The Ugly Fish of Freshwater

February 4, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson

While they may bend your rod like other fish, the excitement isnt always the same when it surfaces

While they may bend your rod like other fish, the excitement isn't always the same when it surfaces

It never fails. There’s that walleye-like tap at the end of the line, and the sensation of a fish swimming off with the bait. I tighten up the slack in the line, drop the rod tip and gently sweep the rod. Two fillets coming right up; but when the line starts to spin, the realization is all too clear, the bullheads have come for the summer.

Bullheads, among other “ugly fish” draw disdain from and are reviled by most anglers; they are the outcasts of fishing circles. Hopefully, a second glance at these fish might just help some anglers find a little beauty in them, then again, maybe not.

No bull

They’re small, slimy, stinky and scary looking. Most every angler has dealt with them and probably got their start catching them. Bullheads somehow seem to draw the ire of anglers from an early age. Most people quickly get over the excitement of a wriggling, writhing, coating-your-line-with-slime bullhead, and move on to better looking quarries. Who could blame them? With a coloration that runs from bile-yellow to muddy black, the various species of bullheads in great numbers just doesn’t leave much to appeal. But think back to one of your first fish, my guess is it was a bullhead. At least they accommodate the inexperienced!

Carpe don’t-em

A fish that has never been known for its looks, or its ability to win a popularity contest, is the carp. From large scales and huge lumbering frame to its suction-type mouth designed for feeding on the bottom, a carp just doesn’t embody that perfect fish every angler looks for. Usually an accidental snag, these denizens of the muck-covered bottom keep anglers in suspense until they see exactly what it is on the other end of the line. Such a hooking most likely ends in disappointment. One thing the carp does have going for it is a wave of popularity in Europe. This love of carp however, is one trend that will take some time to catch on in the states.

Lingering memories

Cursed with a negative nickname such as “lawyer,” the ling, or bourbot, or eelpout – call it what you will – is a slimy fish which always appears out of its element. The only freshwater member of the cod family is a fish-out-of-water with the many saltwater characteristics it has brought to the lakes and streams of the area. Long, slimy and snakelike in appearance with an over-sized head, the ling hides its rather tasty fillets under a gangly body. Most often mistaken for a walleye or pike of similar size when first hooked, the ling is a disappointment to many anglers, especially ice fishermen. The city of Walker, Minn. has taken ugly to a new level each year with a week-long celebration of the ling, showcasing the inner-beauty of this fish, which is used as a bowling ball, croquet mallet or golf-club once caught. Talk about appreciation!

Though they aren’t the prettiest or most pursued, these common ugly fish, be they caught by children just learning the sport, or as the centerpiece of a festival, still have their place…in our outdoors.


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