Bullheads, from my experience as a mud-bottomed, yellow-bellied nimrod, resemble house cats.
They really don’t care much about anything but their own comfort. They have an itty-bitty mind of their own, and they swim in the slow lane in circles so they don’t get lost.
They’re at the bottom of the fisherman’s preference list, except in Nebraska, where I’ve heard rumors that they’re considered a top game fish.
Until recently on our flatlands, we’ve had what I consider a good balance of wit-matching bullhead fisherman and the bullheads themselves.
But then mega-sports stores opened their gates.
Those big box stores say they have more 250,000 different items, which sure doesn’t bode well for the already challenged Dakota bullhead.
In the past, even if the yellow-bellied fish was a sandwich shy of a shoreline lunch it could compete with the lug-nut sinker fishermen like me. When I was a kid, my tackle box was an empty one-pound Maxwell House coffee can.
We didn’t use fishing poles. We just cranked up our throw lines like David with his slingshot and let fly for the giants that squirmed in the mud on the bottom of prairie stock dams. If you were lucky, your throw-line, weighted down with a pound or two of rusty nuts and bolts, sailed out over the water in slow motion circles.
Accidents did happen, however, and from time to time the missile headed in the opposite direction, toward our old gray ‘36 Chrysler, or toward the spot exactly between the eyes of your beady-eyed little brother standing well back from the cast.
On a successful cast, a fist-full of hook-loaded grasshoppers tied to that twirling, whirling throw-line plunked into the water. It would set a herd of bullheads to licking their lips like dogs at a Methodist picnic.
We used a smelly gunnysack as a creel to hold our catch while we tried to catch some more. Sometimes, we’d get forty or fifty pounds of bullheads, all to be cleaned the old fashioned way, by nailing the critters through the head onto a board, incising the blue skin with a sharp knife to get a pliers-jaw grip on it, and then skinning them head to tail before clearing out the innards.
I don’t imagine you can find a throw line, a gunny sack creel, a Maxwell House coffee tackle box or a set of nut and bolt sinkers at those new sports stores today.
Young, SUV-powered, jog-with-a-dog, sweatband and fanny pack fishermen of today day say it isn’t the catch, but the challenge of the catch, that they pursue.
Sure. Sure. If that were the case, those big box sports stores would be selling bricklayer snap string for throw-lines and ten-foot bamboo fishing poles.
If truth be known, today’s nimrods are in it for the numbers just as we were.
Why else would they put their faith in gimmicks like radar detectors, sonar echo equipment, boats as big as Aretha Franklin, robotic minnows that have bowel movements on demand, trained fish that herd others from isolated spots on the lake to where your line is cast, and three horse-powered motorized reels that plug into their car’s cigarette lighter?
Numbers! That’s why.
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