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Yellow Bullhead

Yellow Bullhead, Photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Fish and Wildlife Information System


Light olive-brown to yellow on top, with a white or cream belly. It can be immediately distinguished from other bullheads by the white or cream-colored barbels or whiskers on the chin. The tail is rounded. There are 24 to 27, usually 25 or 26, rays in the anal fin.


Yellow Bullhead Distribution

Primarily a species of lakes and ponds; abundant nowhere in the state. Taken occasionally in the flowing water of major interior rivers and the Mississippi River, but favors clear water. Occasionally found in the man-made lakes, farm ponds and oxbow lakes.


Yellow Bullheads are somewhat more selective in their feeding than other bullheads, but the principal foods are insects and larvae, crustaceans, small mollusks, crayfish, and small fishes.

State Record

2 lbs 6 oz, 15.20 in. - Little River Watershed Lake, Decatur County, September 28, 2018 - Troy Dibbern, Wilton, Iowa

Expert Tip

Use a nightcrawler fished on the bottom.


Yellow Bullhead are found in clear streams, rivers, overflow pools, lakes and reservoirs. It prefers streams with permanent flow, but avoids strong currents.

Spawning activity takes place in May and early June in water from 1 1/2 to 4 feet deep. Males build nests and female deposits 2,000 to 7,000 eggs. Eggs hatch in 5 to 10 days, and the fry are guarded by the parent fish until late July or August. They reach about 3-inches long at the end of the first year and mature in the third year of life. Individuals weighing as much as 2-pounds are taken from the Mississippi River.

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.

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Fish and Wildlife Information System.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
West Okoboji Lake Dickinson northwest edge of Arnolds Park 3847.00
East Okoboji Lake Dickinson east edge of Okoboji 1835.00
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
Lake Manawa Pottawattamie Southwest edge of Council Bluffs 784.70
Lake Icaria Adams 4 miles north of Corning 648.00
Twelve Mile Creek Lake Union 4 miles east of Creston 635.00
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
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
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
Union Grove Lake Tama 4 miles South of Gladbrook 100.00
Cedar Lake Madison 2 miles northeast of Winterset 90.00
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
East Nodaway River Page 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
Nine Eagles Lake Decatur 3 1/2 miles southeast of Davis City 62.00
Greenfield Lake Adair 1 mile southwest of Greenfield 56.00
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
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
McKinley Lake Union 42.80
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
Swan Lake Johnson 4 miles Northwest of North Liberty 30.00
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
Plainfield Lake Bremer 25.00
Bartlett Lake Fremont ½ mile west of Bartlett 22.00
Eldred Sherwood Lake Hancock 3 miles east, 1 mile north of Goodell 21.00
Green Belt Lake Black Hawk W edge Waterloo 19.00
Orient Lake Adair 1 mile southwest of Orient 16.00
Carney Marsh Polk Located on the North side of SE 54th St., Ankeny 14.30
Ambroson Pit (north) Winnebago 3 1/2 miles north of Forest City 4.28
West Lake (Lenox) Taylor 1 mile north of Lenox 3.00