Riceville. 47.40
Avenue of the Saints Pond Bremer 2m SW Waverly 41.00
Vernon Springs Impoundment Howard Located 2.5 miles southwest of Cresco. 39.40
Upper Gar Lake Dickinson east of Arnolds Park 36.00
Hooper Area Pond Warren 6 miles southwest of Indianola 35.00
Pierce Creek Pond Page 5 miles north of Shenandoah 33.00
North Raccoon River (Perry to Van Meter) Dallas A mid-section access point for this section of river is at the Highway 44 Access 4 miles west of Dallas Center. 31.00
Iowa River (Coralville Lake to River Junction) Johnson This stretch is located in Johnson County. A popular access is the Tailwater East Ramp located right below the Coralville Lake Dam, East of North Liberty and Coralville. 29.00
Mohawk Park Lake Linn East side of the Cedar River off J Ave. 26.00
Plainfield Lake Bremer 25.00
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
Green Belt Lake Black Hawk W edge Waterloo 19.00
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