Dick Herfindahl: Bullheads and the cold water of spring

Published 6:31 pm Friday, March 29, 2019

Woods & Water by Dick Herfindahl


I had become tired of opening each column with news about bad weather, which by the way, was really not news to those of us that had been experiencing it. In looking back, I have to say it could have been a lot worse. We could have gotten weather like in Nebraska where flooding has devastated a large part of the state. In looking ahead, I hope the warmer weather holds. I read somewhere that we were actually lucky because when the temperatures fell into the 20s at night it slowed the thaw to a more gradual one.

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Speaking of looking back, I was doing that exact same thing just the other day as I looked back on my days as a youth. I can remember the excitement of the spring thaw and the fun that I would have playing by the ditch in front of our house when it was filled almost to the edge of the road with fast flowing water.

Once the flowing water had subsided and the “crick” had returned to a somewhat normal level, I would focus on hanging out at “the Bridge” looking for any sign of aquatic life. If my memory serves me right, I believe the minnows were the first to arrive in giant schools followed by the tadpoles. I would watch diligently at the wonder of nature as the tadpoles grew legs and gradually developed into frogs.

It was always exciting to see a school of bullheads as they swam by on their way to Goose Lake. As spring progressed us kids would keep a constant watch out for any signs of gamefish such as crappie, sunfish or pike. In those days it was not a common happening to see a northern in that water, but every now and then one or two would appear. When this would happen, it definitely got the adrenaline flowing in a young prospective outdoorsman. I always enjoyed watching as a school of minnows passed under the bridge, but when there was a gamefish sighting it would bring the excitement to another level. 

When I look back at those days I can remember fishing for bullheads in the spring, which was the best time to get them. They tasted really good when you caught them out of the cold water of spring. I can recall going with my uncle Harvey to Pickerel Lake and fishing bullheads from shore. We would park on the west shoulder right along Highway 69. Folks would drive up from Iowa to fish for the “whiskered ones” and would go home with dozens of them in their trunk.

Later on, after my wife and I were married, we would go with my father-in-law and mother-in-law to fish bullheads in various bodies of water around the area. We fished lower Twin lake, State Line Lake, the Cowboy’s pond south of Twin Lakes, where we would catch huge yellow-bellied fish. There was also another pond north of Emmons which had been stocked with crappie.

When we fished bullheads we would throw them in a 5-gallon pail, and when we had caught what my in-laws considered “enough” we would head to Twin Lakes and clean them. I had actually gotten to be fairly good at cleaning them and was pretty good at avoiding the stinger (most of the time). After the cleaning was done Shirley, my mother-in-law, would fry those fish up along with some potatoes and of course, the meal would not be complete without a can of VanCamp’s pork and beans.  I can still remember those fish fry’s and how good they were, simple and mighty tasty I might add.

Today, you just don’t see many bullheads being caught. If you do catch one, it usually doesn’t really have any size to it. I have to wonder what has happened to all of the bullheads? In Waterville, the self-proclaimed Bullhead Capital of the World, they hold a Bullhead Days celebration each year. A few years ago they had to go to the Morristown Dam to catch them so they have enough for their feed. I haven’t attended that celebration in a few years, so I don’t really know what the bullhead situation is today.

I had mentioned this a few years ago in one of my columns and I had a gentleman call me and tell me how he lived on Albert Lea Lake and how he would sit on his dock in the spring and fill up a 5-gallon pail with bullheads. He said that now he could sit there all morning and maybe catch one or two if he was lucky.

Lakes change when rough fish take over. Whenever that happens the end result is never good. This is the primary reason why the DNR had decided to draw Geneva Lake down. Hopefully it will kill off the rough fish and the lake will become not only a good waterfowl hunting lake but also a healthy and viable fishery.

The time is getting closer for the Governor’s Fishing Opener and fishing hosts are still needed.

We are getting closer to our goal, but we are very much in need of “fishermen” to sign up as boat hosts. We haven’t quite reached the number of hosts needed to make this event a success. We really do need more hosts who will be willing to take media guests fishing.  I would like to encourage anyone who is a registered boat owner and has been considering being a boat host or knows someone that might be interested in the Governor’s Fishing Opener by being a boat host to sign up online. The easiest way to do that is by going to www.mngovernorsopener.com click on boat host and it will take you to the page. Just follow the instructions. You may also stop by the CVB office to pick up a registration form or call me at 507-383-2231 for more information. This is our chance to showcase this great community that we choose to live in and one that we are proud to call home.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers during the year 2019. They are the reason we are able to enjoy all of these wonderful freedoms we enjoy today.