Horned pout aren’t the best looking fish in the world, but that doesn’t mean they don’t taste good. Let this be your guide to filling your stringer with these ugly — yet tasty — critters.
Horned pout — or bullhead, as they are sometimes called — are one of the easiest fish in the state to catch. Avid fisherman Bryan Connelly of Northwood boasts that he once caught 15 in one night.
A catch like that is perfectly legal because bullheads are among the least restricted freshwater fish. According to the New Hampshire’s Fishing Digest, a publication distributed by the N.H. Fish & Game Department, there are no size limits or limits on how many can be caught — year-round.
And what makes that better, according to Connelly: “Horned pout is really good, it’s right up there with trout. There is just so much meat,” he said.
Gabe Gries of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department describes bullhead as more of a “prize eating fish than a game fish, but if you get a monster, then you get a good fight.”
Bullhead fishing is often done at night, but it pays to attract them to a fishing site during the evening by “chumming,” throwing out bait or something bait-like before fishing.
One chumming technique is to place dry dog food and a baseball sized stone in a burlap bag. Tie the bag with a long rope and toss the bag as far as possible into the water letting the rope follow the bag. Later on, pull the bag out of the water using the rope. The scent of the dog food will get the attention of the fish.
According to John F. Scarola, author of “Freshwater Fishes of New Hampshire,” the brown bull head is a “notorious scavenger and will eat anything edible including dead fish and garbage.” However, it eats many live foods as well, such as earthworms and crayfish.
For tackle, a light rod and reel is best and a hook, preferably size 1. Some people like long shank hooks because they make hook removal easier. For line, a monofilament, 6-8 pound test is more than enough.
Also, bring along:
• A bag of splitshots (weights).
• Bait: worms, bacon, crayfish, chicken, practically anything.
• A flashlight or lantern for night fishing.
When Connelly fishes, he uses only a line, bait, weights and a hook. This method is called using a “drop line.” Drop lines can be used from a boat or a dock by simply dropping a baited hook into the water.
After chumming, take the rod and reel out to the chosen spot, tie the hook to the line and pinch a weight or two about two-feet above the hook. Add the bait and cast out toward the chum bag.
Then wait; the name of the game is patience.
The bullheads tend to bite very gently. When you first detect a bite, hold the line between your thumb and your index finger. Gently pull the line until it is taut. When the fish begins to pull steadily, raise your rod tip in a sudden motion — this is called setting the hook.
If you are lucky enough (or skilled enough) to catch a bunch, cleaning them can be tricky. The fish are prickly because the spine is located on the dorsal and pectoral fins — on the outside of the fish. The spine is sharp and can deliver a nasty cut, which can lead to an equally nasty infection.
Horned pout is a tender, mild fish, and there are many cooking options: sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and fry it in a cast iron skillet, grill it, coat it in flour and cornmeal and cook it in a frying pan in bacon drippings. Most fish cookbooks can provide recipes.
New Hampshire Fishing Licenses costs $31 for residents and $47 for non-residents. A $2.50 habitat fee is also tacked on to both types of license.