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Yellow Bullhead Could Blow Existing World Record Out Of The Water

June 9, 2006

Yellow Bullhead Catfish
John Irvin of Drexel caught this 6-pound, 6-ounce yellow bullhead catfish at Old Drexel Lake in Bates County May 27. (Missouri Dept. of Conservation photo)
Drexel, Mo. - Pity the lowly bullhead. Beloved by young anglers and bucket-sitting, cane pole-toting worm-dunkers, these unpretty little catfish get no respect*unless they are twice the size that fishing encyclopedias say they should be. Then they are world records.

That is the case with a tremendous yellow bullhead caught south of Kansas City over the Memorial Day weekend. John Irvin, his 8- and 11-year-old daughters and a nephew, who is 12, were crappie fishing at Old Drexel Lake late in the afternoon on May 27. They were taking turns with their only rod and reel. Irvin, 42, happened to be holding the rod when something big bit. That was no surprise. The 2- or 3-acre lake, which once was Drexel's municipal water supply, has channel and flathead catfish in it.

"My cork went down and I set the hook and pulled that thing up through the moss and I said, 'That has to be a bullhead.' I got to looking at him and I said 'That's a bullhead alright.'"

In spite of being certain that the fish was a yellow bullhead, Ameiurus natalis, Irvin was a little confused. He had never seen one that large. In fact, as far as record books show, no one has.

Missouri's previous pole-line-and-lure record for yellow bullhead was a 5-pound, 13-ounce specimen taken from a farm pond near Blue Springs in 1986. The International Game Fish Association in Diana Beach, Fla., counts a 4-pound, 4-ounce fish caught in Arizona as its all-tackle record, and the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisc., recognizes a 4-pound, 15-ounce fish from Georgia as the high-water mark for yellow bullheads.

The Fishes of Missouri puts the maximum weight of yellow bullheads in Missouri streams at about 2 pounds. McClane's New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia is more optimistic, saying they may attain a weight of 3 pounds. Those books may need revision. When Conservation Agent Phil Needham put Irvin's fish on his own certified scales, he watched the weight level off at 6 pounds, 6 ounces.

Here is where the story gets really interesting for other bullhead anglers. Irvin fished the same lake again for the next two days and landed two more yellow bullheads that dragged his pocket fish scales down to the 6-pound mark. He didn't bother having them officially weighed, since they fell short of his first catch. He also had his line broken by three fish. "There's no telling what they were," he said.

Irvin knew some people wouldn't believe his fish story, so he kept all three big bullheads in a wire fish basket suspended in a cistern at his home. One of the smaller fish has died, but the other two remain swimming proof of the bullhead-producing prowess of Old Drexel Lake.

Needham notes that three years ago he weighed another yellow bullhead from Old Drexel Lake that fell 3 ounces short of the state record.

"I don't know what it is about that lake," said Needham. "It is an older lake with lots of sediment. Maybe conditions there just favor bullheads, or maybe it is genetics."

Irvin thinks the lack of attention the lake gets from anglers might have something to do with the quality of fishing there.

"This old lake has been there for ages, and it's pretty well growed up with cattails and stuff. You can't hardly get in to it to fish it. It's pretty rough fishing. A lot of people don't fish it anymore."

Irvin's catch marks the second time in a little over a month that a Missouri fish has eclipsed national records. Callaway County resident John Horstman was fishing at a private lake near his home April 21 when he boated a 5-pound black crappie.

For more information about Missouri fishing records and how to apply for a record, visit and click on "Fishing." Next, click on "Fish and Fishing," and then click on "Fishing records - pole and line."

Irvin was fishing with minnows and a cork when he caught the big bullheads. His spincasting reel was spooled with 6-pound-test line. "Everybody told me I had too light a tackle, but I was still catching fish," he observed.

-Jim Low-

Related Links & Resources:
Cuba Missouri Teen Sets Missouri Fish Record
Missouri Home To World Record Blue Catfish
Mississippi State Record Blue Catfish
North Carolina Channel Catfish
World Record Blue Catfish
Missouri Bow Fishing Records

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